Family Therapy (A Complete Guide)

Treatment designed to address issues that are specifically related to the functioning and health of a family are known as family therapy or family counseling.

The term ‘family’ does not refer to a blood relative in this context but anyone who “is present as a support in one’s life for long-term, which does not specifically mean that the person has to be a family member or blood relative from the same household” (King, 2017).

This therapy is effective during a major transition for a family or for the behavioral and mental  health problems present within the family.

In this article we will discuss family therapy in detail.

Family therapy and or family therapy intervention does not contain specific therapy techniques but can employ exercises and techniques from  interpersonal therapy, behavior therapy, cognitive therapy or any other individual therapy method.

Similar to other cases, the technique employed for the treatment depends on the specific problems or circumstances of the client.

One of the most common reasons to visit a family therapist are the emotional and behavioral problems in children.

The problems faced by a child are mostly due to the circumstances within the family and are needed to be addressed within the same context (Herkov, 2016).

Different Types of Family Therapy 

There are different types of family therapy, among them the most common types are explained below : 

  • Bowenian: This is the isolated form of family therapy in which the individual going through the therapy either cannot or doesn’t want other family members to get involved within the treatment. There are two basic concepts of Bowenian therapy: Differentiation (the way to learn how one can be less reactive in family relationships emotionally) and Triangulation (the natural way to vent out frustration and distress by discussing it with a third party);
  • Structural: This therapy is more focused on having a parental control over the course of therapy with both adults and children defining an appropriate boundary. This therapy is best suited for strengthening and adjusting the family system. In this type of therapy, the therapist acts as a part of  the family so that he can learn, enhance and observe their relationship and help them strengthen it up;
  • Systemic: This form of therapy is more focused on unconscious meaning and communication behind a family member’s behaviour. In this type of therapy, the therapist usually acts as a neutral third person and let family members discuss the problems and issues together as a family;
  • Strategic: Strategic therapy is the briefest and direct form of therapy presend, in which the therapist gives different types of homework to the family members. The main purpose of this homework is to change the way family members interact with each other by observing and assessing their way of communication. The main position of power lies with the therapist and he can allow other family members to communicate more depending on the given homework to make their communication more effective (King, 2017).

What is a Family Counselor Trained For?

As shown above, the therapist may have to take on different power roles during the therapy depending on the situation and circumstances of the family.

These many different kinds of role require that a therapist undergo a great deal of formal education, hard training and continuous testing to make sure that the therapist is upto the task.

While different therapists may prefer different treatment techniques or methods, they must have possess an experience of minimum level for treatment of the following: 

  • Grieving;
  • Adolescent and child behavioral problems;
  • LGBTQ issues;
  • Infertility;
  • Depression and anxiety;
  • Substance abuse (All Psychology Schools, 2017). 
  • Domestic violence;
  • Marital conflicts;

The education taken by the therapist helps them through a wide range of different problems including:

  • Unexpected unemployment, death or illness;
  • Personal conflicts in between families or couples;
  • Separation or divorce;
  • Different types of behavioral problems exhibiting in children.
  • Maintaining or development of a healthy romantic relationship;
  • Depression, anxiety or other mental health problems;
  • Substance abuse or addiction;

If you are in need of a family therapist then you can try BetterHelp.

What is the Goal of Family Therapy?

“To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.” – Confucius

Overall the main purpose of family therapy is to work together with each other to overcome or heal any emotional, mental or psychological problem that might be tearing your family apart (Lee, 2010).

To make healthy life possible for a family, the therapist’s main aim is to help them solve their problems, improve their communication, creating a better environment for the family, handling and understanding of the situation within the family (Family Therapy, 2017A).

The main goals of the family therapist are not specific but may differ depending upon the problem presented by the client.

Some of the scenarios on whose basis the goals might differ are present as follows :

  • One of the family member is suffering from severe psychosis or schizophrenia: The main goal of this scenario will be to help other family members adjust according the psychological changes of the disorder and help them in understanding the current situation of the patient and the changes he might be going through;
  • Different problems that may arise from cross-generational boundaries, like when children are raised by grandparents or when they live in a combined family: The main goal of this scenario is to improve communication between the different members of the family so they can set specific healthy boundaries with each other;
  • Families that deviates from social norms ( gay couples, unmarried parents raising children, etc.): The main goal for this scenario is to help the family cope up with external factors like society pressure and societal attitudes. There might be some cases where the main goal might be to address internal family problems.
  • Family members coming from mixed cultural, religious or racial backgrounds: The main goal in this scenario is to help family members understand each other and improve their communication with each other so they can develop healthy relationships;
  • One member of the family is being scapegoated or their individual therapy treatment is being undermined: This scenario happens when one of the family members is treated as an outlaw or outcast by other family members. The main goal of this scenario is to facilitate the individual and provide them support so they can continue with their treatment;
  • The problem of the patient seem inextricably tied with any other family members: The main goal of this scenario is to address the specific problem and try to solve the pattern of problem without creating any further problems;
  • A blended family : One of the other scenarios where family members suffer from unique problems are blended families or step-families. The main goal in this scenario is to enhance their understanding of each other so they can facilitate one another and form a healthy relationship (Family Therapy, 2017B)

Problems that families often face

  • Failure to cope with Challenges: One of the main basis of problems within a family is the failure to cope with the challenges, which might include failure to provide the basic needs for the family members (including education, security, financial stability). These challenges also include the sudden illness or death of a family member or loss of a home.
  • Communication difficulties: Most of the families that come for therapy are having difficulty in communicating with each other. This means that their communication is either inadequate, unclear or inconsistent. 
  • Role problems: These problems occur when the specific roles in the family are not given correctly. One of the main cases might be the lack of parental authority in bringing up children.
  • Difficulties controlling behaviour: One of the other problems is the behavior of a child who may become antisocial, insubordinate or aggressive because of the complex relationships present within the family.
  • Boundaries present between family members: One of the other problems are the boundaries defined between different family members are not healthy and mostly overlap with each other which results in more problems and issues.

What are the Benefits of Family Therapy?

This approach for family therapy has proven to be more effective in many cases.

During family therapy, families can work on different problems according to the guidance of the therapist in a controlled and safe environment.

Some of the benefits of a family therapy includes: =

  • Enhanced communication;
  • Defining of healthy boundaries and understanding family dynamics;
  • Deeper empathy;
  • Improved problem solving;
  • Better anger management and reduced conflicts (10 Acre Ranch, 2017).

More specifically, taking on family therapy can improve the relationship within a family through:

  • Creating an air of honesty in between family members;
  • Bringing them together after a phase of crisis;
  • Generating trust between family members;
  • Supportive family environment;
  • Reducing main sources of stress and tension within the family;
  • Resolving conflict between family members;
  • Helping members forgive each other;
  • Making isolated members of the family come back (American Addiction Centers, 2017).


Individual therapy may be recommended for one or more than one family members to avoid an aggressive or volatile interactive session during a family therapy session.

In some cases the family members are not suitable for a full family session, some of the cases are listed as follows : 

  • Such families where both or one of the parents has been diagnosed with paranoid or antisocial personality disorder or are psychotic. 
  • Such families which are opposed to psychology or suspicious of it based on their religious or cultural values.
  • Such families whose members are not able to participate in the session because of any limitation or physical illness.
  • Such families whose members have a very rigid personalities (members with a higher risk of psychological or emotional crisis)
  • Such families whose members do not want to or cannot meet regularly for treatment.


One of the main risks of family therapy sessions is the possibility of unsettling defenses of a rigid personality of an individual or relationships that have already been on their last leg before the start of the therapy.

Having an intensive family therapy session might also not be easy for members that have been previously diagnosed with psychological disorders.

Family therapy may be most difficult for children and they might not be able to fully comprehend the interactions during the session.

To help children understand the sessions, it’s best to add additional individual therapy sessions with the same therapist or with another who knows about the family situation and can help out. 

FAQ about Family Therapy 

What is family therapy?

Family therapy is one of the types of counselling in the psychological domain (psychotherapy) which can help members of a family to resolve conflicts and improve communication with each other.

Family therapy is provided usually by a clinical worker, psychologist or licensed therapist. 

What are the different types of family therapy?

Mainly there are four types of techniques that are adopted by therapists or professionals for family therapy: cognitive-behavioral therapy, supportive family therapy, systemic family therapy andpsychodynamic ideas.

What are the 3 goals of family therapy?

Goals of Family Therapy

Maintain and develop healthy boundaries.
Facilitate communication and cohesion.
Promote understanding of family dynamics and improve their problem – solving.
Build understanding and empathy.
Reduce and resolve conflicts.