Key Takeaways

  • Family therapy is intended to be brief and solution-focused in nature. Marriage and family therapists provide an average of 12 sessions for each family.
  • Some of the most common topics addressed in family therapy include communication, parenting, conflict resolution, marital or partnership issues, grief, and navigating transitions.
Every family is a system. The larger unit is made up of a series of unique, interconnected parts that all influence one another. From immediate relatives to the far reaches of our family tree, our connections with loved ones shape many aspects of our lives. And when one or more family members are struggling, it can cause a ripple effect throughout the whole family system.  Of course, every family faces occasional challenges. Sometimes we argue, hurt each other’s feelings, or say things we later regret. You can probably think of many times when frustrations bubbled over with someone you love. These things happen from time to time within all families. If your family is in a constant state of upheaval or turmoil, either due to a single person’s behavior or an ongoing relational issue, it might be time to consider family therapy. A therapist who specializes in treating family systems can help you learn to communicate effectively, resolve conflicts, and strengthen your bond with the ones you love.

How is family therapy different from other types of therapy?

Unlike individual or couples therapy, where the individual or romantic partners are the client, the goal of family therapy is to heal the family unit. It can help you and your loved ones address a wide range of relationship issues and has been shown to improve individual family members’ mental health as well. For example, in addition to improving parent-child and partnered relationships, research shows that family therapy can improve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other individual psychological problems. Family therapy also differs from other therapies in terms of duration. It’s meant to be brief and solution-focused as it targets specific, achievable, short-term goals. And unlike what the name might suggest, the entire family doesn’t need to attend family therapy for it to be effective. While having everyone present can be useful at times, your therapist can identify the key members who should participate and even help you navigate situations when a person refuses to attend or engage during sessions.

How does family therapy work?

Family therapy aims to uncover the unspoken dynamics, communication patterns, and behavioral factors that are impacting the family as a whole.  As with other types of therapy, the family therapist acts as a neutral, empathic guide throughout this process. Sometimes called the “therapeutic relationship,” this dynamic hinges on trust and the therapist’s ability to build rapport, set boundaries, and ensure that all family members feel seen and heard. Family therapists may draw from a variety of approaches. They often bring an eclectic mix of interventions and strategies into the session, depending on the needs and preferences of the family. Some of the most common approaches used in family therapy include:
  • Systemic family therapy: This therapy focuses on helping loved ones identify and replace unhelpful communication or behavior patterns.
  • Structural family therapy: This therapy addresses and reorganizes the structure of family relationships and prioritizes setting clear but healthy boundaries between family members. 
  • Functional family therapy: This therapy is often used to support families whose children have exhibited behavioral challenges
  • Brief solution-focused therapy: This therapy focuses on finding solutions in the present, instead of unpacking the past, by harnessing the family’s existing resources and strengths.
  • Bowenian family therapy: This therapy targets estrangement and enmeshment (an unhealthy level of closeness) by focusing on finding the right balance of individuality and connectedness within the family unit.

Is family therapy right for me?

If you’re considering family therapy, you’ve already taken a critical step toward getting yourself and your loved ones the support you deserve. Sometimes, families come to family therapy with an “identified patient” in mind. They believe that one person’s behavior is behind all the problems the family is facing. While individual accountability is important, family challenges are typically systemic challenges. So if you’re considering family therapy, know that everyone will be encouraged to engage in authentic self-reflection and take responsibility for making positive change.  Successful family therapy hinges on the willingness of each family member to participate actively and work toward the goals outlined in the treatment plan both during and after the session. It’s also quite common for people to attend individual therapy sessions concurrently with family therapy, typically with a different provider. This can help allow individuals to access their own confidential support while having a separate space to process family concerns. Of course, family therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution and there are times when it isn’t the best option. Family therapy is not typically recommended when:
  • Family members demonstrate deep-seated resistance to participating. Although some initial reluctance or nervousness is ok!
  • Active abuse taking place within the family. In this case individual therapy or a referral to community-based or crisis response organizations may be more appropriate.
  • Family members have concerns that may be better to treat with a different form of mental health support. If you’re not sure which form of care is right for you and your family situation, a therapist can offer guidance and make a referral to other resources.

What kinds of issues does family therapy address?

Since every family is different, people come to family therapy for all sorts of reasons. But some of the most common reasons families seek outside help include:
  • Parenting disagreements
  • Parent-child relationship conflict
  • Sibling relationship conflict
  • Partner or marital relationship conflict
  • Navigating major changes or life transitions (like a separation or divorce)
  • Grief and loss
  • Supporting a loved one who is living with a mental health concern or substance use disorder
  • Dealing with the aftermath of trauma
  • Child or adolescent behavioral challenges
  • Communication challenges
  • Rebuilding trust

Finding a family therapist with help from Rula

Whether formed by birth or by choice, a family can take many forms. And at Rula, we believe in honoring and celebrating all the different ways to be a family. When you and your loved ones need support, we’ll be there to help you find the right fit for your family. With Rula, you can quickly connect with an experienced marriage and family therapist who takes your insurance. 

Family therapists near you

New York, NYHouston, TXRancho Cucamonga, CAAustin, TXChicago, ILLos Angeles, CAColumbus, OHPortland, ORDallas, TXJacksonville, FLCharlotte, NCDenver, COHuntsville, ALPhiladelphia, PASeattle, WAFind your city

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