Family therapy is a type of psychological counseling (psychotherapy) that can help family members improve communication and resolve conflicts.
Family therapy is usually provided by a psychologist, clinical social worker or licensed therapist. These therapists have graduate or postgraduate degrees and may be credentialed by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).
Family therapy is often short term. It may include all family members or just those able or willing to participate. Your specific treatment plan will depend on your family’s situation. Family therapy sessions can teach you skills to deepen family connections and get through stressful times, even after you’re done going to therapy sessions.
Why it's done
Family therapy can help you improve troubled relationships with your partner, children or other family members. You may address specific issues such as marital or financial problems, conflict between parents and children, or the impact of substance abuse or a mental illness on the entire family.
Your family may pursue family therapy along with other types of mental health treatment, especially if one of you has a mental illness or addiction that also requires additional therapy or rehabilitation treatment. For example:
- Family therapy can help family members cope if a relative has a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia — but the person who has schizophrenia should continue with his or her individualized treatment plan, which may include medications, one-on-one therapy or other treatment.
- In the case of addiction, the family can attend family therapy while the person who has an addiction participates in residential treatment. Sometimes the family may participate in family therapy even if the person with an addiction hasn’t sought out his or her own treatment.
Family therapy can be useful in any family situation that causes stress, grief, anger or conflict. It can help you and your family members understand one another better and learn coping skills to bring you closer together.
What you can expect
Family therapy typically brings several family members together for therapy sessions. However, a family member may also see a family therapist individually.
Sessions typically take about 50 minutes to an hour. Family therapy is often short term — generally about 12 sessions. However, how often you meet and the number of sessions you’ll need will depend on your family’s particular situation and the therapist’s recommendation.
During family therapy, you can:
- Examine your family’s ability to solve problems and express thoughts and emotions in a productive manner
- Explore family roles, rules and behavior patterns to identify issues that contribute to conflict — and ways to work through these issues
- Identify your family’s strengths, such as caring for one another, and weaknesses, such as difficulty confiding in one another