What Is Family Therapy?

What Is Family Therapy?

Family therapy is a type of psychotherapy, or talk therapy, that looks at the entire family, including the relationships between the individual members of the family.1 This is a treatment used to address the mental health challenges of one or more family members, address relationship challenges between two or more family members, and improve family dynamics as a whole.

Family therapy is sometimes known as marriage and family therapy, couples and family therapy, and family counseling.

Family therapy is used to treat a wide variety of mental health conditions of one or more members of the family. It can also be used to support the emotional side of physical health conditions, relationship and bonding challenges, and overall family well-being.

Sometimes this is used to help support one member of the family who is struggling with a mental health diagnosis by addressing their interactions and relationships with other members of the family. Other times, there is more of a focus on the family as a whole.

For example, a family struggling with frequent disagreements may seek support through family therapy, even without a specific diagnosis, to improve communication, strengthen their connection, and navigate stressful situations.2

Conditions Treated With Family Therapy

Family therapists can address a variety of situations and conditions, including:

  • Addiction
  • Adoption
  • Anger
  • Attachment disorders
  • Behavioral challenges
  • Blended family
  • Communication challenges
  • Conflict
  • Death
  • Disability
  • Divorce or separation
  • Domestic violence
  • Eating disorders
  • Emotional challenges
  • Grief
  • Infertility
  • Marital conflict
  • LGBTQ challenges
  • Physical health concerns
  • Race, ethnic, or cultural challenges
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Religious challenges
  • Self-harm
  • Transitions
  • Unemployment

The process of family therapy depends on the situation, why the family is seeking support, and the family members involved. It also may depend on the ages of the children and the abilities and willingness of each family member.

Typically, the process begins with an evaluation or assessment. The provider may speak with the family as a group, members individually, or both individually and as a group. Children could take part in play therapy, which is a form of therapy that involves playing together to learn about the thoughts and feelings of the child.

Objectives of Family Therapy

Some of the objectives of family therapy sessions include determining how well the family expresses thoughts and emotions and solves problems, looking at the rules, roles, and behavior patterns of the family that lead to problems, and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the family.2

From there, the therapy sessions can focus on how to work through issues, strengthen relationships, and function better together. This happens with conversations between the provider and the family members, either one-on-one or in a group.

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