Even close families hit rough patches. Family therapy can help get you through them together by teaching the importance of listening and communicating. Understanding the basics of how family therapy works can encourage those who need it to reach out for help.
What is family therapy?
Family therapy is a type of counseling attended by multiple members of a family who want to improve their relationships.
A licensed mental health clinician can help you and your family members pinpoint mental, emotional, or behavioral issues that cause problems within the family. They can also help your family build important communication and boundary-setting skills. Therapy for families is usually short-term and focused on active solutions and reachable goals.
You can choose who to bring into family therapy, including your partner, parents, children, grandparents, aunts and uncles, adopted relatives, in-laws, or anyone you are close to.
Family therapy approaches a family as a “system” of closely connected people. A family system operates as a unit and can affect one another. This means that if one person changes their behavior it could impact other family members’ behavior. Even if some loved ones are unable or unwilling to participate, you and others may still be able to benefit from family therapy.
Which therapists offer family therapy?
A variety of mental health professionals can offer family therapy sessions. These include:
Licensed marriage and family therapists
Licensed marriage and family therapists are specially trained in therapy and family systems. They can diagnose and treat mental and emotional problems that can affect couples, marriages, and other family relationships.
Counselors, clinical social workers, psychologists, and other therapists
While these mental health clinicians all offer family therapy, there are a few differences when it comes to their training and services.
Licensed mental health counselors focus mainly on helping people manage mental health problems or developmental issues that affect their everyday well-being.
Clinical social workers can diagnose and treat behavioral, emotional and mental health issues. They focus on helping people through difficult situations and connect them with needed resources.
Psychologists evaluate, diagnose, and treat mental health disorders. They provide therapy to help people cope with difficult life and relationship issues.
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Who should consider family therapy?
Family therapists can help with issues like tense relationships, verbal abuse, setting healthy boundaries, and using open and effective communication skills.
Whatever the issue, a family therapist will come up with a plan that is specific to your family and goals.
What to expect in family therapy
Family therapy won’t make a dispute or painful situation magically disappear. What it can do is help you and your loved ones to skillfully deal with challenges. Your therapist may begin by speaking with everyone involved to gain a deeper understanding of your family’s dynamics. The therapist may also identify your family’s general strengths and weaknesses and explore possible patterns that could contribute to the troubled relationship.
The therapist may then create a treatment plan and set goals to help improve the way the family members communicate, approach conflicts, and achieve solutions.
Based on your individual needs, your therapist can determine how often the family needs to be seen and for how long. They may also recommend additional individual counseling, if necessary.
Finding a family therapist
Locating a family therapist for your needs may take a little work. Here are some tips to help you find the right match:
Ask for referrals: A trusted friend, primary care physician, or even your health insurance company can be great sources for family therapists.
Mental health organization websites: Clinicians will usually provide their profiles online, along with a description of their credentials and services. Search for family therapists in your area with specializations that align with your needs.
Take advantage of free consultations: Talk with a few different therapists to see who is the best fit for your family. You might ask questions about their credentials and experience, how their practice is run, what their therapeutic philosophy is, and how a typical session might go.
Can my regular therapist also be my family therapist?
Some therapists choose to avoid this kind of dual relationship with their clients. Using your therapist as a family therapist could create confidentiality issues and other conflicts of interest that could unintentionally harm the family’s relationship.
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