Family therapy or family counseling is a form of treatment that is designed to address specific issues affecting the health and functioning of a family. It can be used to help a family through a difficult period of time, a major transition, or mental or behavioral health problems in family members (“Family Therapy”, 2014).
As Dr. Michael Herkov explains, family therapy views individuals’ problems in the context of the larger unit: the family (2016). The assumption of this type of therapy is that problems cannot be successfully addressed or solved without understanding the dynamics of the group. The way the family operates influences how the client’s problems formed and how they are encouraged or enabled by the other members of the family.
Family therapy can employ techniques and exercises from cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, interpersonal therapy, or other types of individual therapy. Like with other types of treatment, the techniques employed will depend on the specific problems the client or clients present with.
Behavioral or emotional problems in children are common reasons to visit a family therapist. A child’s problems do not exist in a vacuum; they exist in the context of the family and will likely need to be addressed within the context of the family (Herkov, 2016).
It should be noted that in family therapy or counseling, the term “family” does not necessarily mean blood relatives. In this context, “family” is anyone who “plays a long-term supportive role in one’s life, which may not mean blood relations or family members in the same household” (King, 2017).
According to Licensed Clinical Social Worker Laney Cline King, these are the most common types of family therapy:
- Bowenian: this form of family therapy is best suited for situations in which individuals cannot or do not want to involve other family members in the treatment. Bowenian therapy is built on two core concepts, triangulation (the natural tendency to vent or distress by talking to a third party) and differentiation (learning to become less emotionally reactive in family relationships).
- Structural: Structural therapy focuses on adjusting and strengthening the family system to ensure that the parents are in control and that both children and adults set appropriate boundaries. In this form of therapy, the therapist “joins” the family in order to observe, learn, and enhance their ability to help the family strengthen their relationships.
- Systemic: The Systemic model refers to the type of therapy that focuses on the unconscious communications and the meaning behind family members’ behaviors. The therapist in this form of treatment is neutral and distant, allowing the family members to dive deeper into their issues and problems as a family.
- Strategic: This form of therapy is more brief and direct than the others, in which the therapist assigns homework to the family. This homework is intended to change the way family members interact, assess and adjust the way the family communicates and makes decisions. The therapist takes the position of power in this type of therapy, which allows other family members who may not usually hold as much power to communicate more effectively (King, 2017).