What is Family Therapy?

  • Family therapy is a special form of group therapy, consisting of one or more family member. Although there are many theoretical orientations in family therapy, one of the most predominant is the systems approach. The family is viewed as an organized system, and each individual within the family is a contributing member who creates and maintains processes within the system that shape behavior (Minuchin, 1985). Each member of the family influences and is influenced by the others. The goal of this approach is to enhance the growth of each family member as well as that of the family as a whole.
  • Often, dysfunctional patterns of communication that develop between family members can lead to conflict. A family with this dynamic might wish to attend therapy together rather than individually. In many cases, one member of the family has problems that negatively affects everyone. For example, a mother’s depression, the adolescent daughter’s eating disorder, or father’s alcohol use could affect all members of the family.
  • The clinician would work with all members of the family to help them cope and overcome the issue, thereby encouraging resolution and growth in the case of the individual family member with the problem.
  • In family therapy, the nuclear family (the parents and children) or the nuclear family plus whoever lives in the household (grandparent) come into treatment. Family therapists work with the whole family unit to heal the family.
  • There are several different types of family therapy. In structural family therapy, the therapist examines and discusses the boundaries and structure of the family: who makes the rules, who sleeps in the bed with whom, how decisions are made, and what are the boundaries within the family. In some families, the parents do not work together to make rules, or one parent may undermine the other, leading the children to act out. The therapist helps them resolve these issues and learn to communicate more effectively.
  • In strategic family therapy, the goal is to address specific problems within the family that can be dealt with in a relatively short amount of time. Typically, the therapist would guide what happens in the therapy session and design a detailed approach to resolving each member’s problem (Madanes, 1991).