Considering Family Therapy or Family Counseling?

family therapy

Family therapy, also called family counseling, is a form of counseling psychology intended to help families handle challenges and conflicts.

As well as improving family relations, therapy has helped address many of the issues affecting various members of the family. For instance, a therapist can help members of the family tackle marital problems; deal with the impact of drugs and substance abuse or juvenile delinquency.

What Does a Family Therapist Do?

According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), over 50,000 therapists handle cases involving individuals, couples, and families.

A family therapist is a trained professional licensed to provide counseling and psychotherapy to families. A therapist will, in their sessions, employ psychotherapy techniques and interventions to help the family as a unit.

Family therapy can be offered by a psychologist, social worker, psychiatrist or counselor. In this group are also other professionals licensed to operate as a marriage and family therapist.

Overall, a family therapist will:

  • Observe family interactions
  • Highlight and evaluate specific family issues
  • Diagnose psychological disorders or behavioral problems
  • Help resolve problems or guide families in handling issues

Another part of a family therapist’s job description involves:

  • maintaining the therapy sessions records,
  • formulating treatment plans,
  • helping families or individual members set goals,
  • incorporate other therapists and mental health professionals in situations that call for a consultation

What Are the Different Types of Family Therapy?

Family therapy plays a huge role in helping forge healthy relationships where dysfunction and problems threaten families. In choosing the right type of family therapy, a family may find the help needed to stem further problems.

There are several types of family therapy approaches, with professionals taking the one that suits the situation. Some of the most common types include:

Bowenian Family Therapy

The Bowenian is a therapy model that works best for individuals who wish not to involve other family members. Here a therapist works with the family member and uses two approaches: triangulation and differentiation to help the individual and family have a healthy relationship.

counselor types

Cognitive-Behavioral Family Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral family therapy is a solution-focused type of family therapy. The therapist works with members of a family, both as individuals and as a unit. The approach intends to have individual change and adopt patterns that help the whole family.

Systemic Family Therapy

This is group therapy also called family systems therapy. Systemic family therapy is about changing the group dynamics to help the individual. The therapist works with the family as a whole, focusing on those elements that need changing to help individuals better fit in the family.

Structural Family Therapy

This family therapy theory was defined by Salvador Minuchin and tends to focus on the whole family’s interactions and not the psyches of individuals. Hierarchy and power issues are addressed, with an effort to remove interactions that align with a dysfunctional family.

Strategic Family Therapy

Strategic therapy combines most of the other approaches but is distinctly brief in the sense that it encourages families to take direct actions. In this type of family therapy, the goal is to get results much faster by focusing on tasks meant to change individuals towards a cohesive family.

What is the role of the therapist in strategic family therapy?

The role of a therapist in strategic family therapy is to create tasks and initiate techniques that aid the family in solving problems. The therapist works on systems that specifically target a family’s structural interactions. In so doing, the therapist uses his skills to help families achieve set goals, and help change the family from being dysfunctional.

Why is family therapy important?

Family therapy has many positive outcomes that can be helpful, especially in creating healthy and functional families.

The family therapist works with the family members, going over situations and issues that might be behind a dysfunctional family. Such issues include broken relationships, limited communication, behavioral problems, and mental illness.

What is the Focus of Family Therapy?

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Family therapy focuses on the family as a whole, with the involvement of individuals meant to foster greater understanding and cohesion. In the use of “family” in this therapy, the focus doesn’t just apply to “blood relatives” but anyone within the wider circle that supports an individual.

The focal point in family therapy is on interactions, and for those seeking help, it is a way to create healthy functional families.

In short, the purpose of family therapy is to have a whole family unit towards solving issues that threaten to tear the family. In most cases, the focus is on unifying the family positively, to find solutions to problems brought about by limited communication, mental health, emotional distress, and other psychological problems.

What Typically Happens in Family Counseling?

At first, the therapist talks to the “family” to get an understanding of the issues at hand. The therapist offers that assurance that everyone is welcome and, rightly so, part of the session.

The sessions involve family members sharing their views and feelings, with the therapist using that opportunity to draw observations and evaluations. The family therapist then helps every family member by offering insights into how to communicate and respond to feelings as a way of building healthy supportive relationships.

The therapist remains impartial in their interactions with the family, only noting and modeling the family’s interactions and behaviors.

A therapy session will take about one to one-and-half hours. A family therapist schedules multiple sessions at regular intervals over which to meet and interact with the family. On average, therapists will schedule about 12 such sessions.

Family Counseling Can Help Build Better Relationships

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Is Family Counseling a Good Idea?

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It is not so easy for most families to admit that it’s time to go for family therapy. For most people, it feels like crumbling in defeat or failure. But that isn’t the reality at all.

Going for family counseling often is the big step that families need to create and maintain good relationships and solve family problems. Family counseling or therapy will not make problems disappear, but it is a sure way to begin tackling issues more healthily.

What defines family counseling?

According to the American Counseling Association (ACA), families often seek out counseling in cases where there is “a life change or stress.” These stressors negatively affect communication, family closeness, and family structure.

What defines family counseling is its focus on the family rather than the individual. Family counseling is ideal in situations where a family is struggling to deal with a stressor like death, addiction or broken relationships. It is advisable to go for psychotherapy in situations where the family is struggling with more serious issues like depression, schizophrenia, and sexual abuse.

The counseling, (as with the normal “talk therapy”), is carried out by a counselor or mental health professional.

Considerations before you choose a family counselor

Before you choose a family counselor, find out if your insurance covers family therapy. You can also find out if your employer offers a health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) or Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

For information on qualified family counseling, ask your family doctor or religious leader. You could also find one using an online therapist locator like that offered by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).

What is Family Intervention Therapy?

Family intervention therapy involves the inclusion of an individual’s family members in a therapy session(s). The intervention therapy is intended to help improve not only the individual but also the “entire family.”

Therapists use this approach to help the whole family appreciate the therapeutic actions targeted at improving both the patient and the family. A therapist will meet several members of the family (or close friends), allowing for accurate assessment of the problem and direct resolutions.

The family’s presence or intervention also offers the information needed to help in treatment plans, medication and the overall management of the disorder or mental illness.

What is Behavioral Therapy?

Behavioral therapy works on the principle that all behavior is learned. The same then applies that people can change whatever behavior deemed destructive or unhealthy. In behavioral therapy, a therapist works with an individual towards changing problematic or stressful behavior.

The therapy has its origins in B.F. Skinner’s Operant Conditioning, with psychologists using the basic principles to occasion behavior change.

Generally, behavioral therapy covers all the forms of therapy applied in the treatment of behavioral and mental health disorders.

Types of behavioral therapy

There are three commonly used types of behavioral therapy:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy– focuses on changing a person’s behavior by changing their thinking
  • System desensitization – a form of classical conditioning that involves handling stress and reactions by mastering breathing techniques.
  • Aversion therapy – in this type of behavioral therapy, the therapist pairs a given behavior (desirable stimulus) with a punishment (undesirable stimulus). It often applies to the treatment of behavioral problems like addiction and alcoholism.
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What is the functional family therapy model?

The Functional Family Therapy (FFT) model is a short-term intervention therapy program designed to help young children and at-risk youth. The therapy sessions involve families and their 11-18-year-olds, with therapists working to help them overcome issues like truancy, substance abuse, conduct disorders, and general juvenile delinquency.

According to FFT LLC, Functional Family Therapy focuses on assessment and intervention in the cases mentioned above. The model works with children who need behavioral therapy or emotional help, often after referrals from the juvenile justice system, schools, mental health institutions, and child welfare systems.

Therapy services can be offered in a clinical setting, at home or in such facilities as schools and children’s homes/ welfare facilities.

What Are the 3 Phases of Functional Family Therapy?

family therapy kids

The Functional Family Therapy (FFT) model comprises three main phases. As a strength-based therapy model, the phases build on the previous one. The processes and interventions within each phase are tailored to offer what the therapist needs for the client.

The FFT model has these three phases:

(a) Engagement and motivation – In this phase, the goal is to engage the youth and family members in a way to create sincerity and positivity. The therapist works to increase their responsiveness and to engage by remaining non-judgmental.

(b) Behavior change – Here the therapist works to assess and clarify relational interactions and their impact on behavioral change. Therapists concentrate on aspects of communication training and will use technical aids, tasks, and other cognitive-behavioral strategies to address problems.

(c) Generalization – This phase is designed to have the family extend any of the positivity gained in the previous phase. That happens by channeling the improvements into multiple areas, with the therapist helping to map out plans for any would-be future challenges.

What Are the Benefits of Family Therapy?

Family therapy provides an opportunity for people to resolve issues and build functional families. As noted earlier, families can engage with therapists and other mental health professionals and work towards benefits like:

  • Developing a better understanding of each other
  • Build and maintain healthy relationships and family boundaries
  • Improve communication between family members
  • Improve on their problem solving
  • Reducing conflicts
  • Reconnecting “isolated” family members

What is Considered a Dysfunctional Family?

We talk of a dysfunctional family as a family where there is general conflict, abuse, neglect and the oft lack of communication between family members.

Signs that the family is now dysfunctional begin with the family members accepting or accommodating the behavior.  In such situations, negativity and broken relationships replace what should be a normal healthy functional family.

What is worse is that children could grow up in such dysfunctional families thinking that it is “normal” to behave or relate in this or that way.  Some of the reasons behind families becoming dysfunctional include addiction, domestic violence, religious fundamentalism, loss of jobs and financial constraints.

Take away note

Family therapy provides for ways in which families can build and maintain honest, trusting and healthy relationships. It also helps open up communication within the family, a key component towards solving family problems. If you, or your family, are experiencing problems, the best course of action is to seek help from a family therapist or family counselor.

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For questions or help, call Veronica Watford at 919-903-1091.

Phone: 919-903-1091
14 Consultant Place, Ste 210,
Durham, NC 27707