Family Therapy & Counseling

What is Family Therapy?

Family Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that essentially works with families and couples involved in intimate relationships with goals of nurturing change and maturation.  This method of therapy is generally classified according to the types of interaction between family members and accentuates family relationships as an important factor in psychological well-being.  A similarity among the different components of family therapy is the belief that encouraging family participation and involvement in solutions is advantageous. This contribution of families is most often achieved by direct participation in therapy sessions overseen by a family therapist.

Family therapy is characterized as a professional practice within Western Cultures and has roots in the social work developments of the 19th century in England and the United States.  The official progression of family therapy dates back to the 1940s and early 1950s with the founding of the American Association of Marriage Counselors in 1942.  Some of the early pioneers whose work further developed this field and therapy are John Bowlby, John Bell, Nathan Ackerman, Christian Midelfort, and Murray Bowen, to name a few.  These individuals were among the first who began counseling family members together for observation or therapy sessions.

Family therapy has been utilized and applied effectively for a wide range of human predicaments, both relational and psychological.  The theoretical groundwork founded by family therapists has been useful for a variety of human conduct and actions.  The number of sessions can fluctuate from case to case, but the average number is approximately 5-20.  A licensed family therapist would typically meet numerous family members simultaneously, creating the opportunity to observe differences that may arise when families collaborate.  Patterns that are observed during interactions can aid the therapist in applying specific techniques that might encourage development within the family and problem solving.

Types of Family Therapy

Types of family therapy include the following:

  • Family Therapy: Any therapeutic approach that treats a family as a whole
  • Couple Therapy: Family therapy that focuses on communication between partners
  • Structural family therapy: Address problems in function within a family and involves a therapist who would “join” the family system in therapy
  • Strategic family therapy: Method of focusing on specific problems that can be addressed in a shorter time frame than other therapies.

Interchangeable terms of family therapy that are commonly used are:

  • Behavioral family therapy
  • Functional Family therapy
  • Multisystem family therapy
  • Family Systems Therapy
  • Family Counseling

Components of Family Therapy

Family therapy incorporates diverse counseling techniques, such as the following:

  • Communication theory: Branch of knowledge dealing with the principles and methods by which information is conveyed
  • Media and Communications psychology: Method of understanding how people perceive, interpret, and use various sources of media
  • Attachment-Focused family therapy: Method that incorporates that belief that all individuals need an unconditional, secure attachment figure in life
  • Systems Theory: Considers the family unit as a set of independent and interacting parts
  • Psychoeducation: Education offered to people who live with a psychological disturbance
  • Psychotherapy: Treatment of a mental disorder by psychological rather than medical means
  • Relationship Education: Promotes principles and practices of premarital education
  • Reality Therapy: Method of psychotherapy that focuses on meeting basic needs

Uses of Family Therapy

Family therapy can be utilized when a change is desired in the manner which a family functions.  Family therapy might be considered when a malfunction exists within a family and the problems concern the overall ability of the family to function.  Family therapy is a vital and essential component of any comprehensive method to the treatment of eating disorders.  Family therapy for eating-disordered patients attempts to eliminate any possible life-threatening symptoms and initiate a therapeutic process of healing for the entire family.  Current research has demonstrated the effectiveness of the use of family therapy within the population of eating disorder patients.  Furthermore, family therapy may be applied to various other disorders, such as substance abuse, depression, and mood disorders.

  • Fear. Guilt. Sadness. Confusion. Shame. The list could go on to describe the myriad of emotions parents go through when hearing for the first time that their child has been diagnosed with an eating disorder. In their efforts to make sense of this information, many parents describe countless hours of ruminating over what they (the parents) could have done differently to prevent this from happening.

Last Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 25, 2012

Page last updated: June 12, 2012
Published on, Disordered Eating Help