Family bonds are rich, complex, profound – and sometimes painful. Family can both build us up and break us down. But in its ideal state, a family is the crucible in which we can become our best and truest selves.
That’s where family therapy can help. Licensed family therapists at Thriveworks are trained to guide loved ones who are having issues connecting with each other. Our specialized therapists have a pretty good idea of what makes a happy, healthy family, and they can share their knowledge through safe, nonjudgmental counseling sessions.
If you need expert help reinforcing your family bonds, the licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) at Thriveworks are here for you – for all of you. You can read more about how the process works in the sections below.
What Is the Meaning of Family Therapy?
Sessions typically involve all of the relevant family members, whether they be parents and children, grandfathers and aunts, adopted siblings, in-laws, or any group of people with close-knit relationships. There’s no need to share a bloodline – you may choose the family you bring to therapy.
Thriveworks therapists design treatment plans around each family’s unique profile, issues, and objectives. Some family therapy sessions might be straightforward talk therapy, where everyone takes turns speaking and listening within a supportive framework.
Other sessions might include games or exercises to help break the ice or gain insights in fun ways.
What Does Family Therapy Do?
Family therapy provides enormous value to families, as they work through their issues alongside a qualified mental health professional.
Why? An objective third party can often point out blind spots and help loved ones identify the ultimate source of their challenges. But family therapists don’t just observe problems; they also assist in finding solutions.
Some of the rewards of family therapy are unique to specific situations, and others are more general. For example, some common benefits of family therapy at Thriveworks include the following:
- Improved communication skills
- Reduced conflict
- Less stress and dysfunction
- Improved behaviors
- Healthier boundaries
- Improved coping skills and resilience
- Growth of empathy and compassion
Improving your relationships with your loved ones can also lead to improvements in other areas of functioning. Meaningful, secure relationships tend to enhance a person’s overall well-being. And learning how to love and be loved is a lesson you can carry with you throughout your life.
What Are the 3 Goals of Family Therapy?
While goals may differ from one family to the next, there are three main goals of family therapy:
- To educate. A family therapist can answer questions like the following: What is a mental health issue? How might it be affecting other family members? What are normal ways someone might react to trauma? What is secure attachment and how can it be achieved? What are healthy boundaries? What is active listening?
- To counsel. A family therapist uses different therapy interventions to help clients validate and support each other.
- To strengthen. A family therapist helps clients develop deeper bonds, better communication skills, inner resilience, and coping strategies that they need to manage family stressors.
But again, people seek family therapy for a wide variety of reasons. In fact, a Thriveworks family therapist usually begins treatment by asking what everyone’s goals are. Other objectives might include:
- To heal or reconcile
- To reduce conflict and tension
- To solve immediate problems or get over a specific hurdle
- To improve long-term problem-solving skills
- To forgive, or ask for forgiveness
- To establish healthy boundaries
- To manage anger
- To build or rebuild trust
- To explore misunderstandings
- To prevent future conflict
- To find individual support
- To understand and manage a mental health issue within the family
- To feel loved and appreciated
- To spend more time together
- To take on more or less responsibility
- To work through grief or trauma
- To handle a major family transition like a divorce
- To diagnose and improve maladaptive family dynamics
What Is Family Therapy Best For?
Family therapy can be beneficial for various challenges, including:
- Communication difficulties: Improving communication within the family can lead to better understanding and reduced conflicts.
- Family conflicts: Addressing and resolving conflicts can promote a more harmonious family environment.
- Behavioral problems in children or adolescents: Family therapy can help parents and children understand and cope with behavioral issues.
- Substance abuse or addiction: Working together as a family can support recovery and healing for the individual struggling with addiction.
- Mental health issues: Family therapy can provide support for family members dealing with mental health challenges and help reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.
- Life transitions: Major life changes, such as divorce, remarriage, or the birth of a new child, can be challenging for families to navigate. Family therapy can help manage these transitions effectively.
What Are the 5 Stages of Family Therapy?
Below are the five stages of family therapy:
1. Engagement: The first stage involves building rapport and establishing a working relationship between the family and the therapist. The therapist works to create a safe and non-judgmental environment where family members feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and emotions.
Initial assessments are conducted during this stage to gather information about the family’s history, structure, and specific issues.
2. Assessment: In this stage, the therapist gathers more in-depth information about the family’s dynamics, relationships, and patterns of communication. The goal is to identify the root causes of the family’s difficulties and gain insight into how individual family members interact with each other.
Various assessment techniques, such as genograms (family tree diagrams) and questionnaires, may be used to aid in understanding the family’s history and current functioning.
3. Goal setting: After a comprehensive assessment, the therapist collaborates with the family to set specific and achievable therapeutic goals. These goals are often related to improving communication, resolving conflicts, changing dysfunctional patterns, and enhancing overall family functioning. It is crucial that the goals are agreed upon by all family members involved in therapy
4. Intervention: During this stage, the therapist implements specific interventions and therapeutic techniques to address the identified issues and achieve the set goals. Different family therapy approaches, such as structural, strategic, narrative, or solution-focused therapy, may be used based on the family’s unique needs and circumstances. “One intervention that I love to use here is sculpting, where each family member has the chance to physically mold each other like a block of clay to model and demonstrate their view of the family,” says Alexandra Cromer, Licensed Professional Counselor at Thriveworks.
The therapist encourages open communication, active listening, and problem-solving among family members.
5. Termination and follow-up: As progress is made and therapeutic goals are met, the family therapy process enters the termination stage. The therapist works with the family to consolidate the gains made during therapy and develop a plan for the future.
This may involve discussing ways to maintain positive changes, prevent relapse into old patterns, and provide resources for ongoing support if needed. Follow-up sessions might be scheduled to ensure the family’s continued progress and well-being.
It is important to note that the stages of family therapy are not always linear, and the therapist may need to revisit or adapt certain stages based on the family’s progress and evolving needs throughout the therapeutic process. Additionally, the success of family therapy often depends on the willingness of family members to actively participate and engage in the therapeutic journey.
When Should a Family Go to Family Therapy?
A family should consider going to family therapy if they’re experiencing:
- Frequent misunderstandings and tension
- Poor communication
- Grief and loss
- Difficulty resolving conflict
- Difficulty with roles and boundaries
- Lies and/or secrets
- Behavioral problems or mental health issues in children
- Significant stress
- Disagreements in parenting
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Mental health disorders like depression or anxiety
- Financial stress
- Life transitions
- Marital conflict
- LGBTQ+ issues
- Emotional or verbal abuse
- Blended family issues
- Chronic illness
- Eating disorders
- Neurodiversity issues
- Unhealthy or inconsistent parenting styles
- Parent-child conflict
- Sibling conflict
- Adjustment issues
- Difficulty expressing emotions
That said, a passionate mental health professional would argue that any family, even the most harmonious one, can benefit from family therapy. A family doesn’t need to be in crisis to develop communication skills that will endure for life, potentially applying to all intimate relationships, not just family bonds.
What Are the Types of Family Therapy?
Family therapists can use numerous treatment approaches depending on their client’s needs and goals, with the following being common types of family therapy:
- Family systems therapy
- Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
- Attachment theory
- Play therapy
- Supportive family therapy
- Social constructionism
- Structural family therapy (developed by Salvador Minuchin)
- Behavioral therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Solution-focused brief therapy
- Bowenian therapy
- Strategic therapy
- Narrative therapy
- Psychodynamic therapy
- Functional family therapy
- Intergenerational therapy
Individual therapy and marriage counseling/couples therapy can also supplement family therapy.
What Is the Most Common Type of Family Therapy?
Structural family therapy, or SFT, is one of the most dominant types of family therapy. It is a highly influential approach that focuses on understanding and addressing the family’s overall structure and organization.
The core concepts of structural family therapy include:
- Family structure: This refers to the invisible patterns, rules, and relationships that determine how family members interact with one another. The therapist identifies dysfunctional patterns and seeks to create healthier, more functional structures.
- Subsystem and boundaries: The family is divided into subsystems, such as parent-child, spousal, or sibling subsystems. The therapy examines boundaries and hierarchies within these subsystems to ensure appropriate levels of flexibility and cohesion.
- Hierarchy: Each family has a hierarchy that determines power, authority, and decision-making. Issues can arise if the hierarchy is too rigid or too chaotic, causing conflicts or other problems.
- Coalitions: Sometimes, family members form coalitions or alliances against others within the family. Structural Family Therapy aims to identify and address these coalitions to foster healthier relationships.
- Restructuring: The goal of therapy is to facilitate positive changes in the family’s structure and interactions. This might involve changing roles, boundaries, or communication patterns.
It’s important to note that the field of therapy is constantly evolving, and different therapeutic approaches gain prominence over time.
What Therapy Is Best for Families?
The best therapy for families is responsive to a family’s needs. Family therapy has been described as an art as well as a science. It happens in a natural environment where skilled therapists often integrate a wide variety of counseling techniques.
So there’s no single intervention that can be applied in the same way for each family, resulting in the same outcome every time. Family therapy is about complex relationships, not formulas.
What Are Some Family Therapy Techniques and Interventions?
A family counselor often pulls from a variety of therapeutic approaches to personalize a treatment plan. Psychodynamic, behavioral, structural, and strategic interventions can all complement each other in various ways, leading to the best results for unique families. Family therapists can also tailor games and techniques to groups with different age ranges, interests, and abilities.
For example, a counselor may employ any of the following exercises in family therapy sessions:
- Miracle question, where everyone reveals their fundamental needs through a wish
- Genogram, where you map extra information in a family tree
- Sculpting, in which each family member has the chance to physically mold each family member like a block of clay to model and demonstrate their view of the family
- Scavenger hunt, where you collect meaningful objects that reveal what matters to you
- Family gift, where you use gifts to provoke discussion
- Mirroring activity, where you learn to work together and have compassion for each other
- Emotions ball, where you describe emotions using a ball game
- “I” statements, where you focus on your own experience when you speak
- Role-playing, where you practice new skills and ways of interacting
- Family therapy map, where you make a visual representation of your family
- Problem-free talk, when you open up about positive things in your life
What Are the 4 Steps of Structural Family Therapy?
Structural family therapy focuses on examining and changing the patterns of interactions within a family to improve its functioning, with four fundamental steps:
- Joining: The first step involves the therapist building rapport and establishing a therapeutic alliance with the family members. Joining is about understanding the family’s dynamics, beliefs, and values, and it requires the therapist to empathize and demonstrate a genuine interest in the family’s experiences. This step is essential for creating a safe and trusting environment where family members can share their concerns openly.
- Assessment: During this step, the therapist gathers information to understand the family’s structure, boundaries, hierarchies, and communication patterns. The assessment phase aims to identify problematic patterns and behaviors that contribute to the family’s issues. The therapist may use various techniques like observing interactions, conducting interviews, and genograms (family tree diagrams) to gain a comprehensive understanding of the family’s functioning.
- Restructuring: Once the therapist has assessed the family’s dynamics and identified problematic patterns, the restructuring phase begins. This step involves interventions aimed at modifying the family’s structure and interactions. The therapist may suggest changes in boundaries, hierarchies, and communication styles to promote healthier relationships. The goal is to help family members adapt to new patterns that encourage better communication, problem-solving, and conflict resolution.
- Intensifying and consolidating changes: In this final step, the therapist helps the family members solidify the changes made during the restructuring phase. It involves reinforcing positive behaviors, encouraging continued growth, and providing support as needed. The therapist also helps the family build resilience and cope with challenges that may arise as they adapt to the new patterns of interaction.
What Are the 6 Stages of Family Life Cycle Family Medicine?
In family medicine, the concept of the family life cycle refers to the various stages a family typically goes through over time. These stages are characterized by different developmental tasks and challenges that families must navigate.
It’s important to note that not all families follow this exact progression, and individual experiences may vary. Some families may experience additional stages or face unique circumstances that can influence their family life cycle. Nonetheless, this framework provides a general understanding of the common stages families go through in their life journeys. Below is a common framework that consists of the following six stages of the family life cycle:
- Independence/Young Adult: This stage typically involves young adults leaving their family of origin, establishing their independence, and forming new relationships. They may pursue higher education, start their careers, and explore their identities outside the family unit.
- Coupling/Marriage: This stage involves the formation of a committed relationship, such as marriage or long-term cohabitation. Couples may focus on building their relationship, establishing shared values, and planning for their future together.
- Parenting/Family with Young Children: In this stage, couples become parents and raise young children. They face the challenges of nurturing and raising their children, adapting to new roles as parents, and balancing work and family responsibilities.
- Family with Adolescents: As children grow into adolescents, the family faces new challenges related to parenting teenagers. Parents must adapt to the changing needs of their children and support them through the process of developing autonomy and independence.
- Launching/Empty Nest: This stage occurs when children leave home for college, work, or other pursuits, leading to an “empty nest.” Parents may experience a mix of emotions during this transition, as they adjust to their new roles as empty nesters and find new ways to connect as a couple.
- Aging Family/Retirement: In the final stage, the family faces the challenges of aging, retirement, and potential health concerns. Adult children may take on caregiving roles for their elderly parents, and the family may need to address issues related to aging and end-of-life planning.
We all want happy families. Ones that support us and help us grow. Ones that provide security even when we’re feeling vulnerable. Ones that feel like home. But that harmony isn’t always easy to achieve.
Sometimes it takes hard work, thoughtful communication, and an ability to see problems from different perspectives. These aren’t skills that everyone just develops naturally. Sometimes you have to make the intentional decision to do better—and that’s where family therapy at Thriveworks can make a big difference.