Family therapy is a form of treatment that seeks to strengthen the bond between partners and close relatives. But though the practice is common, not everyone is familiar with what a family therapist does. There are several different family therapy goals and methods available for relatives with unique needs.
Below, we will look closer at the essential family therapy principles and techniques, who can benefit from a family therapy service, and how you can find the best family therapist for your needs.
Who Does Family Therapy Benefit?
One common misconception about family therapy is that it’s only for members of the family. But while romantic partners, parents and children, and some extended family members are the most frequent recipients of family therapy, they aren’t the only ones that can benefit from it.
Family therapists offer guidance and lead exercises that help people diffuse tension and understand one another better. So, any close, non-familiar pairs struggling to stay amicable can improve through family therapy. Additionally, family therapy is accessible for individuals, couples, and small group dynamics.
Primary Family Therapy Principles
Not every mental health professional approaches family therapy in the same way. However, most therapists share the same goals and family therapy principles.
Regardless of the type of family therapy you seek, your therapist will attempt to help you and your relatives in the following ways.
Improving Communication and Problem-Solving Skills
The biggest problem many families and long-term partners face is poor communication, particularly in the face of hardship. Adversity comes in many forms for families, from financial troubles to differences in raising a child. And without proper communication and problem-solving skills, those differences will spiral out of control and drive a wedge between previously close family dynamics.
One of the critical family therapy principles is to address poor communication head-on. During a therapy session, your therapist might challenge you to modify your behavior to work through shared hardships with more clarity and less anger. Many even offer “homework” to patients or out-of-session challenges to approach topics of contention with honesty and empathy.
Deconstructive Unhealthy Family Roles
Family therapists will analyze the power and decision-making structures within a group and attempt to replace unhealthy, uneven roles with a level playing field.
One-sided power structures are often a cause of strife in relationships. For example, if one party makes all the decisions in a marriage and for a family with minimal input from anyone else, the others in that group might feel their voices don’t matter or aren’t wanted.
Family therapists are experts in diagnosing these kinds of power struggles. Many of them will help their patients understand each other’s perspectives better and develop a compromise power structure that makes everyone happy.
Reducing Anger Toward Hot Button Issues
Whatever points of contention you and your family or partners face, addressing them with anger and without understanding will only divide everyone involved. Unfortunately, attempting to remove yourself from those hostile feelings can be challenging without a mediator.
In the simplest sense, a family therapist is a neutral third party that will help you and your family find middle ground on the issues driving you apart. So, not only will you have workable solutions to your problems, but you’ll get there in a pleasant way without anger.
Other Central Goals
Family therapy is often a years-long investment; with all that time comes several lessons beyond the primary ones listed above. Some of the additional lessons family therapists attempt to teach include:
- How to set healthy boundaries
- How to support and communicate with a family member with mental health concerns
- How to cope with illness or tragedy
- How to set long-term goals
Common Family Therapy Techniques
While many methods share the same family therapy principles, not every group counseling technique is the same. Many family therapy techniques help specific demographics with different needs, and finding the best types of family therapy for you and your partners is essential to getting the most out of your investment.
While there are several different family therapy variants, the most common are strategic, structural, and systemic.
Strategic family therapy aims to strengthen bonds between partners by observing their behavior and modifying it. For example, if an issue in a group causes one member to lash out in anger, the family therapist will challenge them to change their reaction to being more tolerant toward the other members.
The primary difference between strategic therapy and the other methods is that most work happens between therapy sessions. While your therapist will work on behavior observation and modification during the appointment, they will often ask you to recall the lessons you learned during the session and use them to change how you act with your family back at home.
As the name suggests, structural family therapy believes that a family unit needs a clearly defined structure and boundaries to thrive. So, if you work with a structural therapist, they might work with you to establish your role within the family and clarify what other family members should expect from you.
Systemic family therapy treats groups as one interconnected unit where each part affects the other. For example, structural therapists believe that family dynamics have a butterfly effect. So, if one member behaves a certain way, the others will develop habits to cope with that behavior, which also impacts everyone’s behaviors.
When you sign up for systemic family therapy, your mental health professional will attempt to shape the interactions between family members to be healthier and less reactionary. Additionally, many will lead exercises and ask questions that help patients understand how their family views them and their behavior.
Finding The Right Family Therapist
Before committing to family therapy and a specific family therapist, it’s vital to understand what you want from the service. Depending on the type of counseling, your mental health professional will impart different lessons and family therapy principles, so you must know what problems you want to work on and lessons you want to learn before scheduling an appointment.
But if you find the perfect family therapist, it can be a great way to bridge the gap between you and emotionally distant relatives and friends.