Family counseling, also known as "family therapy, works to improve the family unit. Challenges like divorce, death, disability, or major life transitions can put a strain on the family and they seek the guidance of a therapist to help them cope. Although every family faces conflict, a family may reach a point of conflict or stress that leaves its members unsure of how to communicate in a healthy manner. Family therapy can help with problem-solving, communication, and coping to make the family more cohesive.
Family therapy is often short term. It may include all family members or just those able or willing to participate. Your specific treatment plan will depend on your family's situation. Family therapy sessions can teach you skills to deepen family connections and get through stressful times, even after you're done going to therapy sessions.
Why it's done
Family therapy can help you improve troubled relationships with your husband or wife, children or other family members. You may address specific issues such as marital or financial problems, conflict between parents and children, or the impact of substance abuse or a mental illness on the entire family.
Your family may pursue family therapy along with other types of mental health treatment, especially if one of you has a mental illness or addiction that also requires additional therapy or rehabilitation treatment. For example:
Family therapy can help family members cope if a relative has a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia — but the person who has schizophrenia should continue with his or her individualized treatment plan, which may include medications, one-on-one therapy or other treatment.
In the case of addiction, the family can attend family therapy while the person who has an addiction participates in residential treatment. Sometimes the family may participate in family therapy even if the person with an addiction hasn't sought out his or her own treatment.
Family therapy can be useful in any family situation that causes stress, grief, anger or conflict. It can help you and your family members understand one another better and learn coping skills to bring you closer together.
What you can expect
Family therapy usually brings several family members together for therapy sessions. However, a family member may also see a family therapist individually.
Sessions typically take about 50 minutes to an hour. Family therapy is often short term — generally about 12 sessions. However, how often you meet and the number of sessions you'll need will depend on your family's particular situation and the therapist's recommendation.
During family therapy, you can:
Examine your family's ability to solve problems and express thoughts and emotions in a productive manner
Explore family roles, rules and behavior patterns to identify issues that contribute to conflict — and ways to work through these issues
Identify your family's strengths, such as caring for one another, and weaknesses, such as difficulty confiding in one another
Say that your adult son has depression. Your family doesn't understand his depression or how best to offer support. Although you're worried about your son's well-being, conversations with your son or other family members erupt into arguments and you feel frustrated and angry. Communication diminishes, decisions go unmade, family members avoid each other and the rift grows wider.
In such a situation, family therapy can help you:
Pinpoint your specific challenges and how your family is handling them Learn new ways to interact and overcome unhealthy patterns of relating to each other Set individual and family goals and work on ways to achieve them
Family therapy doesn't automatically solve family conflicts or make an unpleasant situation go away. But it can help you and your family members understand one another better, and it can provide skills to cope with challenging situations in a more effective way. It may also help the family achieve a sense of togetherness.