Family therapy is a type of psychological counseling (psychotherapy) that can help family members improve communication and resolve conflicts.
Family therapy is usually provided by a psychologist, clinical social worker or licensed therapist. These therapists have graduate or postgraduate degrees and may be credentialed by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).
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.
Family therapy can help you improve troubled relationships with your partner, 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 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.
You can ask your primary care doctor for a referral to a therapist. Family members or friends may give recommendations based on their experiences. You also can ask your employee assistance program, clergy, or state or local mental health agencies for suggestions for therapists.
Before scheduling sessions with a therapist, consider whether the therapist would be a good fit for your family. Here are some factors to consider and questions to ask:
Family therapy typically 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:
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:
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.