Families are systems much like a car, computer, or a skeletal system. They are all connected and therefore impacted by one another often in ways that are not seen or understood. Family therapy seeks to improve the dynamic between family members by having as many members in the room at the same time to address the problem(s) they are facing. Although that’s the preferred method of treatment for Family Therapists, it’s not always possible. What distinguishes family therapy from individual counseling is its perspective, not how many people are present at the therapy session. This type of therapy views problems as being the negative or destructive patterns in families that need to be corrected, as opposed to viewing problems as residing within a certain family member. This is why Family Therapy is often referred to as a “strengths based treatment.”
“Family” is defined as anyone who plays a long-term supportive role in one’s life, which may not mean blood relations or family members in the same household. Family relationships are crucial for good mental health as they are the primary attachments we form early in life. It’s an ideal therapy method for helping family members adjust to an immediate family member struggling with an addiction, medical issue, or mental health diagnosis. It is also recommended for improving communication and reducing conflict.
Other common reasons for seeking family therapy include:
- When a child is having a problem such as with school, substance abuse, or disordered eating
- A major trauma or change that impacts the entire family (i.e. relocation to a new house, natural disaster)
- Unexpected or traumatic loss of a family member
- Adjustment to a new family member in the home (i.e. birth of a sibling, adoption, foster children, a grandparent entering the home)
- Domestic violence
- Parent Conflict
Family therapy is a very specialized skill set, and one should seek a therapist who has received both training and credentials qualifying them to perform this type of therapy. All Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT’s) are required to work with families as part of their training and then receive at least 2 years of supervision by an MFT Supervisor approved either by their state or the national accrediting body – the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT)
Family therapy can be helpful on many levels. It can:
- Help develop and maintain healthy boundaries
- Foster cohesion and communication among family members
- Promote problem solving through understanding of family patterns and dynamics
- Build empathy and understanding.
- Reduce family conflict
The specific number of family therapy sessions depends on the presenting problem and mode of family therapy. A family is not billed more for a family therapy session, even when there are multiple members in the room. However, most insurance plans will not cover a couples or family session unless one of the individuals has a mental health diagnosis. Insurance companies have yet to fully understand the overall health benefit of Family Therapy and continue to only reimburse for an antiquated linear approach to treating mental illness where a single member of a family is "the problem."
If you and/or your family are going through a tough time -- whether it's from stress, anger, divorce, addiction, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, grief, or any other difficulty -- family therapy can make a difference!