The Benefits Of Family Counseling And How It Works

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated March 4, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

At their best, families can provide support, love, and a sense of belonging, but for many of us, our relationships with family can also be some of the most challenging. Knowing how to resolve family conflict within your current family structure may seem difficult. Regardless of your situation, family counseling may help you assess your family dynamics, navigate tough discussions receive mental health treatment, and ultimately emerge as a healthier family unit. 

In this article, we’ll address some of the common obstacles to family counseling and illuminate the benefits of family therapy for families of all kinds. Finally, we’ll offer coping strategies for family-related stress and discuss how to find the right family counselor for you.

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Reasons for seeking family counseling

Families are unique, and the reasons they may seek counseling are complex. A family may choose to enter therapy after reaching an impasse in their ability to resolve emotional or communication problems. They may also seek to identify the origins of these problems and develop strategies or family interventions to avoid them in the future. 

In a family unit, conflict can take many forms and may occur between several family members or specific individuals. Couples may also benefit from therapy through the lens of family dynamics. Family counselors see a broad array of conflicts and health conditions, including those related to: 

  • Alcohol and drug use or substance abuse
  • Youth behavioral concerns
  • Depression
  • Abuse
  • Parenting conflicts
  • Developmental disorders
  • Intimate partner violence

While one family member may be at the center of a conflict, other family often become entangled as they attempt to help. At this stage, it may be especially helpful to consult a mental health professional who is trained in family systems theory. Family systems therapy focuses on interactions between family members and the context(s) in which the family exists. Family therapists my emphasize the systems within and around a family and identifying behavior patterns, a family counselor can help a family build resilience, rather than focusing on the negatives of one individual’s behavior.

Responding to a family crisis

When family problems are left unresolved, it can ultimately lead to a crisis, or a period of heightened family tension and imbalance. Common examples of family crisis include an unplanned pregnancy, the loss of a loved one, suicide,* a child services investigation, divorce, or incarceration. 

*If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can be reached at 988 and is available 24/7. Please contact 911 right away if you or anyone else is in immediate danger.

At their height, family crises can promote feelings of stress, anxiety, and vulnerability. A family therapist typically identifies five main phases of a family crisis during family therapy sessions, which tend to be short-lived and usually last no more than six weeks altogether.

  1. A family crisis is triggered.
  2. The family recognizes the crisis as a threat.
  3. The family responds in a disorganized manner.
  4. The family searches for a solution.
  5. The family adopts new coping strategies, which marks the beginning of the family’s recovery.

Crises are inherently challenging, but they can also present opportunities for positive change. During these times, families may be especially open to working with family counselors, Ideally, they’ll learn new problem-solving approaches and become better equipped for future challenges.  

Goals of family counseling

Family counselors are not just limited to conducting parent counseling, they also include strategic family therapy, structural family therapy, and others. They are also not just there for moments of crisis; they’re also prepared to guide the parents and the rest of the family members through smaller conflicts before they evolve into larger problems. While the needs of every family are different, some common goals of family therapy include:

  • Defining and maintaining healthy boundaries between family 
  • Improving communication
  • Better understanding family dynamics to improve problem-solving
  • Building empathy and reducing daily conflicts
  • Developing listening skills
  • Learning how to recognize and honor the needs of each part of the family 

Your family may have a sense of its goals prior to meeting with a family counselor, or you may develop a list of objectives after the first few sessions. Regardless of where your family begins, counseling service can provide a safe, neutral environment where the family can freely express feelings, ask questions, and generate ideas. 

When to seek out family counseling

In an ideal world, family therapy is a proactive service, rather than reactive. However, families cannot always predict which “small” problems may lead to greater challenges. 

With this in mind, there’s no wrong time to begin and take family counseling services; whenever you choose to consult the expertise of a marriage and family therapist or counselor, you may be making a critical step toward healthier family relationships. Both marriage and family therapy treatment plans are usually brief since they focus on specific and attainable therapeutic goals, however, how many sessions are needed depends on the family and their circumstances.

Family and marriage counselors tend to work with the “end in mind,” so that families can utilize the lessons and strategies they’ve learned outside of therapy. 

Marriage and family therapists are highly experienced professionals with an average of 13 years of clinical practice in their field.

Their approach tends to be solution-focused, time-limited, and personalized to the needs and conflicts of your family. 


Other strategies to cope with family stress

Outside of therapy sessions, a family counselor may recommend coping strategies for adults and adolescents in a family. The following are some tips and strategies that may be used as a form of “homework” to practice the skills learned in therapy sessions and can help manage mental health problems: 

  • Practice mindfulness and breathing exercises. Mindfulness is the practice of centering yourself in the present moment. By focusing on your breathing and calming your mind, breathing exercises can help you stay mindful in stressful moments.
  • Plan family activities that are relaxing, fun, and meaningful. These activities can be simple, at-home events, like watching a movie or cooking together. 
  • Get active. Exercise on your own for some restorative alone time, or incorporate family into your daily movement. This could be a 15-minute walk or a dance workout—whatever gets the family moving.
  • Recognize your stress cues. In response to stress, we might become noticeably forgetful, lose our temper, or become tearful. By recognizing signs of stress in yourself and your family, you can intervene with stress-relieving strategies.
  • Lean into laughter. Laughter can reduce stress, improve mood, and promote the resilience your family needs to overcome common challenges. 
  • Take care of your needs first. If you’re worried about family responsibilities or the mental health of a loved one, it can be tempting to prioritize their immediate needs before your own. Even as you support family through difficult times, you can make a conscious decision to take care of your basic needs. This includes adequate sleep, nutrition, and physical activity. 
Curious about counseling services for your family?

The benefits of family therapy counseling online

Whether it’s a life-changing event or a series of smaller hiccups, a counselor may be able to help you identify the source of family tensions and strengthen your relationships. If you find it difficult to gather your entire family at a therapist’s office, you might try online family counseling.

One for the benefits of family counseling online is that regardless of each individual’s schedule, everyone can meet with a counselor from the comfort of their own personal space to receive treatment. At BetterHelp, our online therapists recognize that families come in many forms and that flexible, 100% digital therapy may work best for families as they weather various challenges. Evidence suggests that telehealth (online therapy) sessions can help make therapy more convenient. With BetterHelp, your family can contact your counselor via phone, videoconference, or in-app messaging.

Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing a range of family situations.

Counselor reviews

"I came on to BetterHelp because I felt like I was [at] a breaking point with my mental health and was having issues with my family that was going in no direction towards a solution. I met Kelli and with a few days of exploding and venting, I felt so much better. I felt even better after a couple of weeks of discussing the different issues at home and she helped me look at things in different perspectives. I’m learning to relax and not waste my energies on pointless issues and issues that I don't have control over."

"After counseling with Dr. Cothern for 4 weeks I have seen a huge difference in myself and my relationships with my family, she has helped me to see that what I am doing is good for me and that I shouldn't beat myself up when I do it say something that might be seen as being too forceful when really its not."

Dr. E is very understanding and empathetic. He points you in the right direction on how to solve your problems and gives you the correct tools to do so! He is an expert on handling family relationship matters! Thank you Doc!


Families do not need to wait for a crisis or a momentous event to seek help. With an effective online counselor, your family can log off from each session with the tools to communicate effectively, clearly, and compassionately with one another. Take the first step and contact BetterHelp today.
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