Do We Need Family Therapy?

By Nadia Khan|Updated August 1, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By April Brewer , DBH, LPC

A healthy family life can bring joy to every member. In hard times, members support each other. They work toward common goals and enjoy leisure time together. Being a part of a family isn't always easy, though. Sometimes, individual concerns meld together to create family dysfunction rather than family support. Even so, it may be difficult to know when to get help in family therapy. Family therapy may help you know whether you are just going through a rough patch or your family is in a more serious downward spiral.

If you are wondering whether it is time to consider counseling or maybe online therapy, a good first step is to find out more about family therapy and how it can help you through challenging situations.

family therapy

Family Dynamics Can Be Negative And Take A Harsh Toll

Definition of Family Therapy

Years ago, society considered a family to consist of a married couple and their children or all the descendants of an older adult or ancestor. Today, the standard definition of a family system is more inclusive. A family is a basic social unit. In addition to its earlier meanings, a family can also mean a single adult and their children, an unmarried couple and their children, a same-sex couple and their children, or any group of adults and the children they care for. For many people, friends are as much or more important than their biological family members. However, unless friends live together, they don't meet the definition of a family.

Sometimes, a family lives together under the safe roof. They may also live apart but be closely related. For example, a parent who does not have custody of a child would still consider the child as a family member. Or, separated parents may live apart but share custody of their child. In that case, the child would be considered a part of each parent's family. Family therapy for such a family sometimes includes both adults – not because they still consider each other family, but because they are still co-parenting. Usually, members of a family are either biologically related, living together, or both.

Each family has a unique structure and a variety of communication styles. And each family has different family strengths that make them unique. What affects one family member usually affects other members as well. If two people in the family are at odds, life can become more stressful for everyone in the family. When changes happen within the family unit, all members must adapt to the new situation. This is where family therapy treatment can help.

Issues That May Come Up In Your Family Counseling Sessions

Families that have never developed a beneficial structure or a healthy communication style may quickly fall into turmoil when something goes wrong. Even a family that once functioned well can become dysfunctional when it is under unusual stress. After all, all family systems are different. If you see any of the following within your family, consider getting help through family therapy.

Children's Behavioral Problems

If a child is misbehaving, chances are there is dysfunction in the family. Perhaps unhealthy family dynamics are at the root of the issue, the child's misbehavior is causing stress within the family, or both. Addressing the child's behavior is an important part of arriving at a place of peace within the family.

Child and teen behavioral concerns may include:
  • Acting out at school
  • Failing at school
  • Skipping school
  • Difficulty controlling emotions
  • Bullying or being bullied
  • Drug and alcohol abuse

Troubles That Arise In The Marriage Or Other Adult Partnership

Children do not have the monopoly on dysfunctional relationships. When adult relationships are troubled, the entire family can suffer. Perhaps you have a hard time resolving conflicts within your partnership. Maybe one partner is responsible for childcare and discipline.
If you don't communicate with your partner, the household can become fractured as well. Sexual concerns or financial problems within a marriage can lead to larger challenges in the family, too. When these types of difficulties are present in a marriage, marriage and family therapy or couples therapy can help you renegotiate the relationship in a way that decreases family conflict / martial problems, while improving family functioning.

Parent-Child Family Relationships and Dysfunctions

Parents and children share a special bond that is more profound than in almost any other type of relationship. However, parents and children don't always get along well. Sometimes, it is because of the child's behavior, but other times, the parent causes the strain by how they behave toward their children.

These are some common Parent-Child dysfunctions:

  • Child abuse or neglect
  • Obvious favoritism toward one child
  • Being too strict or too permissive
  • Sheltering the children too much
  • Expecting a young child to take on adult responsibilities and roles
  • Inconsistent discipline
  • Being uncommunicative
  • Not providing emotional support or nurturing
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Disrespecting the child or their privacy

Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry is so common that most people assume it's okay. However, sibling rivalry can be a form of bullying. The children are not competing against one another as they would in a sport, but instead, they're hurting each other out of their emotional distress. Many parents have little hope that they can ever help their children overcome sibling rivalry, but there is hope! Children and family psychotherapy can help them learn how to cooperate, have compassion for other family members, and get along better than you might ever expect.

Shared Problems

When a family lives together, they may face shared life challenges, such as:

  • Death of a loved one or family pet
  • Financial challenges such as low income, debt, foreclosures, reports
  • Illness of a family member – physical or mental alike, including chronic illness
  • Natural disasters such as floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.
  • Criminal attacks such as a break-in in the family home, home invasion, assault
  • Social conflicts with friends, neighbors, extended family

Benefits Of Therapy 

What Happens?

It's common for people to be apprehensive about their first family therapy session, as they might not full understand the benefits of family psychotherapy. Commonly, before the first family therapy session begins, family members all get a chance to fill out assessment paperwork that includes their personal histories, individual medical and mental health histories, and possibly a questionnaire about what happens within the family from each of their perspectives. You might be wondering, "How many sessions will it take to see improvement?" That varies significantly from family to family. It's best to ask your therapist about this, as they will have a better understanding of each person in the family.

During the first family therapy session, the family therapist explains the process of family therapy and how confidential statements will be handled in family therapy. The counselor then takes time to get to know each family member, observe behavior patterns, learn what brought them to family therapy, and understand the specific issues each is facing. The family therapist — similar to how other mental health professionals work — also asks a lot of questions and observes the family members communicate, who takes on different roles, and where conflicts or trauma lie, and determines which symptoms or challenges may be present. The counselor usually talks with the entire family first and possibly with one or more family members individually. They usually do not consult with extended family for treatment. They especially want to understand mental health conditions each family member may be navigating to tailor the treatment.

In later family therapy sessions, the therapist, having gathered significant initial information, may focus on the most serious concerns in communication and family functioning. The counselor may choose certain family members to attend sessions together, sometimes seeing the entire group and sometimes working with an individual client or only a few family members. They may spend more time with those who are having the most difficulty or are in the best position to make changes for the better through new skills, perspectives, or coping skills. They might focus ways to  improving communication, defining family roles, or unpacking emotional problems for a person.

Licensed Marriage and family therapists may assign homework to complete between family therapy sessions to help resolve conflicts as part of the treatment plan. The homework may be a new behavior to practice, a journal-writing topic, or a request to come up with solutions to a problem. At the next family therapy session, individual family members get to talk about what happened when they did the homework and how it might help family members understand each other better.

Where Can I Get Family Counseling That Is Also Near Me?

Are you ready to explore the question of “How do I find family counseling near me?” Finding the right family counseling services to help your mental health may require a bit of research and consideration for the right treatment. After all, you are a unique family. You have your own unique set of strengths, challenges, and family history that no one else shares. That means you also have many options for help for family issues.

You may choose to go to a family therapist who has a private practice in your city or who works within the community mental health or psychology system. Or you may ask your primary care doctor if they can make a referral. Before you choose a family counselor, it is important to give them a summary of your concerns and ask them what kind of therapy they recommend or use. This will give you a basic idea of their approach with clients. It's important to note that they are not able to prescribe patients with medication or other drugs associated with mental health conditions. You'd want to consult a doctor or psychiatrist for that type of help.

Some marriage and family therapy services are especially well-equipped to address cultural differences within the family and within the community they live. Family Tree Counseling, for example, is a branded therapy that includes marriage and family counseling for all family members. Therapists have experience working with non-traditional families and the LGBT community.

Online marriage and family therapy can be an effective way to learn ways to strengthen your family relationships. A recent study indicates that couples who work with online marriage and family therapists (as opposed to a therapist in a traditional brick and mortar office) find the format conducive to sharing their feelings in a way that left them feeling less judged. Participants went on to say that video-based therapy allowed them to focus more intently on the experiential therapeutic process and offered a greater sense of control and comfort than traditional face-to-face therapy. Peer reviewed studies like this one have helped online therapy grow in popularity.

Online family counseling through BetterHelp allows parents to bring the family together in family love for therapy in their own home or anywhere they have an internet connection to help address a mental health condition. You can choose a counselor with the training, experience, and value system that matches your family’s needs – every therapist has at least three years and 1,000 hours of hands-on experience. A family therapist can also help family members living with depression, mood disorders, anxiety, substance abuse, or other challenges. Therapy can also be beneficial during major life transitions. Consider these recent reviews from people like you who are working with BetterHelp family therapists for mental health treatment.

Conclusion and Counselor Reviews

“Ms. Pamela is a kind and genuine active listener. She has provided activities and worksheets that have helped my family and I tremendously with our daily lives. We are so grateful for the help. I look forward to my sessions with Pamela every week!”

Family Dynamics Can Be Negative And Take A Harsh Toll

“I met with Debra to find a way to resolve a family conflict. I was new to counseling and was hesitant to reach out for help. Debra was a compassionate listener who immediately made me feel comfortable. She helped me gain insight and self-knowledge in order to incorporate new tools and behaviors that I could use in order to set boundaries and establish healthy communication with my family member. I have found a new confidence in setting boundaries in other areas of my life as well.”

Peace at home is more than possible with your family members. Positive results could be right around the corner with family therapy. It is what you deserve for all your family members. Family therapy can help you find that peace.

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