Family Therapy Methods: Exploring Family Counseling

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson
Updated February 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Family therapy is a systemic therapy that can target various concerns between family members at any time, including conflict, communication, divorce, stress, or mental illness. It is often characterized as a strength-based treatment that aims to adjust patterns and identify individual strengths rather than blaming a specific family member or challenge. 

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Counseling can help create a stronger family bond

Different approaches 

Family therapy may be less about gathering family members in the same room and more about the methods used to address conflict and unit concerns. Depending on the concerns, your therapist may choose to have the family members meet together or separately. Some methods might involve group therapy with other families to learn new skills. If one or more of the clients present with a chronic mental health condition, these symptoms will have to be addressed as well.

Therapy might also be focused on the individual needs. For example, suppose therapy has been sought due to a child's struggles at school. In that case, the therapist might meet with the child individually and then call the family to discuss the treatment plan and instruct the parents on how to support their child best. However, the method used can vary depending on a therapist's unique approach. Below are a few standard methods utilized in family therapy. 

Bowenian therapy

If you prefer individual therapy to group options, the Bowenian approach might suit you. This form of therapy focuses on triangulation and differentiation between family members. 

Triangulation method

Triangulation refers to involving a neutral person in a conflict between two individuals. For example, someone may be triangulating if they get into an argument with their sister and try to get their mom to see their sister as the instigator. Although this strategy might momentarily alleviate worry, it may not be a healthy response to a disagreement because it can cause an unfair power balance or misinformation. Bowenian therapy looks at how these dynamics can occur in family units. 

Family therapy can place the therapist in the role of the neutral person when you have the urge to triangulate. By hearing your concerns, marriage and therapists can identify potential errors in your thinking and strategies for connecting with your family. This strategy may be done in individual therapy, with sessions afterward.

Differentiation method

Many individuals seeking family therapy may struggle with how they see others in their family and their world. They may be exhibiting volatile emotional responses and unsure how to handle their feelings or views.

The goal of differentiation in Bowenian family therapy is to free oneself from unwanted beliefs. It is the process of learning how to form your own opinions and live your life in a way that is free from labeling or negative influences. You can learn that you are separate from your parents, siblings, or other family members and that you can have varying personalities and beliefs. 

Seeing yourself and your family as unique individuals and differentiating your views from theirs and the world around you, may help you understand the conflicts you have and offer the family clarity and communication.

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Structural method

The structural family therapy approach may be an option for those looking to reorganize how power and family dynamics are distributed among individuals within the unit. It often takes a structured problem-solving approach to therapy. 

Structural family therapy might be utilized when a child is involved in a conflict. The therapist may begin by drawing a chart of your family and noting the relationships between you. Once positions of power are identified, they may help clarify potential changes or techniques to address conflicts and communication between each pairing. 

This therapy method was developed based on the belief that the root of many childhood problems comes from concerns that go unsolved, not from the child or their behavior. Many studies back up this belief, showing that children raised with dysfunctional family dynamics are at a greater disposition for depression and other mental health and behavioral concerns. 

Clients may learn to restructure the family dynamic in structural family therapy after identifying key issues. Your therapist might have you participate in roleplays, acting out problematic situations that occurred in the months or weeks before your session. At times, your therapist may pretend to take certain sides or model how family members relate. This method may break up negative patterns and promote a healthier family dynamic.

Additionally, concerns within a family might come from a power imbalance, such as one parent making all of the decisions and excluding the other parent or a child making choices for their parents. No matter your concerns, reaching out to a mental health professional may help you restructure your family life. 

Strategic method

Strategic family therapy may be ideal for families seeking a quick approach to conflict resolution. Structural therapy focuses on using specific techniques explicitly tailored toward your family, developed within a few sessions. The therapist may act as a coach or mentor for a family unit looking to learn new skills. 

Strategic therapy may not focus on your past or what has occurred in your life. Instead, it can focus on current patterns, thoughts, and behaviors you want to change and develop an immediate plan to change them, as long as you are willing. 

Your treatment plan might begin with identifying fixable concerns. You can then move on to setting goals and creating pathways to reach those goals. Once you arrive at your plan, your therapist can observe the responses and actions of your family during the session. Based on these observations, they may evaluate the overall goal for therapy as a whole. 

A licensed therapist in family therapy can be heavily involved and hands-on in your treatment. They may remain actively interested in your well-being and do all they can to ensure your outcome is long-lasting and positive. As a benefit, this type of therapy is often highly personalized. If you're looking for a unique therapy form, try strategic family therapy. You can also try strategy psychotherapy in an individual setting. 

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Counseling can help create a stronger family bond

Systemic family therapy method

Systemic family therapy believes family conflict may occur from the subconscious influence of the family members rather than actions or behaviors. Systemic therapists may believe that conflict within the family stems from interlocked issues beneath the surface. For example, a therapist might believe that each individual has connections and conflicts on a subconscious level that could contribute to their family role. 

For example, one family member experiencing a breakup in their personal life may bring personal challenges to their relationships with the whole family. Unlike structural therapy, systemic family therapy does not place power on one individual or a group. It may posit that identifying power roles could harm the family members' subconscious beliefs. 

If you choose to engage in the systemic model of family therapy strategies, your counselor or therapist may help you uncover the subconscious issues with your family members and discuss strategies for addressing them. They may help you identify cycles, games, or rituals in which you are participating, and help your family strengthen roles within the family unit. 

Systemic family therapy may offer a fresh perspective on the conflicts that many families experience and how family members interact. If you have tried many other types of therapy without results, consider this form of counseling. 

Functional family therapy method

Functional Family Therapy (FFT) is a short-term evidence-based family therapy designed to address at-risk youth ages 11-18 years old. The family therapists that use this method will build therapeutic relationships with all members of the family as well as extra-family influences to help establish a better functioning home environment. The family plays a large role in the process, with each family unit seen as completely unique. This is one of the family interventions that can be useful for strengthening the family environment to help an adolescent who may be experiencing a mental health condition, substance abuse, or trauma.

Counseling options 

Individuals may be able to address family conflicts and concerns in individual therapy and family settings. If you are looking for a more personalized therapy focused on your experiences in your family, consider individual therapy. Even if you face barriers to counseling, such as cost and distance, various options, including online therapy, are available. Family therapy counseling online is an effective way for people to get their needed help.

The world is increasingly interconnected through technology. The use of technology in psychological care, such as text messaging and video calls, may enhance personalized care for those who seek psychological services for mental health problems. One study on the effectiveness of online therapy found that it was more effective than in-person treatment methods in addressing depression and common concerns like worrying, stress, or life challenges. 

Many online platforms offer flexible communication options for talk therapy. For example, you may choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions with licensed therapists. You may also gain connection to resources like journal prompts or worksheets from your therapist to use at home directly after your sessions. If you are interested in learning more about online counseling but are unsure where to start, consider using resources offered by a platform like BetterHelp, which provides over 30,000 licensed and vetted therapists. 

Takeaway

Family therapy or marriage counseling offers families a deeper understanding of healthy life boundaries and functional family practices. Many types of family therapy are available to those seeking support with conflict, communication, mental health conditions, substance abuse, parenting skills, or other concerns. If you're interested in learning more about how family therapy might serve you, consider reaching out to a therapist for further guidance and support. 

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