Family Therapy Techniques: How Family Counseling Works

By: Mary Elizabeth Dean

Updated November 20, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Aaron Horn

What is Family Therapy?

Family therapy is a type of systemic therapy that works to improve stress or other conditions of distress by strengthening interaction between family members. It is often characterized as strength-based treatment because it aims to adjust problems or patterns, rather than to treat the problems as residing inside a person.

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Family therapy is less about having everyone in the same room, and more about the methods used to fix problems within your unit. Your therapist may choose to have you all together, or in some cases, they may alternate speaking among the parties involved.

For example, if therapy is sought after as a result of a child misbehaving at school, the therapist may choose to have everyone present at the first session, and then speak only to the child or parents following that. The idea is to make small changes and adjustments to remedy negative emotions or behaviors.

There are several different marriage and family therapy programs. Each one has its own characteristics that make it right for each person.

Bowenian Therapy

If you are not comfortable with others being present in the room with you while therapy is in session, the Bowenian approach might be the right one for you. This form of therapy focuses on two areas: triangulation and differentiation.

Triangulation refers to the tendencies we have to involve a third party when something is going wrong in our lives. We often feel better when someone else takes our side. Although this momentarily alleviates anxiety, it is usually not a healthy response to a disagreement because it can alienate the other person. If you struggle with triangulation, you might do this as a way to divert anxiety or conflict.

For example, when you get into an argument with a close friend or family member, you may call a parent or close friend to vent about the issue and ask for help. The third person helps you to calm yourself and gives you tips on how to resolve the issue.

Family therapy will aim to place the therapist in the place of the third party. But instead of suggesting direction solutions to your issue, your therapist may encourage you and your family members to find ways to manage your anxiety. This strategy prioritizes strengthening your ability to find your own resolutions internally and in a healthy way.

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Differentiation is something that your therapist will help you to work on internally as well. Many people who seek out family therapy may be struggling with issues that are brought on by how they see the world. They may be exhibiting volatile emotional behavior as a result of this and are not sure how to handle their feelings or views.

The goal of differentiation is to free oneself from these struggles. It is the process of learning how to form your own opinions and live your life in a way that is free from the negative influences that may come from your family. There is also emphasis placed on doing this in a way that allows you to continue with healthy and strong relationships with your family members as well.

Once you have mastered this method, you will be able to better handle family issues, recognize your role in the problem, and use this knowledge to react differently in the future.

Structural Family Therapy

One of the other types of family therapy is called Structural Family Therapy. This approach is a good option for those whose problems may be resolved by reorganizing how roles and power are distributed among your family unit.

This form of therapy is most commonly used in situations where a child is involved. The therapist will begin by drawing a chart of your family and noting how the relationships are between each of you. Once positions of power are identified, your therapist can identify what changes need to be made to fix the problems that you are experiencing.

To successfully care for a child, the full cooperation of the parents and other members of the family is always required. This method of therapy was developed based on the belief that the root of many childhood problems comes not from the child himself, but from issues within the family unit that go unsolved.

The idea of structural family therapy is to restructure the family once key issues are identified. Your therapist could have you participate in role-plays, acting out problematic situations that occurred in the months or weeks before your session. At times, your therapist may appear to take certain sides to express certain viewpoints. This is a method used to break up negative patterns and to promote a healthier family dynamic.

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Additionally, problems within a family could come from an uneven amount of power, such as one parent making all of the decisions and excluding the other parent, or it could even come from a child having the power in the family. No matter which issue you are facing, reaching out to a mental health professional such as a therapist may help you to restructure your family life.

It is all about balance in this school of thought. You want everyone to feel comfortable with how the power is distributed, and it must be distributed appropriately to maintain a healthy and happy balance within the unit.

Strategic Family Therapy

Strategic family therapy is perfect for families that seek a potentially quick approach to solving their problems in a short time. This therapy works by using specific methods that are tailored specifically toward the problems that you and your family are struggling with.

If you see a therapist that practices strategic family therapy, you may find this person to be akin to a life coach or a referee. The premise of this type of therapy does not concern itself with where you have been or what you have gone through. The goal is to figure out where you are now, and then make a plan to address the problem quickly and efficiently.

In this type of therapy, it is common that your treatment plan will begin by identifying problems that can be fixed. You will then move on to setting goals and your therapist will work out pathways for you to be able to reach those goals. Once you get to this point, your therapist will observe the responses you and your family show to meeting these goals. Based on these observations, the time will come to evaluate the outcome of the therapy as a whole.

A licensed therapist will be highly involved and hands-on in your treatment. They should remain actively interested in your well-being and will do all they can to make sure the outcome you get from therapy is a long-lasting and positive one.

The best thing about strategic family therapy is how personal and tailored it can be to your family. If you are seeking options for family therapy, you may benefit from trying out this process with a licensed therapist.

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Systemic Family Therapy

Systemic Family Therapy or Family Systems Therapy is different from the other popular forms in the sense that it classifies family problems as coming from the subconscious of the family rather than the purposeful actions that are being taken.

The main concept behind this form of therapy is that conflict within the family comes from interlocked issues that may lie beneath the surface. This is to say that we have connections and conflicts that happen on a subconscious level that could be causing many of the family issues that we experience.

Unlike Structural Family Therapy, Systemic Family Therapy does not believe power can belong to one person or a group of people within the family unit. According to this discipline, the power lies in the unconscious "game" that each family member takes part in. The idea is that this "game" perpetuates problems, doing so without making itself known to the people participating.

If you choose to engage in systemic family therapy, your counselor or therapist may help you to unravel and uncover the subconscious issues and bring them out into the open. They can help you to understand the cycles or rituals (I.E. "games") that you are participating in. Once you bring the problems to the surface, they are more easily dealt with.

One of the things that attract so many people to Systemic Family Therapy is its way of offering a new and fresh perspective to the issues that many families are experiencing. If you have tried just about every other form of therapy to no avail, this method may be just the right thing for you.

If you are just starting to think about family therapy, or if you are considering other options in family therapy strategies, there is a wealth of information available to you. Sometimes, it can be overwhelming to try and understand many of the rationales behind these strategies. If you would like to learn more, you may find that speaking with a licensed therapist can give you the tools you need to make well-educated decisions. Online counseling is available not just for those who are living with mental disorders, but also for those who seek answers to personal questions and issues in life. The world is increasingly interconnected through technology. Behavioral studies have pointed out that the use of technology in psychological care, such as text messaging and emails, may help enhance personalized care for those who seek psychological services. One study found that more than half of people who participated in the study overcame initial concerns to communicate openly with their therapists.

Telehealth in the realm of psychotherapy can be an effective catalyst among licensed professionals, treatment plans, and those seeking guidance and advice. Online sessions with a licensed mental health professional have the potential to yield great results if you are unable or not yet ready to attend in-therapy sessions. Most online platforms offer flexible communication options, such as video conferencing and live chatting, so you can pick which option best suits your preferences. Additionally, online therapy does not limit you to one counselor for a certain time. There are many trained and qualified therapists whose backgrounds you can evaluate to see if they may be right for you.

If you are interested in learning more about online counseling but are not sure where to start, consider using resources offered by BetterHelp. Read below for some user testimonials of those who used BetterHelp:

“Mari takes the time to learn about myself and my family. She asks questions that provide extra details so she can better understand what it is I'm going through. She also talks to me as a friend. We talk about family and weekend trips. It makes me feel more comfortable talking to her.”

https://www.betterhelp.com/mari-flatt/#testimonials

“I started with Amy back in June, I was a little nervous about starting to see a therapist, because I had never done that before. Amy immediately put me at ease. I was having a lot of issues in my personal life and issues with my family and Amy has helped me tremendously. I could not be happier with Amy. She is very kind, understanding and every single session we have had, I have taken something very helpful away with me. Our sessions have been more helpful to me than I could possibly explain here. Anyone lucky enough to get paired with Amy will not be disappointed.”


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