Strategic family therapy is an important process for an entire family whose dynamics result in toxic behavioral patterns or psychological difficulties. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” type of family therapy that suits every family structure and group of individuals. Indeed, there are many different types of family therapy your therapist may recommend or oversee for problem-solving. This guide will break down 10 types of family counseling so you know what to expect when you arrive for your family therapy session.
What Is Family Therapy?
Put simply, family therapy is a unique type of psychotherapy exclusively used to deal with groups of people. It is contrasted with individualized therapy, which occurs between a therapist and one client or patient. Family therapy may be used for different sizes of groups, ranging from couples to small groups of three or four people to larger families with five or more individuals. Regardless, all forms of family therapy emphasize familial relationships. They seek to improve familial relationships since these are an important part of emotional and mental wellness.
Typically, family therapy focuses on family-exclusive problems (i.e., relationship issues that arise due to familial dynamics). Some examples include:
- Overbearing parents (for teenagers or adults and children alike)
- Spousal issues, such as difficulty trusting
- Communication issues between different family members (both between blood relatives and in-laws)
What Types of Family Therapy Approaches Are There?
Depending on the recommendation of your therapist and the treatment plan your family needs, family therapy could be relatively short-term and only last a few months. However, family therapy can also be used in conjunction with other therapeutic strategies – it may last for several years, depending on the extent of the specific problems and the focus of your treatments. Furthermore, your therapist may recommend one of several different types of family therapy based on their skills and their analysis of your needs. Let’s take a look at 10 types of family therapy one by one.
1. Family Systems Therapy
Family systems therapy is a unique psychotherapeutic approach. With this type of family therapy, the therapist focuses on helping individuals utilize strengths within their relationships. Then they can use those strengths to treat or partially overcome their mental health problems. For instance, someone may come to a therapist requiring help with a mental illness like anxiety or depression, substance use struggles, or eating disorders. Through family systems therapy, individuals may learn to lean more on their parents, siblings, or other loved ones for emotional support when needed. Simultaneously, the family members may learn how to best provide emotional support for those who need it. It’s a very informative and educational technique, so it’s often used as a treatment or supportive strategy when dealing with other or underlying mental health problems.
2. Functional Family Therapy
Functional family therapy is short-term compared to other types of family therapy. It’s also most often used for young individuals who experience issues with substance abuse, violence, risky behavior, and similar problems. Through functional family therapy, teenagers and their families learn to build trust and respect for one another while also looking for solutions to negative interpersonal dynamics. Functional family therapy focuses on practical fixes rather than merely expressing feelings.
It’s a therapeutic approach best undertaken by a matter-of-fact, to-the-point therapist who can give tough news to those who need it. It’s also ideal if family dynamics are negative due in part to the behaviors of both sides of an argument, not just one.
3. Narrative Family Therapy
Narrative family therapy is encouraging, supportive, and communicative above all else. It encourages individual family members to tell their stories one by one. Everyone else has to listen during this phase of the therapy. Afterward, each family member works to understand how the experiences are “true” for everyone involved. They also learn how to empathize with each other by seeing how experiences are internally framed as narratives. Narrative therapy is an excellent form of family therapy if family members find it difficult to empathize with or see other viewpoints. This is a very common problem, particularly in cases where family problems have been going on for a long time. Role-play scenarios with the whole family can help individuals see conflict resolution and dysfunction in a new light.
4. Supportive Family Therapy
Supportive family therapy, also called structural family therapy, focuses on cultivating a safe and open environment to unpack family patterns. In this therapeutic environment, everyone in a family or couple can express their feelings without fear of judgment or interruption. As its name suggests, supportive family therapy is ideal if those fears plague the family or relationship in question.
Supportive family therapy interventions work best if all the members of the family buy into the process, of course. Therefore, it may only be appropriate for relationships or family dynamics where there isn’t outright hostility present. Your mental health professional may use supportive structural therapy in conjunction with other therapeutic methods or strategies since it emphasizes expressing feelings, not necessarily coming up with solutions to them.
With psychoeducation, a therapist or counselor educates individuals with mental health conditions and provides knowledge support to family members. The point of psychoeducation is to empower and support both individuals with mental health conditions and their family members. The four broad objectives of psychoeducation are:
- Giving individuals safe places to vent
- Offering information to anyone who needs it
- Giving medication and treatment support to family members
- Offering training and support in self-help strategies for those with mental health conditions
It’s a good family therapy strategy if a condition or issue is likely to be ongoing rather than solved through therapy alone.
5. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Also called CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy is a psychotherapeutic technique that focuses on changing how a patient thinks or behaves. It’s very reflective by design, and it’s usually used for individualized therapy sessions. But it may also be used for family therapy. In a family therapy context, cognitive behavioral therapy will be used to:
- Force family members to examine their behavioral problems and thought processes
- Learn strategies to change their thought processes for healthier outcomes
- Examine how their thoughts influence family dynamics, enabling them to take responsibility for negative relationship outcomes
Depending on the recommendations of your therapist, your cognitive behavioral therapy sessions may accompany homework tasks or specific behavioral programs.
6. Systemic Family Therapy
Systemic family therapy focuses almost entirely on the family unit’s feelings and well-being as a whole. Instead of prioritizing the feelings of any one individual, it emphasizes how the individuals contribute to the mood or atmosphere of a broad relationship. For example, if a family constantly gets together for holiday meetings, but no one wants to go, systemic family therapy may dive deep into the issue to determine:
- Why everyone feels like that
- Whether everyone feels the same way
- How best to alleviate that feeling, so the family has a better dynamic and “atmosphere” going forward
7. Communicative Family Therapy
Communicative family therapy is best used for those with communication issues (a common need). People have different communication styles, but this often results in individuals missing each other’s messages or emotional needs. With communicative family therapy, a therapist analyzes each person’s communication styles. Then they help to translate those styles for everyone involved, plus arm each member with the tools they need to communicate more accurately in the future.
Communicative family therapy can be used to alleviate problems surrounding mental health issues, secrecy, trauma, and more. It can help address large familial dynamics or relationship problems between two people.
8. Transgenerational Family Therapy
Therapists may use transgenerational therapy to examine the interactions between different family members across several generations. They may observe and analyze different interactions between family members, allow individuals to express their stories or narratives, then provide conclusions about the core issues within a family dynamic. For example, a therapist may use transgenerational family therapy to learn that a pair of parents who immigrated from another country have unrealistic expectations of their only child. They can then provide this information to everyone in the family and help the individuals develop tools and emotional wellness strategies to communicate healthier in the future.
9. Relationship Counseling
Lastly, relationship counseling is ideal for individuals whose relationships place a high amount of emotional and mental strain on their lives but who also want to retain those relationships. Relationship counseling can help with lack of communication, financial difficulties, problems with sexual intimacy, emotional distancing behaviors, lack of trust, and much more. While relationship counseling is most often used between married or intimate partners, it is also useful for helping the relationships between parents and children, siblings, and more.
All in all, one of the above family therapy strategies could be perfect for you and your loved ones to work out your problems and find long-term solutions for problematic dynamics. Be sure to speak to your counselor at length about the type of family therapy that you believe will work best.
Handling family dynamics and working through your feelings is an important part of overall wellness. But it’s just one part – 1AND1’s guides and other resources can help you pursue personal wellness through meditation, healthy eating, and much more.
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? | APA.org
About Marriage and Family Therapists | American Association of Marriage & Family Therapists
Transgenerational Family Therapy: A Case Study of a Couple in Crisis – Mary B. Ballard, Laura Fazio-Griffith, Reshelle Marino, 2016 | Sagepub Journals