Is family counseling a good idea?

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Family therapy is a type of psychological counseling aimed at improving family communication, resolving conflicts, and creating a better understanding between family members.

Family counseling sessions are therapy led by a psychologist, licensed therapist, or clinical social worker, all using a variety of techniques to both understand the situation and provide guidance. Many will have master’s degrees and doctorates, and may also be accredited by the America Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).

Marriage and family therapists regularly practice short-term therapy with an average of 12 sessions, according to the AAMFT.

At any given time, family therapists are counseling more than 1.8 million people, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. 

Since 1970, the number of marriage and family therapists in the country has grown 50-fold. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes more than 42,000 family and marriage therapists exist in its most recent data, from 2017. 

Is family counseling a good idea?

Dr. Felicia Pressley, a licensed professional counselor in Maryland, works with families to build and strengthen their bond. She says family counseling is a good idea especially when there are transitions within the family: death, moving, change in schools, etc. 

“Family counseling helps the family to establish or reestablish goals and identify each family member's role in the family,” she says. “It can also help families to address underlying issues within the family dynamics.”

For children’s behavioral problems, family therapy has been shown to be effective, demonstrated by a review of more than 20 analyses of systemic family therapy interventions. The review showed that on average, families who visited a counselor fared 71% better after therapy and at follow up than their peers in control groups. 

In both children and adults, systemic therapy has been shown to be effective in helping with more than 72 scenarios, according to a report examining studies by The Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice. The report reviewed dozens of studies, concluding that family and couples therapy have a positive effect on mood disorders, eating disorders, problems with couple relationships, substance abuse, depression, and family strife, among many others. 

Yes, family counseling could be a good idea for you and your kids. Continue reading why.

What does family counseling do?

Heidi McBain, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Texas, says family therapy can help you more clearly see your family roles and patterns.

“This new insight can help you intentionally do things differently so you don’t just continue to fall into the same dysfunctional patterns over and over again,” McBain says.

The cracks in family relationships can cause distress, rising tensions, and conflict. Sometimes the challenges arise from a family member in an intense situation, such as substance abuse, financial crisis, divorce, or mental health problems. In family therapy, a counselor will become familiar with any existing patterns or pre-established systems within a family, not focusing on only one person’s role. They will then provide thoughts to help family members understand how they’ve been functioning and offer ideas to modify behaviors or patterns. 

If your family is walking through some challenges such as:

  • Out-of-control child behavior
  • Recovering from the trauma of a serious illness
  • Emotional overload from anxiety
  • Sexual abuse
  • Grief
  • Living through a divorce
  • Sense that you or your co-parent has a toxic parenting style

You may find yourselves in a pattern that’s leaving you frustrated and angry.  Family therapy can help you pinpoint specific causes and challenges and clearly lay out positive and negative ways you’re dealing with it — as individuals and as a group.

In family counseling, you can collectively learn new ways to interact with each other and overcome unhealthy patterns. Together you can set goals and work to achieve them.

In family counseling sessions, a therapist can help a family manage:

  • Mental illness
  • Poor communication
  • Ongoing relationship frustrations
  • Children struggling to stay focused in school
  • Problems with children’s social interactions
  • Substance abuse effects
  • Trauma
  • Child outbursts
  • Parenting disagreements
  • Chronic health problems
  • Child and teenage behaviors
  • Tension between family generations
  • Navigating a blended family
  • Depression
  • Emotional disorders
  • Grief and loss
  • Eating disorders
  • Emotional abuse or violence
  • Self-harm

Family relationships are an important part of psychological health, and help to shape your well-being throughout your life, according to a study, which defines well-being as impacting happiness, physical health, satisfaction with life, and good mental health. Marriages of high quality are associated with lower levels of stress and depression, according to a study published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 

What are the goals of family therapy?

Amy Armstrong, a family therapist and co-parent coach based in Columbus, Ohio, says there are three main reasons families typically seek therapy: 

  • The parents believe they have tried everything to impact their child’s behavior and are not seeing an improvement. 
  • There is significant impairment in basic functioning, such as eating, sleeping, succeeding in school or work, engaging with others outside of the home, or participating in normal activities.
  • When emotional issues leave family members feeling depressed, anxious, angry, frustrated, or sad and new skills are needed to help everyone cope and feel better. 

“Ideally, each family member can express what changes to the family functioning would be the most meaningful to them,” Armstrong says.

Families going to a counselor can have many different types of goals, including:

  • Improved communication
  • Reduced conflict
  • Working through financial challenges
  • Develop healthy boundaries
  • Better problem solving
  • Better two-way empathy
  • Reduced tension and frustration

Other goals can be even more specific, such as navigating divorce, managing addiction as a family, or supporting a teenager struggling with self-harm or depression. In some cases, you might seek out counseling because of challenges woven throughout your family, but in other cases, it may be an issue one person is facing. 

What are the types of family counseling?

Family counselors will use a few different types of therapy approaches, depending on the family’s goals and reasons for pursuing family therapy.

These types of therapy are explained below, per the American Psychological Association website.

Supportive family therapy

According to online therapy provider Thriveworks, this is a method to help each person express their feelings surrounding a problem that affects the family. The goal of this method is to provide a safe and open environment, so everyone can honestly discuss issues. The therapist then offers practical tactics to use to work through the issue at hand.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

CBT involves the counselor supporting a change in the ways family members think or behave in certain scenarios. By bringing awareness to these patterns, family members can then change their thoughts and behaviors.

Transgenerational therapy

Transgenerational therapy addresses how each family member interacts with one another across multiple generations. These observations will help the therapist understand the core issues that are challenging the group right now, as well as future tensions that may arise.

Structural family therapy

This technique evaluates the dynamics of the family, including relationships, patterns, and behaviors during each session. Counselors can examine the subsets within the family system, such as relationships between parents and siblings, or siblings with each other. The evaluation helps guide the advice offered by the therapist.

Systemic family therapy

Systemic family therapy focuses on the complex relationship patterns within the family. The counselor will work to identify pervasive ideas and attitudes shown on behalf of the family, which will help them uncover the underlying issues within the family. Then, the therapist will work to shift attitudes and relationships to a more beneficial and more realistic place.

Psychodynamic ideas in therapy

This theory looks to reveal an individual family member’s subconscious. The counselor will work to reduce problems cropping up by identifying these underlying issues, and helping families work through their difficulties based on the real sources of the problems.

Functional family therapy

Functional Family Therapy is an intensive, short-term intervention/prevention program of in-home family counseling that is often used to refer 11 to 18-year-olds by juvenile justice programs. According to the Functional Family Therapy website, FFT has been used since the 1970s, and is designed to address status-offending issues like curfew violations, running away, and truancy. FFT assesses family dynamics that contribute to the teen's behavior, addresses strained family communication, improves parenting skills, and aims to change behavior, relationships and long-term outcomes.

What are the advantages of family therapy?

Attending family therapy sessions can help you explore the different roles each family member fulfills, as well as behavior patterns and issues that may be contributing to conflict or poor communication.

A key result of family counseling is to learn the right tools to work through issues you may be facing.

In family therapy sessions, the counselor will work to help the family identify their strengths — of both individuals and the family unit as a whole — such as how they care for each other, as well as weaknesses that can be improved upon, such as difficulty trusting each other.

Family therapy sessions can help you work through situations causing stress, grief, and anger.

What are the disadvantages of family therapy?

With several individuals attending sessions, it may not always be a low-cost option.

Sometimes, a family approach may come at the cost of an individual’s needs, as “for the good of the whole” advice may not provide the right path for every individual, depending on the scenario, according to a study reported on in Psychology Today. Confidentiality is lost in a family session as well, according to the study, which may be concerning to attendees. 

When should you seek family therapy?

It is also likely to result in finding coping skills you can use individually and as a group to bring you closer together and lessen the frustrations and challenges you’re facing, the clinic shares. 

If you’re finding communication in your family at a standstill, tensions rising, frustrations boiling, or intense issues getting worse instead of better, it may be wise to seek out family therapy. 

What questions should I ask my family therapist?

Before you begin in family therapy sessions, you can ask your therapist several questions to help you better understand the process and their qualifications:

  • What is your education and training background?
  • Are you licensed to provide therapy in your state?
  • What is your experience with my family’s specific challenges?
  • Are you available during emergencies or on short notice?
  • How long is each session?
  • How much does each session cost, and are we covered by insurance?
  • What is their policy for canceled sessions?

Seeking family counseling near me? Consider online options instead

The ease and convenience of scheduling a therapy appointment online can benefit a family with schedules hard to align.

It can also be more convenient as you can use almost any device to video chat, call, or text with a therapist. Studies find that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy.

Read my own personal experience with the online therapy platform in our BetterHelp review.

Or, learn about other top online therapy sites.

Is family counseling a good idea?

Dr. Felicia Pressley, a licensed professional counselor in Maryland, works with families to build and strengthen their bond. She says family counseling is a good idea especially when there are transitions within the family: death, moving, change in schools, etc.

What does family counseling do?

Heidi McBain, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Texas, says family therapy can help you more clearly see your family roles and patterns.

What are the goals of family therapy?

Amy Armstrong, a family therapist and co-parent coach based in Columbus, Ohio, says there are three main reasons families typically seek therapy: 1) The parents believe they have tried everything to impact their child’s behavior and are not seeing an improvement. 2) There is significant impairment in basic functioning, such as eating, sleeping, succeeding in school or work, engaging with others outside of the home, or participating in normal activities. 3) When emotional issues leave family members feeling depressed, anxious, angry, frustrated, or sad and new skills are needed to help everyone cope and feel better.

Wealthysinglemommy.com founder Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, activist, author and expert. A former Associated Press reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has appeared on CNBC, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, TIME, The Doctors, Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine. Winner of Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web” and a New York Observer “Most Eligible New Yorker," her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was a New York Post Must Read. As an expert on divorce and gender, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality and multiple state legislature hearings. More about Emma's credentials.

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