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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Vu

What is Family Therapy?

Updated: Nov 22, 2023

Family therapy is a priceless tool for resolving relationships and families' problems.


Introduction

Family therapy, also known as family counselling or family systems therapy, is a specialized form of psychotherapy that focuses on improving the dynamics and functioning of families and couples. It is now a priceless tool for resolving problems impacting relationships and families.


Family therapy 1
Family therapy is a specialized form of psychotherapy that focuses on improving the dynamics and functioning of couples or families.

Understanding Family Therapy

A particular type of psychotherapy, family therapy, centers therapeutic intervention around the family. It acknowledges that individual mental health and well-being are closely interwoven with the dynamics within the family system (Dallos et al., 2010). The core belief of family therapy is that the family is a unique and powerful force that can both support and hinder individual growth (Goldenberg et al., 2012).



Finding and addressing the underlying problems that lead to family problems is the primary goal of family therapy. These issues may include communication breakdown, unresolved conflicts, behavioural patterns, and the impact of past experiences. By addressing these issues, family therapy helps families navigate difficult situations and develop healthier, more functional relationships.



Principles of Family Therapy

Several principles underpin the practice of family therapy:

Systems Theory: Family therapists view the family as a complex system with interconnected parts. Changes in one part of the system can have ripple effects throughout the family (Von, 1968). This perspective guides the therapist in understanding how family members influence and are influenced by one another.

  • One of the most popular methods in systemic family intervention is structural family therapy, developed by Minuchin (1974). This method's primary goal is to create a stable hierarchical family organization with distinct subsystems bound by certain boundaries.

  • The systemic model incorporates strategic family therapy, which gives off a more directive vibe. There is a wealth of evidence supporting the effectiveness of this brief-strategic family therapy approach in helping families come up with fresh ideas and practices for problems that differ from the ineffective ones they have tried in the past (Norcross et al., 2016).

Family therapy 2
Family therapists view the family as a complex system with interconnected parts; any changes in one part of the system can have ripple effects throughout the family.

Psychoeducational Approaches: Within three decades, the development of psychosocial family interventions gave way to family psychoeducation (McFarlane et al., 2003). Psychoeducational elements, which combine therapeutic factors with information imparting (Pitschel-Walz et al., 2001) and therapeutic support (Hogarty et al., 1986), form a central component of this model and allow clients to participate in behavioural change (Pekkala & Merinder, 2002).

  • It has been demonstrated that psychoeducational therapies benefit families. For example, recent family interventions have shown some success in lowering symptom manifestation and relapse rates as well as enhancing the family environment for young people with emotional and behavioural issues (Ruffolo et al., 2006), depression, and bipolar disorders (Ruffolo et al., 2005), to name a few.


Behavioural Interventions: Researchers like Fallon et al. (1986) and Anderson et al. (1986) have used behavioural approaches extensively in chronic psychotic illnesses. Methods like role-playing or modelling assist in teaching disturbed children parenting skills and enhancing communication styles. Couples experiencing marital discord often employ techniques like contracting homework assignments, as motivation for therapy is a crucial prerequisite. When customized to meet the needs of the client, behavioural techniques used in sexual dysfunction can also be adopted.



Some Remarkable Benefits of Family Therapy

Family therapy offers a range of benefits for various mental health and psychological problems, including:


Adolescent behaviour problems (ABPs): According to Baldwin (2012), family therapy is an evidence-based method of treating juvenile behavioural issues that directly addresses family members to strengthen relationships and address challenges that adolescents and caregivers face in critical extrafamilial systems.



Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): There is likely to be a complex interaction between PTSD and family issues because of the impacts that PTSD has on family members, as well as the influence that the family environment has on PTSD. Family therapy may hence facilitate the change of symptoms through the provision of comfort and social support, which is associated with a favourable adjustment to psychological diseases, such as PTSD and other physical health issues (Dirkzwager, 2003; Kaniasty, 2008).


Autism spectrum disorders (ASD): Families with ASD may benefit from family therapy in manifold ways (Helps, 2016). To improve marital relationships, resilience and coping, and parents' mental health, for instance, it can promote candid communication among caregivers (e.g., regarding possible guilt or feelings of stress or worry). In a supportive therapeutic environment, siblings can also examine unresolved issues or concerns in family therapy (such as genetic causes or their present and future potential roles as caregivers).



Conclusion

Family therapy is a valuable resource for individuals and families facing various challenges. It provides a supportive and holistic approach to addressing family dynamics, enhancing communication, and improving relationships. If your family could benefit from this form of therapy, seeking the guidance of a qualified family therapist can be a positive step toward positive change and healing.


Family therapy 3
Family therapy is a valuable resource for individuals and families facing various challenges.

References

  1. Anderson, C.M., Reiss, D.J. and Hogarty, G.E. (1986). Schizophrenia and the family: A practitioner's guide to psychoeducation and management, New York: Guilford Press.

  2. Baldwin, S., Christian, S., Berkeljon, A., & Shadish, W.R. (2012). The effects of family therapies for adolescent delinquency and substance abuse: A meta-analysis. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, pp. 38, 281–304.

  3. Dallos, R., Draper, R. (2010). An Introduction to Family Therapy: Systematic Theory and Practice. 3rd Edition. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

  4. Dirkzwager, A., Bramsen, I., Ploeg. H. (2003). Social support, coping, life events, and posttraumatic stress symptoms among former peacekeepers: A prospective study. Personality and Individual Differences, pp. 34(8), 1545‐59.

  5. Fallon, I., Boyd, J.L. & McGill, J.W. (1984). The Family Care of Schizophrenia. New York. Guilford Press.

  6. Fossum, S., Handegård, B. H., Martinussen, M., & Mørch, W. T. (2008). Psychosocial interventions for disruptive and aggressive behaviour in children and adolescents: a meta-analysis. European child & adolescent psychiatry, 17(7), 438–451. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00787-008-0686-8

  7. Gillies, D., Maiocchi, L., Bhandari, A., Taylor, F., Gray, C., O'Brien, L. Psychological therapies for children and adolescents exposed to trauma. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2016, Issue 10. [DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD012371].

  8. Goldenberg, H., Goldenberg, I. (2012). Family Therapy: An Overview. 8th Edition. Belmont: Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning.

  9. Helps S. (2016). Systemic psychotherapy with families where someone has an autism spectrum condition. NeuroRehabilitation, 38(3), 223–230. https://doi.org/10.3233/NRE-161314

  10. Hogarty, G. E., & Anderson, C. M. (1986). Medication, family psychoeducation, and social skills training: first year relapse results of a controlled study. Psychopharmacology bulletin, 22(3), 860–862.

  11. Kaniasty, K., Norris, F. (2008). Longitudinal linkages between perceived social support and posttraumatic stress symptoms: sequential roles of social causation and social selection. Journal of Traumatic Stress, pp. 21(3), 274‐81.

  12. Minuchin, S. (1974). Families & Family Therapy. Harvard University Press; Cambridge, MA, USA.

  13. Norcross, J. C., VandenBos, G. R., Freedheim, D. K., & Krishnamurthy, R. (Eds.). (2016). APA handbook of clinical psychology: Applications and methods. American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/14861-000

  14. Pekkala, E., & Merinder, L. (2002). Psychoeducation for schizophrenia. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews, (2), CD002831. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD002831

  15. Pitschel-Walz, G., Leucht, S., Bäuml, J., Kissling, W., & Engel, R. R. (2001). The effect of family interventions on relapse and rehospitalization in schizophrenia—A meta-analysis. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 27(1), 73–92. https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.schbul.a006861

  16. Ruffolo, M. C., Kuhn, M. T., & Evans, M. E. (2005). Support, empowerment, and education: A study of multiple family group psychoeducation. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 13(4), 200–212. https://doi.org/10.1177/10634266050130040201

  17. Ruffolo, M. C., Kuhn, M. T., & Evans, M. E. (2006). Developing a parent-professional team leadership model in group work: work with families with children experiencing behavioral and emotional problems. Social work, 51(1), 39–47. https://doi.org/10.1093/sw/51.1.39

  18. Von Bertalanffy, L. (1968). General System Theory: Foundations, Development. New York: George Braziller.

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