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4 min read

What Do We Talk About in Family Therapy? Different Approaches, How it Can Help, and When to Schedule a Session

A family relaxing after a therapy session

Family therapy is a type of talk therapy treatment that is specifically designed to assist with issues faced within the family unit that can negatively impact mental health and function. This can encompass a wide range of challenges, but in general, family therapy sessions exist to help families develop communication skills, build stronger and healthier relationships between family members, and manage conflicts within the family structure.

Some common challenges that family therapy can help with include:

  • The death of a loved one
  • Poor parent child dynamics
  • Behavioral problems with children or teens
  • Substance abuse
  • Divorce, separation, or other marital challenges
  • Major life transitions
  • Mental health conditions in one or more family members
  • Sibling issues
  • Relationship distress
  • Chronic illness

What are the goals of family therapy?

As with individual therapy sessions, the goals of family therapy can be personalized to specific situations. However, there are some common goals that are often seen in family therapy. One is to create a better home environment, which may also involve other resources. The other primary goals of family therapists are to solve family issues, and to strengthen relationships around the unique problems a family may face.

Benefits of Family Therapy

Family therapy offers a number of benefits. Family therapists can help family members interact in a healthier manner by identifying problematic communication styles and educating them on better communication skills. Often, parent child communication patterns are unhealthy due to challenges in the family system from generations ago. For example, if parents suffered from verbal abuse as children themselves, they may never have learned how to communicate in a healthy way with their own children.

They can also help resolve conflicts and navigate family issues such as mental illness or substance abuse. When one family member is experiencing a challenge like this, family functioning can suffer. Family therapists work to help the individual and other family members understand the nature of the condition and learn how to best support each other, as well as help family members address their own mental health.

What Are Some Common Types of Family Therapy?

All this being said, family therapy is not always the same. There are a variety of approaches when it comes to family therapy. For example, a marriage and family therapist works with relationship challenges and potential effects on family dynamics within the family unit. Other mental health professionals may focus more on child behavior patterns or on dealing with substance use. Here are some common types of family therapy.

Emotionally Focused Therapy for Families

Emotionally focused family therapy works from the perspective that family conflict springs from attachment and relationship struggles. Emotionally focused therapy sessions are designed to strengthen family bonds, and restore trust and connections between family members.

Functional Family Therapy

Functional family therapy is a short term type of family therapy that is used mostly for families of teens exhibiting risky or dangerous behaviors. Teens and families work together a with a family therapist to target the challenge (violence, adolescent substance use, or other risky behavior) and to find resources that can help.

A similar type of family therapy is brief strategic family therapy. Brief strategic family therapy is also short term (typically over a 12 week period), and is meant to address risky teen behavior.

Structural Family Therapy

Structural family therapy looks at the entire family unit and and helps family members improve their interactions with each other. One of the basic principles of structural family therapy is that dysfunctional patterns can cause stress and mental health problems for individual family members. By addressing this dysfunction and improving communication patterns, the mental health of the family members can improve.

Systemic Family Therapy

Family systems theory is based in the idea that strong family relationships can help individual family members overcome mental health conditions or other challenges. A systems family therapist works with family members (the family system) to help support the person experiencing a mental health condition, while also learning how to not neglect their own mental health.

Narrative Family Therapy

In this type of family therapy, mental health professionals encourage family members to share their stories and experiences in an attempt to understand who they are and how they relate to the whole family. Working from a narrative point of view can help family members to see things more objectively.

What Questions Should I Ask Before Starting Family Therapy?

A family therapy session is a way for all family members to be heard, to learn to listen to one another, and work together toward a goal. When meeting with a family therapy practitioner, there are some questions you may want to ask before getting started. These include:

  • Whether they have experience working with the mental health condition or mental heath conditions that your family member is experiencing
  • How long they have worked in family counseling
  • What therapeutic approaches they use

Asking questions is a way to get a feel for whether you think that the mental health professional offers a safe environment for your family's issues. Family therapy can lead to intense emotions, and a strong therapeutic alliance can be essential to success.

How do I find a family therapist?

Because there are so many types of family therapy available for helping family members interact, it can be important to understand what specialized knowledge you are looking for specifically. A licensed marriage and family counselor may be right if you are looking to improve communication or create healthy boundaries within your marriage.

If it is a question of improving your family's functioning in general, or someone in your family is experiencing mental health problems, then another type of family counseling, such as narrative family therapy or structural family therapy in Austin, may be more appropriate.

It can be helpful to talk to a few family therapists to determine which one may be best for your family. Explain what you are looking for in family therapy, and ask follow up questions about their experience to find out more.

Finding Family Therapy in Austin, TX

Family therapy aims to support the family structure, whether there are mental health conditions within the family, a family member is creating conflict, or you want learn how to communicate more effectively. If you are experiencing challenges within the family structure, there is help available.

At Williamsburg Therapy Group our team of doctoral-level psychotherapists offer a variety of marriage and family therapy therapeutic approaches so you can find the most effective support for your family problems.

Give us a call today and our patient coordinator will help you find the right family therapy provider in Austin to support you, your family member, or your entire family system. They can support positive changes, provide problem solving skills, help you gain insight, address mental health issues, and generally improve the well being of your family.

Book a Therapy Session in Austin Today

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