Family Therapy

What is family therapy?

Family therapy treats all members of the family rather than working with one person alone. It helps the whole family to make changes. Often mental health problems are hard to change without support from the family. Many problems improve a great deal when the family changes how they deal with each other.

When is it used?

Family therapy can help with:

  • Eating disorders
  • Grief
  • Conflict and aggressive behavior
  • Problems such as a divorce, death in the family, or a family member who has a serious disease or disability
  • Drug and alcohol abuse

How does it work?

Each family has certain behaviors and rules that they use with each other. The family members may not think about these habits, but they keep acting on them. The family therapist first helps the family understand patterns of what they say and do. Then the therapist helps them to change patterns that may be causing problems.

The therapist will start by observing the family. For each session the therapist will ask to see all or some of the family members. At times the therapist may ask to just see the parents or just the children. Who is asked to attend may change based on what the issues are and who is most involved with them. With children younger than 11 or 12, the therapist may divide sessions into individual time with children and time with parents.

The therapist may ask family members to role play how they talk about things or how they behave at home. The therapist will help the family understand the way they talk and act with each other. The family learns which behaviors are healthy. The family may practice new behaviors in the therapy session, and be assigned homework to practice between sessions.

How do I find a therapist?

Ask questions and get referrals from people you know and trust. You could also check with:

  • Your family healthcare provider
  • Your clergyman, school teachers, or school counselors
  • Friends or family members who have been in therapy
  • Your health insurance company
  • Your employee assistance program (EAP) at work
  • Community mental health or human service agencies
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-03-27
Last reviewed: 2014-04-03
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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