Family Therapy focuses on relationships within the family unit and takes place with other family members present. Family therapy may be the primary focus of treatment, or it could be used as a supplement to individual therapy.
In Family Therapy, the family is seen as a "whole" system, rather than just as the sum of its individual members. As with individual and group therapy, Family Therapy is used to approach a wide variety of therapeutic goals. Rather than viewing problems as owned and caused by a particular family member (also called an "identified patient"), Family Therapy helps to identify the ways that relationship and individual problems are caused and maintained by the family dynamics. For example, if a child is having academic and social problems, the focus will be on identifying the family patterns that have contributed to the child acting out, rather than on working intra-psychically with the child alone.
Virginia Satir, Salvador Minuchin, Murray Bowen, and Milton Erickson are just a few of the many theorists who have contributed to Family Therapy, and there are several approaches within the field of family counseling services. If you are in Family Therapy, you may be seeing a therapist who favors a theoretical modality such as Structural Therapy, Conjoint Therapy, or Strategic Therapy.
The Structural approaches look at the patterns of communication, including the smaller "subsystems" within the family. This approach may explore how parents relate, as well as how the siblings relate, in addition to the bigger picture of the whole family.
A therapist who favors Conjoint approaches will consider the various "roles" that each person plays in the family, in addition to the communication styles (both verbal and nonverbal) within it. How the family interacts as a whole is also explored.
Strategic Therapists approach Family Therapy with the belief that families often experience challenges at significant points in their life cycle, such as in times of major transition. The Strategic Therapist often explores the "role" of the primary issue wanting to be changed, i.e., the function that the issue plays within the family itself. It is common for a therapist who uses Strategic approaches to offer direct, alternative behaviors to perform in between sessions, in order to help shift the individual and family patterns.
Depending on your therapist's approach to Family Therapy, you may meet as a whole family, but also have some supplemental individual appointments to address topics and issues that relate to your family's therapy work.
You and your family therapist will discuss the best course of action regarding how often you will meet. It is common to meet at least once a week, but this can vary. As with individual and group therapy, Family Therapy is offered in a wide range of settings including family counseling services, group practices, individual therapy offices, community agencies, hospitals, and schools.
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