Family Therapy Success Depends Mostly on Therapist-Parent Communication

Family therapy is a fantastic way to get parents and children to communicate better with each other. For families struggling with teenaged children, therapy offers unique insight into what causes disruption and behavior problems. However, many families who enter therapy either drop out early or during the middle of therapy. It has been suggested that in order to be considered a full course of treatment, families should attend at least 12 sessions of therapy. Understanding what factors cause families to initiate dropout could help clinicians tailor treatment to address those factors early on, thus resulting in higher completion rates.

Few studies have examined the process that occurs during family therapy, especially the process of communication between the therapist and the family members. Daria M. Marchionda of the Human Development and Family Science Department at Ohio State University sought to look at how therapist and client communication differed among early dropout families, middle dropout families, and completers in a recent exploratory study. Marchionda looked at how communication patterns determined outcome in 18 families comprised of an adolescent runaway with a history of substance use, and at least one willing parent.

She found that although the topics discussed ranged from negative to positive, the parents who communicated more, regardless of the tone of the discussion, were more likely to stay in therapy with their children than those who communicated less. This was especially true of the families who had communicated heavily early on in the therapy process. Marchionda also found that although therapists engaged the teens and the parents, the therapists who directed their conversations with the teens more than the parents had more families drop out early on. She believes that perhaps parents who do not feel they are being included or encouraged to participate may view therapy as an unproductive use of their time and may become disillusioned. By contrast, those who are encouraged to openly communicate their concerns may feel validated and begin to feel that they are an active agent in the therapeutic process. “Therefore,” said Marchionda, “Therapists seeking to increase retention should consider making special efforts to engage less talkative parents into the conversation.”

Daria, M. Marchionda, and Natasha Slesnick. Family therapy retention: An observation of first-session communication. Journal of marital and family therapy 39.1 (2013): 87-97. ProQuest Family Health; ProQuest Research Library. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

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  • brian


    March 6th, 2013 at 3:31 PM

    I can’t imagine being a parent who professes to have my child’s best interests at heart but who would even think to drop out of therapy because they see it as a waste of their time.



    March 6th, 2013 at 11:39 PM

    Well I have to agree as a parent I would want to feel included and interested to continue family therapy. Another thing that came to my mind was bout parents actually being interested. Now if one parent is interested then that parent may or may not be the one who holds the position to make a family decision. The unwilling parent could well take the family away from therapy.

    It is very important that parents feel involved and this could be the right direction for therapists to follow – keep all involved but with a special emphasis towards parents. Because not only during therapy but even at home they are the ones spending the maximum time with children and they need to be convinced this is a solution – or they will drop out.

  • Gil


    March 7th, 2013 at 3:49 AM

    Most parents who have sought out therapy for their child and the family want to know that they are normal, that they are going to be okay, and sometimes it is noce to have a professional in your corner.

    I am not saying that they need someone to point the finger of blame at the child all the time and simply tell the parents that they are right. But I do think that it is noce to have this person feel like he or she is an advocate for and an ally to the whole family and their success as a unti, and that he is not just taking the side of one or the other.

  • Lennie


    March 7th, 2013 at 8:27 AM

    Parents get blamed…again…

  • olivia Z

    olivia Z

    March 7th, 2013 at 8:30 AM

    I have found that the quieter people are in sessions, the fewer they end up coming to, no matter if they are in private, family, or group therapy. In order for therapy to work, people have to be willing to talk and open up. One thing I’ve never had is a teenager who talked more than a parent. Usually, the teenagers are the ones who don’t want to talk at all!

  • n jones

    n jones

    March 7th, 2013 at 8:32 AM

    man i could not even drag my teenager to therapy no matter what. talk about wild horses. nope, no way no how.

    but that is really 2 bad b/c he really needs it he stopped going to school and stays out almost all night.

    i can’t even get him to brush his teeth. can u just imagine me telling him to get in the car and go with me somewheres? yeah me neither.

    good luck with that one!

  • Mindy


    March 7th, 2013 at 8:35 AM

    What? So therapy won’t work when someone doesn’t communicate? And we needed a study for this? Oh, boy. We’re in trouble.

  • P Davidson

    P Davidson

    March 7th, 2013 at 8:36 AM

    Therapy with a teenager is such a great gift to give your family. Even if you’re not necessarily having problems, it is a great way to understand you tean and help him/her be heard. With the right therapist, you can have a really great relationship with your teenager. I highly recommend it.

  • Phoenix Family Counselors

    Phoenix Family Counselors

    August 23rd, 2013 at 4:03 AM

    Yes if in our home, our parent’s communicate well then we can get good help from family therapy.

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