What is the Purpose of Family Therapy?

Families seek therapy with a family counselor for many different reasons. Some members of the family may not understand the purpose of going to family therapy, or why family counseling is more effective when all members of the family unit attend. Here, actual therapists explain what family therapy is, and how it helps families overcome challenges they may be facing:

Bradley D. Ogilvie, MS, LPC, LMFT
: The purpose of family therapy is to help families work through struggles, challenges, and tough times in a way that doesn’t simply have the problem go away, but makes the family stronger. Almost all families enter into therapy because something unpleasant is going on—the illness of a child, addictions, behavioral problems, or relational problems. These stressors take a toll on everyone. Family therapy is a means to help cope with these stressors, which is different than making them go away.Letting go is often a part of family therapy—whether it is grieving the loss of a child, or letting go of expectations so we can heal and embrace our present reality while working to a better future. When we try too hard to change circumstances or people without first accepting the truth of “what is,” we can inadvertently move in the wrong direction. But, when we learn to accept what is, and bring intentionality to the processes of how we cope, get along, and respond to each other, we can change the patterns of the family in good ways.Family therapy is really about using the power of relationships and love to support each member to be as healthy and whole as possible, which in turn creates a healthier family.

Pierce-LuAnnLuAnn Pierce, LCSW: The goal of family therapy is to improve the relationships and functioning of the members of a family unit. The family unit may include anyone the members identify as family and/or those who are involved in the issues being addressed. This may include grandparents, aunt, uncles, foster children, girlfriends or boyfriends, nannies, babysitters, and more.In family therapy, the family unit is viewed as a whole. The family unit is often compared to a mobile that is balanced when all of the individual parts are functioning properly. Remove or damage one of the individual pieces of a mobile or family, and the unit becomes unstable. In families, this can happen when one person becomes ill, someone has a problem with alcohol or drugs or other issues that prohibit him/her from fulfilling his/her role and purpose in the family.Families frequently come in for therapy when there is conflict between family members, or when one member has a problem that impacts the whole family. People with drinking or drug problems and mental health problems often come to family therapy in addition to their individual treatment. The goal of the therapy is to help family members identify how specific behaviors affect others, learn new ways of relating to each other, resolve conflicts, and open lines of communication between all family members.

Silva-Breen-LynneLynne Silva-Breen, MDiv, MA, LMFT: Family therapy is a form of counseling that specializes in treating family relationships. While many of us are familiar with individual therapy, family therapy works with a whole family unit or various relationships within a larger family system. How these relationships respond to one another is the focus of this kind of multi-person therapy.Common issues that family therapy addresses include premarital and marriage therapy; establishing family rules, roles, and expectations; problems with communication; dealing with family grief, loss, and transition; working in a family-owned business; managing conflict, parenting issues, and blended families; and problems in the emotional connection between family members.

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Jane F.

    June 5th, 2015 at 5:37 AM

    I really like LuAnn’s mobile comparison. Balance in the family is so important, and yet there are so many things that can throw it off. It’s wonderful that a family counselor can help in these matters, to realize that you don’t have to deal with these issues on your own. Certainly you may feel very alienated during these difficult times, but therapy is an excellent way of restoring balance to the family. Great article!

  • Jason S

    August 25th, 2015 at 12:46 PM

    The family is the most important social unit that we have in life. With that being the case, it’s so important that we do all that we can to take care of our families and strive to make them stronger everyday. No family is perfect though, and so sometimes it’s good to get therapy that can help strengthen a family’s relationship. I’m grateful for services like this that help family’s stay on track and happy.

  • Alex

    February 29th, 2016 at 5:02 PM

    I really like how the approach you take isn’t simply to try and remove problems or obstacles with family counseling. Strong families take work and effort to maintain. Counseling should focus on helping individuals learn how to cope with stress and develop skills to help them address current AND future concerns. This way the family continues to draw closer to one another. Thanks for your inspiring article.

  • Martina

    November 8th, 2016 at 1:44 AM

    Family bonds are so vital, yet can be painful and stressful to all members of the family. Family therapy gives everyone in your family an opportunity to discuss, explore, and resolve family dynamics that are hurtful, damaging, and repetitive.

  • Gertrude A.

    December 11th, 2016 at 10:58 AM

    I’m interested in making a difference for troubled families in my workplace and would appreciate more tips on family therapy.

  • Dave A

    January 4th, 2017 at 10:00 AM

    I like that family therapy is to help families work through struggles and challenges that they are going through. It is a great way to prevent future problems in a family. Also if a family practices talking openly through therapy, they will have a better likelihood of staying strong through harder future problems.

  • Gertrude a

    January 9th, 2017 at 9:46 PM

    Great to be reminded about families talking openly. I’m an advocate open talking (say it out as it is so things are talked out and all family members understand things happen the way do

  • Bernard C

    January 25th, 2017 at 9:57 AM

    I think a lot of couples are nervous about going to therapist for their marriages. It may be hard to accept that there is a problem in a lot of cases. However, it is made pretty apparent here that therapy isn’t meant to just fix problems, but to strengthen marriages more than they were before!

  • Amyah

    January 10th, 2018 at 10:01 PM

    I am going into Family Therapy because of something I did, I feel that mine should be more of a personal thing because of something I did, but I completely agree with both responses above. ✨

  • Lyla

    November 6th, 2019 at 7:09 AM

    I like that family therapy can help you work through stressors instead of ignoring them. My family has been struggling ever since we moved across the country. Family therapy sounds like something that could be beneficial for us during this adjustment.

  • David

    December 11th, 2019 at 11:07 AM

    I really like how you said that family therapy helps make families overcome problems and become stronger rather than simply making the problem go away. I am an avid believer in not running away from your problems. I think that if people or families have an issue then they should try to compromise and overcome it rather than just escape it. The problem will resurface eventually and it could be worse the second time around.

  • Richard

    August 25th, 2022 at 8:35 PM

    What are the 3 components of family system therapy. I am missing one. I have: psychoeducation; problem solving and goal settings; . I am thinking communication skills are role of the family

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