What Is Family Therapy Like? Could It Help Us?
Knowledge and personal insight are powerful tools for creating positive change. Family therapy is an opportunity for families – including couples, children, and extended family – to work with a therapist or counselor to strengthen family communication and improve the mental health of each family member.
Marital counseling and divorce counseling fall under the umbrella of family therapy. These therapies can benefit families during times of significant transition, like divorce.
What is family therapy?
Family therapy is a type of psychotherapy. Goals include improved communication, conflict resolution, and the cultivation of a healthier family dynamic. This therapy could be provided to you by a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), psychologist, or clinical social worker.
Family therapy is often short-term. It can help people navigate specific situations affecting the family such as the grieving processes, family conflict, marital problems, financial woes, the impact of mental illness, substance abuse, or trauma. To learn about other forms of psychotherapy, see our Guide to Therapy before or after Divorce.
What are the benefits of family therapy?
During family therapy, each participating family member is given the opportunity to express their emotions and perspective while sharing concerns.
How couples or ex-partners benefit
Just because a couple is separated or divorced doesn’t mean their specific stressors have gone away. Family therapy can help improve communication and offer longer-term strategies for decision-making and coping skills. It may be particularly beneficial for developing effective co-parenting relationships.
Suggested: Top 3 Reasons Couples Seek Counseling
How children benefit
Family therapy allows children and adolescents the opportunity to express their feelings and fears, which may be particularly pertinent in the case of parental divorce, a situation over which kids have no control.
According to the CDC, children exhibiting mental, emotional, or behavioral symptoms are at a greater risk of academic or social problems. Therapeutic intervention may help.
What to look for in a family therapist
Do as much research as possible before choosing your therapist. Ask potential therapists for their license numbers and credentialing information. Most states provide websites where you can enter the license number to verify their current licensing status.
Consider recommendations from trusted individuals; many primary care providers provide referrals when requested. Before scheduling an appointment, ask the therapist what insurance they take. If they do not accept insurance, ask if they offer sliding scale pricing options.
Once you have narrowed your options, consider requesting a brief phone consultation before your session. Many therapists offer these brief consultations as an opportunity to meet and determine if it’s a good fit. During this call, note whether the therapist listens attentively to you.
Therapy often requires people to ask themselves uncomfortable questions, but your therapist should do so in a way that feels encouraging and constructive. It is important to trust your intuition about the person who will be working intimately with you and your family.
Interested in online therapy? During the COVID-19 pandemic, online therapy became commonplace as people wanted to continue their counseling sessions while maintaining social distance. According to the American Psychological Association, online therapy is effective and likely a permanent fixture in the mental health industry.
What can I expect at a family therapy session?
Counseling sessions typically last 50 to 60 minutes. The therapeutic techniques used vary based on which members of the family are involved. Many therapy sessions include talk therapy as a way of encouraging family members to share their stories and perspectives.
Some therapists speak to the family as one unit. Some speak with individuals separately to gain a fuller understanding of each member.
If family therapy involves young children, play or art therapy may also be used.
Common goals of family therapy
Common goals of family therapy may include the following:
- Developing healthy boundaries
- Facilitating greater family cohesion
- Promoting problem-solving
- Reducing conflict
- Building empathy and understanding between family members
Is family therapy best before, during, or after divorce?
Every family has a unique story and unique needs. Thus, it’s difficult to generalize about the right time for therapy. That said, here are some considerations.
- For couples therapy or marriage counseling, most family therapists recommend beginning long before either spouse considers divorce. If the couple is near divorce, the effort may be too late.
- If the goal is to help each family member adjust to a new life with new roles, family therapy can be helpful during and after the divorce process.
- For co-parenting couples, family therapy can help create a cohesive, cooperative environment for the children.
Looking for a great family therapist but don't know where to start? Check out the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy's helpful online tool, the Therapist Locator.
At Hello Divorce, we’re highly familiar with the life transition of divorce, and we understand what a difficult time it can be. Therapy can give divorcing couples and their loved ones a safe space to explore feelings and develop important coping skills. Please check out the many resources we offer, and know that we are here for you as you make your way through your divorce process and begin your next exciting chapter.
ReferencesTherapist Locator. American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy.
Therapy to Improve Children's Mental Health. CDC.
Online Therapy Is Here to Stay. American Psychological Association.