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 child and teen problems improve a great deal when the family changes how they deal with the child.
In therapy the family will:
Family therapy may be the best treatment when a child or teen:
Each family has a system of behaviors and rules that they use with each other. The family system of behaviors and rules are habits that family members may not think about, but they keep acting on them. Most of the family's behaviors may be healthy, but some may need to change for a child to get better. 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. The therapist will watch as they talk about each other and recent family events. The therapist will point out or question patterns of good and bad interaction. For example, in a family with a defiant teenage boy the therapist might notice that the teen argues with his mother over schoolwork, but not with his father. The therapist might suggest that mother and son show how they usually act and talk about schoolwork during the session.
As therapy progresses the therapist may give the family homework to try between sessions. The homework may help them understand patterns. Sometimes homework helps the family practice new patterns. For example, in the family with the defiant teenager the therapist might:
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 teenagers, having parents and siblings in the treatment sessions can be very powerful. With children younger than 11 or 12, the therapist may divide sessions into individual time with children and time with parents.
At the start of each session the therapist will check on what has happened around issues which are the focus of treatment.
Next the therapist will chose 1 or 2 things to focus on. 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 and which are not.
The therapist will come up with a plan for the family to change those interactions which are not helpful. This may involve practice in the session or assigned homework to practice out in the real world.
There are ways to find a family therapist. Ask questions and get referrals from people you know and trust. To find a family therapist, check with: