Family Therapy: Theories, Modalities, And Efficacy
In general, family therapy is a form of therapy in which an entire family is engaged to reach a group resolution rather than an individual seeking out personalized therapy plans. Family therapy often involves family systems theory, which was introduced by Murray Bowen and views a family as an emotionally connected unit made up of each person in the family as a vital part. A few types of family therapy can include structural therapy, Milan therapy, strategic family therapy, narrative therapy, and transgenerational therapy. Different types of family therapy can be helpful for different families, and online therapy can be an alternative to traditional in-office family therapy.
Family Therapy: A Definition
It often brings Murray Bowen's family systems theory to light, which paints the individuals as vital parts of one emotionally connected unit. Family therapies can all look very different from one another, both in terms of what is worked on during therapy sessions and the manner of delivery. Some therapies focus on parent-child engagement and interactions, while others have different goals.
Family therapy typically seeks to treat a family unit to improve communication, relations, and dynamics within a family, which can ultimately contribute to a harmonious home life. Family therapy is most commonly engaged when children are still in the home, but people of all ages and home lives may come into family therapy and benefit from it. Ultimately, family therapy is a form of therapy that treats relationships without focusing on a romantic relationship.
Family Therapy Theories
Family therapy theories essentially function as the basis from which all family therapy modalities spring. Theories are often used to identify the most effective forms of treatment, whether that means engaging a family as a single unit, separating a family to treat individual issues, or treating a family through different lenses depending on the day, tackling situations and challenges as they arise.
Some family therapy theories see families as small societies. There may be specific, unique roles and relationships, and deviating from these roles and relationships is often the greatest source of conflict or contention.
Other family therapy theorists view the family unit as just that: a single unit with working parts that must all work toward the same goal.
Main Family Therapy Modalities
There are five widely recognized family therapy modalities: structural therapy, Milan therapy, strategic therapy, narrative therapy, and transgenerational therapy. These forms of therapy normally seek to improve familial relationships and create a more stable, healthy life at home.
Structural therapy is usually the most popular form of family therapy, and it tends to see the family as a unit with multiple functioning pieces. Each person in the family may have a specific role that they fulfill, and deviating from these roles can be the greatest source of conflict within a family. Structural therapy, then, usually seeks to evaluate any reason for the upset in familial roles and works on integrating everyone back into the roles they were originally intended to fulfill. This modality often works to evenly distribute power, communication, and respect, so that the family can move forward as a single, functional system.
Milan therapy can be similar to strategic therapy because it tends to view a family as a single system, with a series of symbiotic systems embedded within it. It usually differs somewhat from Structural therapy, though. It often focuses far more on the natural behaviors within a family and seeks to guide those natural behaviors, focusing on reactions and feedback.
Strategic family therapy mainly centers on patterns within families and has less of a focus on viewing the family unit differently. Strategic therapists are usually instructed to focus on any patterns of behavior that have emerged or developed over time and attempt to intercept and redirect these patterns actively.
Narrative therapy generally operates under the notion that individuals being at their absolute best and believing in their power can create the greatest, most effective family dynamics. Conflict resolution can be a simple matter of improving self-esteem and self-perception.
Transgenerational therapy most often works on the conflicts between different generations by breaking down any communication barriers that exist and cultivating understanding, despite different cultural mores or expectations. This particular modality usually suggests that most familial conflicts come from the differences between generational behaviors and expectations, and soothing these differences can be a simple matter of improving communication and encouraging open-minded attitudes.
Which Family Therapy Theory Is Best?
As one study concluded, there may be no single form of family therapy that is distinctly advantageous over another; some modalities may work well for some families, and others may work well for other families. Ultimately, it is usually the presence of psychotherapy that consistently demonstrates significantly different outcomes, rather than the use of a single, distinct family therapy theory or modality.
Some forms of family therapy may be more likely to suit a particular problem, however. If communication between different generations is the primary problem, for instance, if grandparents and parents are struggling with it, or parents and children are struggling with it, then Transgenerational Therapy might be the most effective form of therapy to reach a resolution.
If family dynamics are being tested, structural therapy may be the best therapeutic method to repair family dynamics and instill peace. Communication breakdowns and not understanding your role in your family could be helped through Milan therapy, and Narrative therapy could help a family filled with low self-esteem and self-doubt.
Ultimately, though, your family is likely to be better off after completing family therapy, regardless of the exact form of therapy you engage in. The most conclusive study of therapy consistently found that people who enlist therapy as a means of self-improvement and self-help generally report better life outcomes than those who do not, so any type of family therapy may be likely to offer at least some insight into and improvement of familial relationships and family dynamics.
When choosing a modality and a therapist, it can be beneficial to do some research. You might make sure the modality you’ve chosen to enlist suits your actual needs and ensure your therapist is properly certified for that modality. Because different forms of therapy often require different techniques, therapists are usually not qualified to deliver all forms of therapy but can take on certain specialties.
Family Therapy Delivery
Just as there can be different therapy types, there can also be different ways therapy can be administered. Some therapists may have entire families come to a session in an office, where families are encouraged to air their grievances and identify any issues they might have. Some therapists may encourage families to be seen in a more natural setting, such as a home or school, to observe the family in their typical environment and get a more accurate feel of how the family interacts. Some therapists may deliver therapy online, where families can feel more comfortable engaging with their therapist and one another. Online therapy can also have the added benefits of convenience and easy scheduling so that it’s not as much of a hassle to figure out a time when the entire family can get together.
As this study explains, online family therapy can be a viable alternative to in-person family therapy. If you feel that working with a licensed mental health professional could be helpful for your family, please don’t hesitate to reach out for the help and guidance you deserve.
Family therapy has existed for many years with the primary goal of improving familial ties and relationships. While individual therapy usually focuses on a single person’s problems, family therapy often seeks to treat an entire family’s concerns or diagnoses. There can be many reasons to enlist the help of a family therapist. Some families may have children or adults with special needs and need help navigating the situation’s complexities. Some families may struggle to communicate and keep harmony among themselves and seek out a professional to help them learn more effective methods of listening and speaking.
Family therapy is often considered somewhat new in the overall history of psychotherapy, but it generally has at least 60 years of theory and practice behind it. Family therapy theories can all be different in their approach to healing and treating families, but they typically all work toward the same goal: improving family dynamics and strengthening familial relationships. Whether you visit with a therapist in an actual office or visit a therapist via an online therapy portal, the result tends to be the same: improved family dynamics, improved communication, and a more harmonious home life.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Are The Different Theories Of Family Therapy?
There are many different theories of family therapy, which can include Structural therapy, Milan therapy, strategic family therapy, narrative therapy, and transgenerational therapy.
What Are Family System Theories?
Family system theories offer explanations of how family systems may work.
What are systems therapy techniques?
One common technique used in family systems therapy is called circular questioning. Reframing and solution-focused interventions are a couple more examples.
What Is The Bowen Theory?
Bowen's Theory is generally what many family systems therapy models are based on. It is a theory of human behavior that typically views a family as a connected, emotional, and complex unit.
What are the eight concepts of Bowen's Theory?
Bowen Theory’s eight concepts generally include:
- Differentiation of Self
- Nuclear Family Emotional System
- Family Projection Process
- Multigenerational Transmission Process
- Emotional Cutoff
- Sibling Position
- Societal Emotional Process
What Are The Key Concepts Of Family Systems Theory?
There are usually five key concepts of family systems therapy, similar to Bowen Theory’s listed above, but simplified:
- Emotional triangles
- Differentiation of self
- Family projection process
- Emotional cutoff
- Multigenerational transmission process
What Are The 3 Goals Of Family Therapy?
Family therapy, especially family systems therapy, usually has three main goals:
- Improving communication
- Understanding and handling specific family situations
- Creating a better-functioning home environment
Though these can be some of the main goals, any reason that you want to create a better home life for you and your family may be worth investing in family systems therapy.
What Are The 4 Types Of Talk Therapy?
Though family systems therapy can be one effective therapy model, other forms of talk therapy can be extremely beneficial for an individual. These may include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Interpersonal therapy
- Humanistic therapy
Though all types of talk therapy typically have their own style, many borrow concepts from each other. It can be up to each individual or family to find what kind of therapy will work best for them.
What are the four subsystems in family systems theory?
In family systems therapy, there is generally the main system of the family unit and then smaller subsystems within it. These usually include:
- The parental subsystem
- The parent-child subsystem
- The sibling subsystem
- The individual subsystem
What Are The 4 Types Of Families?
All families tend to have their own unique characteristics, but many fall into the following four categories:
- Nuclear family
- Single parent family
- Childless family
- Extended family
It can be important to remember that there are usually nuances to every family system. As time goes on, different family systems can become the norm – such as stepfamilies or blended families. If you feel that you and your family could benefit from family counseling, therapy, or play therapy for your children, now may be the time to start.
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