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Family therapy is based on the belief that the family is a unique social system with its own structure and patterns of communication. These patterns are determined by many things, including the parents' beliefs and values, the personalities of all family members, and the influence of the extended family (grandparents, aunts, and uncles). As a result of these variables, each family develops its own unique personality, which is powerful and affects all of its members.
Family therapy is based on the following concepts as well.
Health professionals who use the family systems model in caring for people always consider the whole family. They view any problem in one member as a symptom of change or conflict in the group.
A family therapist:
During therapy sessions, the family's strengths are used to help them handle their problems. All members take responsibility for problems. Some family members may need to change their behavior more than others.
Family therapy is a very active type of therapy, and family members are often given assignments. For example, parents may be asked to delegate more responsibilities to their children.
The number of sessions required varies, depending on the severity of the problems and the willingness of the members to participate in therapy. The family and the therapist set mutual goals and discuss the length of time expected to achieve the goals. Not all members of the family attend each session.
People who participate in family therapy sessions learn more about themselves and about how their family functions.
Anyone who has a condition that interferes with his or her life and the lives of family members may benefit from family therapy. Usually, the better the family functions, the lower the stress level for the person with the health problem.
Family therapy has been used successfully to treat many different types of families in many different situations, including those in which:
Family therapy can also be useful before problems begin. Some families seek this type of therapy when they anticipate a major change in their lives. For example, a man and woman who both have children from previous marriages may go to family therapy when they marry to help all family members learn how to live together.
The concepts of family therapy can also be used in individual therapy sessions and are very helpful for people who come from families in which there is illness and/or other problems. Adults who lived in poorly functioning families as children may benefit from individual therapy using family therapy concepts.
Family therapy is useful in dealing with relationship problems within the family and may help reduce symptoms such as eating disorders or alcohol use problems. But more specific types of therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or medicines, may be needed too.
For the best results, all family members need to work together with the therapist toward common goals. But if one member refuses to attend sessions, other family members can still benefit by attending.
Complete the special treatment information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this treatment.
Last Revised: February 2, 2012
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
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