What Is Behavioral Family Therapy?

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  • Written By: Patti Kate
  • Edited By: Rachel Catherine Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 20 May 2019
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Behavioral family therapy typically involves customized programs with goals for improving relations between family members. These programs are generally provided under the guidance of a licensed psychologist or psychotherapist trained in dealing with issues that disrupt family life. In many cases, behavioral family therapy involves the practice of cognitive behavioral therapy modification techniques that reinforce positive behaviors while helping to get rid of the negative ones. Family counseling may be conducted in group sessions or one-on-one. Some situations that may warrant behavioral family therapy include domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health issues or coping with divorce.

When constructing a behavioral family therapy program, the behaviorist will generally establish certain goals or objectives for each participant. In order to successfully improve relations between family members, the issues must be clearly defined. For instance, if the problem lies with destructive behavior of a child, the child may be taught ways to modify his negative behavior so he may build a stronger relationship with parents and siblings. The behavioral family therapy program may begin with an in depth evaluation. This may include question and answer sessions that help define problem areas and the principle cause.


A family therapist will generally receive certification for family counseling. She may be a family psychologist or psychotherapist, and in most cases she will hold a license to practice. This type of therapist receives special training in dealing with problems that affect family life, and she may also have training in couples therapy. A marriage and family therapist may provide counseling or behavioral therapy programs for troubled relationships in a marriage that affect the entire family.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) modification generally involves teaching techniques to all family members. For instance, parents and children may be taught alternative ways to express displeasure or frustration, in place of negative reactions and thoughts. The family members may also be taught how to identify destructive thoughts and behaviors so they may eliminate them. Families may be given a list of objectives or issues they need to overcome within a set amount of time.

Behavioral family therapy may include one-on-one sessions with each family member, or group therapy with all family members together. Occasionally, two or more families with similar issues may participate in group therapy sessions. This option may provide support and offer the opportunity to share similar experiences with others.

There are various circumstances that may necessitate the intervention of behavioral family therapy or CBT. Families who have endured domestic violence may benefit from using behavioral family therapy. Therapy may focus on the abusive individual and teach ways to break the pattern of abusive behavior. In the case of a child who has a substance abuse problem, counseling and drug abuse programs may be part of the therapy. Families who are affected by divorce may receive counseling, focusing on helping children to cope with a major disruption of their normal routine.



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