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What Are the Different Family Therapy Systems?

By T. Carrier
Updated May 17, 2024
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A family therapy system addresses issues related to the family unit. As such, it usually includes two or more individuals as patients. Many types of therapy may be modeled into family therapy systems, including traditional psychoanalysis, behavioral therapy, and cognitive therapy. Unique therapeutic styles like art therapy might be effective tools in some cases as well. Some forms of therapy use a multi-pronged approach that may integrate several therapeutic approaches, like Mental Research Institute (MRI) Brief Therapy.

Most forms of conventional therapy can be adapted for family therapy systems. For example, one of the most prominent forms of therapy is cognitive therapy. This particular method is centered on correcting dysfunctional beliefs and perceptions about the self, about others, or about the world as a whole. In family therapy, the counselor might gather the core perceptions that each family member holds about another and work on altering negative assumptions by having the family members talk through and alter these perceptions. Some branches of cognitive family therapy, such as Adlerian family therapy, might shift emphasis to certain belief systems, such as a family member’s feelings of inferiority in relation to another family member.

In some families, the behavior of one or more family members presents a major problem. Anger especially can lead to negative consequences for parents, children, and siblings. Some family therapy systems may be designed primarily to extinguish negative actions through conflict management behavioral therapy. This approach might include exercises such as devising systems of reward and punishment for behavior, and patients may be seen independently rather than together. Components of cognitive therapy might be added to address the underlying mind processes behind the behavior.

Bad behavior and broken relationships usually do not exist in a vacuum, but rather result from a long history of dysfunctional interactions. Complex feelings usually arise from family dysfunction. Methods like intergenerational therapy and psychodynamic therapy aim to get at the root of these issues. Such psychoanalysis-focused family therapies strongly emphasize talking through problems, bringing all feelings into the open, and reliving unpleasant and possibly painful memories. Cathartic confrontation with a focus toward the past are hallmarks of psychoanalytic family therapy systems.

If children are part of the family therapy, some of the creative forms of therapy may help with expression. For example, art therapy is a popular technique that allows individuals to express feelings via drawings and other forms of art that may not be easily expressible in words. Music therapy could serve a similar function, as could narrative therapy. If an entire family has difficulties with verbal expression, these alternative methods can prove particularly useful.

De-emphasizing the role of the therapist is another possible approach to family therapy systems. Due to the multiple-patient nature of family therapy, this method might be preferable in some cases. Client-centered therapy promotes building positive relationships and interactions through mere talk. The therapist trusts the patients to work out their own issues, and offers no advice. He or she simply affords the family a safe and open environment for good interaction. Many couples therapies might use this approach.

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