What Is a Family Therapy Program?

M.C. Huguelet

As its name suggests, a family therapy program is a form of counseling that is participated in by an entire family. It is based largely on the principle that an issue which appears to affect one member of a family may in fact be influenced by the nature of that individual’s family unit. Generally, a family therapy program is led by a licensed counselor or therapist and consists of a limited number of sessions directed toward a specific goal. It should be noted that a family therapy program may be unsuccessful if some family members refuse to participate, and that individual treatment may be needed in addition to family therapy.

Families who go through a therapy program might be encouraged to eat more meals together.
Families who go through a therapy program might be encouraged to eat more meals together.

Family therapy is based on the idea that the family is a powerful unit with its own deep-seated personality. In light of the family’s uniqueness and its pull over its individual members, family therapists believe, serious issues that would seem to affect one family member, such as drug dependence, depression, eating disorders, or behavioral problems, are in fact deeply entwined with the family’s personality and its members’ patterns of relating to one another. By bringing the members of a family together, a family therapy program helps them understand how they communicate with each other and how they manage conflict, and encourages them to improve their skills in these areas.

A family therapy program is usually completed under the guidance of a licensed therapist or counselor who may specialize in working with families. It is generally seen as a short-term treatment, as it tends to focus on a particular goal, such as improving communication, and to proceed only until that goal has been successfully realized. During sessions, family members generally gather at their therapist’s office and, under her direction, spend approximately one hour analyzing their behaviors. The family’s therapist may assign “homework” tasks, such as taking turns talking about one’s day over dinner, that should be worked on between sessions.

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Mental health experts caution that a family therapy program may be ineffective if one or more family members decline to attend sessions or to engage with treatment goals. Furthermore, in some cases, individual family members may need to seek solo treatment in tandem with a family therapy program. For instance, a family member who suffers from alcoholism may have a better chance of recovering if he completes rehabilitation treatment in addition to participating in therapy with his family.

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