Marriage and family therapy is a type of counseling offered by psychologists to help couples or families overcome difficulties in relationships. It may also be referred to as marriage counseling or family counseling. In general, the point of marriage and family therapy is to identify both the cause of any problems among members of the family, and then identify specific changes or strategies that can be employed to help resolve these problems. Often, communication issues are some of the most commonly discussed problems in this type of therapy, but obviously the focus of the therapy can vary depending on the specific needs of the people there.
The defining aspect of marriage and family therapy is that it is usually a group effort. In marriage therapy, the couple will generally come in together and discuss problems with each other and with the therapist. Family therapy will function the same way, with all members of the family participating at once. In some instances, the counselor will also be willing to meet with people individually, but in most cases all of the therapy happens as a group. If a person feels he or she would benefit more from more intensive, individualized therapy, such as for dealing with a traumatic event, this might be helpful in addition to marriage and family therapy.
In general, marriage and family therapy will begin in the same way, with the therapist asking a few questions about what brings people to therapy and what they hope to accomplish. A discussion asking people to identify what they see as the problem will usually follow. Rather than a simple interaction between the client and the therapist, marriage and family therapy encourages interactions between the patients as well as with the therapist. The therapist is not intended to act as a mediator between fights, but may be able to help facilitate more productive discussions between couples or family members.
As part of these conversations, the therapist will help individuals to begin identifying where changes can be made, and what strategies can be used to solve problems or improve communication. Counselors will often give "homework" to their clients, which may include specific tasks to work on during the time between sessions, ideally to help begin resolving the issues. It is important for every member of the family to take the therapy seriously in order for it to be effective. Generally, this type of therapy is not a very long-term prospect, but may be able to be helpful in just a few sessions or a few months.