Family therapy is a counseling method intended for romantic partners, relatives, and large family dynamics. The goal of family therapy is to help patients gain the skills and resources necessary to resolve their issues with healthy communication and compromise rather than anger.
According to the National Institute of Health (NIH):
“Family therapy is a structured form of psychotherapy that seeks to reduce distress and conflict by improving the systems of interactions between family members. It is an ideal counseling method for helping family members adjust to an immediate family member struggling with an addiction, medical issue, or mental health diagnosis.”
Family therapy can help reconnect relatives or partners who have drifted apart amid relationship difficulties. However, since family relationships and their struggles are broad, not all types of family therapy work for everyone. Luckily, several different family therapy techniques are adept at addressing different kinds of family dynamics and their goals.
Below, we will look at 6 types of family therapy techniques, the differences between them, and how the right one can help bridge the gap between struggling family members.
1. Structural Family Therapy
Structural family therapy is a popular group counseling method invented by Salvador Minuchin based on improving communication and setting clear boundaries.
Minuchin believed that the interactions between individual family members were the most vital element to establishing a healthy family dynamic. So, a structural family therapist would help shift how you communicate with your relatives and respond to disagreements to fit your family’s needs better.
Structural family therapy also aims to help your family establish boundaries for what you need from your relatives and personal life. With improved communication, that boundary-setting becomes easier.
2. Transgenerational Therapy
Transgenerational therapy, also called Bowenian therapy, is group counseling specifically for family members looking to break the generational beliefs or personality traits causing tension. The goal of a transgenerational therapist is to help their patients understand that self-differentiating from inherited feelings and thoughts is possible and to help them break any bad habits.
Transgenerational family therapy can be done individually or in a group setting. With multiple family members in the same session, the mental health professional will better understand what tensions are lingering in the family dynamics. Then, they can help you combat those hidden tensions before they spiral.
3. Strategic Family Therapy
Strategic family therapy will closely examine patients’ behavior toward each family member and teach them to be mindful of those behaviors. Most family therapists will work toward that goal of mindfulness through this process:
- Examining individual family members’ social interactions and behaviors
- Identifying disconnects in communication that could be causing issues
- Creating tasks that challenge those communication behaviors and promote change
Strategic therapy is one of the most challenging forms of group counseling and has dramatic benefits for those who commit to it. That is because most of the work in strategic therapy happens outside the session rather than during the appointment.
For example, after a productive session, your mental health professional will often assign you a small behavioral change task to work on at home. Those tasks are often as manageable as using healthier terminology to respond to repeated family conflicts. Your therapist will then analyze how the alternative responses made you and your family feel and help you make the successful ones a habit.
Strategic family therapy techniques work well to challenge traditional family roles and create a more even playing field. For example, a strategic therapist might ask the “dominant” family member to communicate in ways that release their authority, giving more space for other members to speak freely.
4. Narrative Therapy
Similar to transgenerational counseling, narrative therapy is a method that helps patients break away from the problematic behaviors they want to shed to become more supportive and healthier people.
The most significant difference between narrative and transgenerational therapies is that narrative therapy is more about breaking free from personal tension rather than generational problems causing strife with younger family members. For example, rather than unlearning generation beliefs and behaviors like in transgenerational therapy, a narrative therapist will challenge you to question the influences that make you doubt your value to your family.
Narrative therapists achieve this goal through narrative exercises. These exercises challenge patients to think of themselves as a narrator for their life and create stories based on their skills and positive qualities to motivate them to achieve their real-life goals.
5. Systemic Family Therapy
Systemic family therapy is one of the most common family therapy techniques offered. This counseling form views family dynamics as interconnected. So, if one member of the dynamic changes their perception and behaviors for the better, the rest of the group will benefit.
A systemic family therapist will question their patients’ knowledge of their relationships with relatives to shift their perceptions and actions. For example, the therapist might ask, “who does the most for the family,” and ask each member their response. Based on the reactions, a patient might recognize a disconnect between how they view their role in the group vs. how the group feels about them.
The goal then shifts toward changing the individual family members’ behavior to better address the group’s needs and expectations.
6. Psychoeducation Therapy
Psychoeducation is a therapy geared toward families with a member afflicted with a mental health condition. This method is similar to other family therapy techniques in how it aims to improve communication and understanding between family members but is more educational than traditional therapy.
In a psychoeducation session, a family therapist will teach you how to destigmatize mental illnesses and support the loved ones in your family with mental health conditions. Additionally, psychoeducation can give you a sense of what your family member is struggling with and help you connect with them in a healthy way that makes both parties feel safe and understood.
Conclusion on Family Therapy Techniques
Family therapy is beneficial for bridging the gap between emotionally disconnected partners and family members. However, therapy is not a universal service, and those who sign up for ill-fitting types of family therapy will not receive the intended benefits.
Thankfully, family therapy is a decades-old practice, and experts have developed several family therapy techniques in that time to address ranges of different dynamics and problems. So regardless of the issues you’re facing and the family members you share those issues with, you can find a qualified family therapist who can teach you how to solve them and build healthier relationships.