What Are the Goals of Family Therapy?

Medically reviewed by: Erica Munro, MSc
Monday, January 29

Occasional conflicts or arguments among family members are normal. Everyone has disagreements with loved ones from time to time. However, frequent or ongoing conflicts may lead to stress or even dysfunctional family dynamics. 

Talking through conflicts peacefully isn’t always easy, especially if there’s a history of tension between family members. However, ignoring family issues may only make things worse. 

Family therapy can be an excellent tool to help families work through their differences and learn adaptive ways to resolve conflicts. This type of therapy recognizes that family dynamics can be complex and directly affect individual behavior and emotional health. Family therapy focuses on identifying and addressing interaction patterns that contribute to issues within the family with the goal of fostering understanding, improving relationships, and encouraging positive changes.

In this article, we’ll explore family therapy in greater detail, including its goals and how it works.

Challenges that family therapy may address

Family dynamics can be complicated, and life is full of situations that may further complicate those dynamics. Sometimes, major challenges may become significant sources of conflict or stress, and ongoing issues may even create a hostile home environment. 

These challenges vary between families, but some of the common situations that evidence-based family therapy may help include:

  • Communication difficulties: Family therapy helps improve communication skills within families and teaches family members how to express themselves effectively and appropriately. This may include active listening and learning to understand others’ perspectives.
  • Parent-child conflicts: Family therapy works to help identify the cause of conflict between parents and children and gives families tools to resolve conflicts more adaptively. This could include encouraging open discussions and suggesting evidence-based parenting strategies.
  • Strained family relationships: Family therapy focuses on the interconnectedness of families and identifies the dynamics leading to strained relationships. Then, it focuses on helping family members build empathy and understanding to forge stronger connections.
  • Behavioral issues: As mentioned above, family therapy is rooted in the belief that family dynamics directly affect behavior and vice versa. Therapy can address specific behavioral concerns, like substance use or aggression, and help foster more adaptive behaviors and a supportive environment.
  • Divorce or separation: Family therapy helps family members adjust to this major life change while maintaining constructive relationships. It may address healthy co-parenting strategies (if children are involved) or provide adaptive coping mechanisms for dealing with this family shift.
  • Grief and loss: Family therapy helps families manage bereavement and grief after losing a loved one. This might include fostering a supportive environment for the surviving family members to acknowledge their grief while finding ways to remember their lost loved one.

6 goals of family therapy

Every family is different, and your family’s therapeutic goals will differ from the next — and may change over time. Now that you understand what challenges family therapy can help address, let’s explore some of its goals to help you better understand what you can hope to achieve through therapy. 

Improving family communication

Helping families improve communication skills is a primary goal of family therapy. Communication is a key part of family relationships. When it breaks down, you and your loved ones might find yourselves arguing more over misunderstandings. You might pull away from each other instead of opening up.

Family therapy helps foster open communication between members of the family. This is an effective way to help families grow closer and reduce conflicts. Through family therapy, you can learn to discuss issues or disagreements calmly as a family. You can also learn to share thoughts and feelings to help strengthen family bonds. 

Resolving conflict

Conflicts are common in families — it’s how your family handles these situations that matters. 

Family therapy uses different strategies to help families navigate and resolve conflicts. You and your family members might work on learning to compromise or negotiate when conflicts occur. Or you might work on empathetic understanding — learning to view conflicts from each other’s perspectives. 

These conflict resolution strategies aim to promote more harmonious family interactions and improve strained relationships. 

Strengthening family bonds

The emotional connections you have with your family members may change over time. Stress, trauma, major life events, and conflicts may make it hard to maintain strong bonds, and even the closest families can grow apart.

Family therapy helps repair and deepen emotional connections between you and your loved ones. Learning to communicate effectively and resolve conflicts are just a couple of ways family therapy helps strengthen family bonds. Families can also address underlying issues or work on other problems as needed over time to maintain solid and supportive family relationships. 

Addressing behavioral issues

Behavioral issues may cause considerable strain within families. Eating disorders, substance use, extreme mood swings, and other serious behavioral issues may lead to increased conflicts among family members. 

It’s completely understandable to want to help a loved one who’s struggling, but you might not know how. This is where family therapy can be so valuable: It can help target specific behavioral concerns. 

While people of any age can experience behavioral shifts, family therapy most commonly focuses on children and adolescents with behavioral problems. This type of therapy uses a family-based approach that focuses on collaboration. 

Supporting through transitions 

Major transitions in life, like divorce or moving to a different part of the country, may cause turmoil in families. These stressful situations may put even the strongest family relationships to the test. 

Family members of all ages experience their own personal struggles during these life changes. These struggles may spill over into the family as a whole, resulting in added stress, communication problems, and other issues. 

Family therapy can be a great source of support and guidance during life transitions. You and your loved ones can navigate these emotionally complex family situations with help from a therapist. Family therapy serves as a supportive environment where family members can talk about how these life changes affect them and provides everyone with skills for handling these transitions adaptively. 

Developing coping skills 

Family therapy helps reduce conflicts. But avoiding challenges entirely isn’t quite realistic. Future challenges are bound to occur, which is completely normal. With family therapy, you and your family can make sure you have the tools and skills to handle these situations collaboratively. 

Family therapy can help your whole family learn valuable coping skills. With better coping mechanisms, instead of these challenges taking a toll on your relationships, they can provide opportunities for you and your loved ones to grow closer. 

How does family therapy work?

At its core, family therapy is a form of talk therapy. But there’s more to it than talking. Family therapy consists of several processes that all play important roles in improving family relationships. 

Assessment and goal-setting

Family therapy typically starts with an assessment of your family’s needs, such as the specific family issues that need addressing. Do you argue a lot? Is a family member’s conduct or behavior causing stress in the family? 

Depending on your family's concerns, your therapist may use different therapeutic techniques as part of an overall treatment plan. For example, structural family therapy focuses on changing the family structure to make adaptive changes. Bowenian family therapy explores family history to bring about change in the present. 

Family therapy also involves setting goals. A therapist helps you and your family set goals to work toward, like learning to communicate more clearly or setting boundaries and respecting others’ boundaries. 

Therapeutic intervention

Family intervention strategies and techniques may vary based on your family’s needs. Your therapist might use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques to help everyone identify and change unhelpful patterns of behavior and thinking that may contribute to family issues. This might include role-playing or other exercises.

Your therapist may also take a psychoeducational approach, educating you and your loved ones about a disorder or condition that a family member struggles with. Similarly, they may employ strategic family therapy to address specific areas of concern, such as a child’s behavioral challenges. 

Improving and enhancing communication

Family therapy helps improve communication skills, so that you and your loved ones can discuss your feelings openly, helping reduce misunderstandings and preventing resentment from building up. 

During family therapy, you’ll learn more about how your words impact others. This may involve adjusting your vocabulary and tone, using “I” statements rather than “you” statements, and listening actively. Building these skills helps foster better understanding between you and your family members. 

Addressing individual issues

Family therapy doesn’t just focus on family issues. It also allows everyone to work on their individual behaviors and actions and understand how they affect the family as a whole. For example, one family member’s anger problems might contribute to communication problems within the family. Or a family member’s struggles with financial responsibility might strain the rest of the household.

Your therapist can help recognize these areas of concern and tailor their recommendations to help shift unhelpful behaviors to more positive ones.

Homework and application

Family therapy is an ongoing process that goes beyond therapy sessions. Some therapists may give your family “homework” as part of your journey toward healing and growth. 

These assignments mainly focus on practical exercises that families can do at home, like having regular family meetings to discuss feelings or bring up concerns. 

Homework and exercises help reinforce what you learn during family therapy sessions. They also give you a way to bring the changes made in therapy sessions to your everyday family life. 

Evaluating progress 

Evaluating progress during therapy is an ongoing process. This helps your therapist determine if current strategies and techniques are effective — and if not, they’ll work with your family to make adjustments for the best possible outcome. 

It’s also important to remember that your family’s needs may change over time. Evaluating progress along the way also recognizes when you accomplish therapeutic goals and reevaluates new therapeutic needs as they arise.  

Connect with family therapists through SonderMind

Family therapy has many benefits, from better communication and problem-solving skills to stronger bonds. Knowing how family therapy works ahead of time is also helpful in terms of your expectations. 

Recognizing that your family may benefit from therapy is a great first step toward healing. However, finding the right therapist is key. SonderMind takes the hassle out of finding a therapist. Simply tell us a bit about yourself and what you hope to address with therapy, and we’ll connect you with online or in-person family therapists who can help your family meet their goals.

Connect with a family therapist through SonderMind today. 


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