6 Types of Family Therapy for Navigating Life's Challenges Together

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

Families don’t always get along. Parents and kids might clash over curfews or technology use. Spouses might argue over finances. These conflicts are normal and come and go without causing any major disruptions to our lives. 

But sometimes, families have more serious ongoing issues or challenges, like divorce or addiction. These issues may affect family relationships, resulting in increased conflict or emotional distance that may be difficult to navigate alone. 

Family therapy may be highly beneficial here, providing effective ways to handle these challenging situations. 

What exactly is family therapy, and who can benefit from it? We’ll explore it below, including common approaches and how to know when to consider family therapy.

What is family therapy?

Family therapy is a kind of psychotherapy or talk therapy that helps families improve their relationships. This type of therapy is also used to help with behavioral issues, and may also be used to help families cope with specific mental health disorders. For example, a parent with bipolar disorder may experience extreme mood swings that affect the entire family.

The overall goals of family therapy are to build a more adaptive and stable home environment and strengthen familial relationships. More specific goals might include setting and maintaining boundaries or helping you and your loved ones draw on inner strength and other resources to help improve your relationships with each other. 

Keep in mind that family doesn’t only refer to parents and children. Any combination of loved ones can seek help through family therapy. You can attend therapy sessions with siblings, cousins, grandparents, or other relatives. 

Benefits of family therapy

Resolving family conflicts or avoiding misunderstandings on your own may be mentally exhausting and stressful. You might not know how to approach these situations — or you might struggle with the skills needed to improve them. If your situation involves a family member dealing with a mental health disorder, this may make your efforts even more challenging. 

You don’t have to navigate these complex family issues on your own: Family therapy may offer you more adaptive ways to handle these situations. With the right guidance and support, you and your loved ones can work on improving your relationships together. 

Here are just a few of the benefits of therapy for families.

Better communication

Do your family members give each other the silent treatment or argue constantly? Being able to communicate openly and clearly is an important aspect of relationships within families. Misunderstandings may lead to ongoing conflict, and keeping feelings and thoughts bottled up may result in quiet resentment. 

Family therapy can help you and your family members improve your communication skills. This leads to open and effective communication. It also helps you better understand each other better and builds empathy. 

More effective conflict resolution

Family therapy teaches families to resolve conflicts constructively, versus resorting to maladaptive means of dealing with conflict, like fighting, passive-aggressive behavior, or giving the silent treatment. This helps reduce tension and fosters a more peaceful environment. 

Working on improving your relationships through family therapy also helps keep conflicts to a minimum. You may not be able to eliminate conflicts entirely, but you and your loved ones will have the skills, tools, and knowledge to deal with these situations more effectively. 

Stronger relationships 

Do you and your family struggle to get along? Or is there a lot of emotional distance between you? Trying to find ways to get closer or strengthen family bonds can be tough. But that’s where family therapy comes in.

This type of therapy provides a great way to make those emotional connections stronger. With the guidance of a trusted family therapist, you and your loved ones can work together on building a deeper sense of unity and support. 

Better problem-solving skills 

Maybe your child refuses to do their homework, or maybe you’re trying to figure out how to cover the cost of a major home repair. You and your spouse have a hard time agreeing on how to approach these problems, leading to a pattern of arguments, resentment, and ongoing frustration. 

Family therapy helps you and your loved ones develop better problem-solving skills. You’ll learn how to tackle problems that come up in more adaptive ways. This allows you to deal with future challenges in a collaborative manner that brings you closer instead of pushing you apart. 

Types of family therapy

There are several therapeutic approaches commonly used in family therapy, each focusing on different aspects of helping families become stronger. 

In the following sections, we’ll explore these different types of family therapy. Keep in mind that the approach that works best for you and your family will depend on your unique situation and therapeutic goals. 

Strategic family therapy 

This type of family therapy takes a solution-focused approach. It helps you and your family change the way you interact and communicate with each other in order to solve problems. Strategic family therapy is generally a short-term treatment. It targets specific issues or problems that families face, such as aggressive behavior or substance use problems. 

Strategic therapy is often used for behavioral issues in children and adolescents. The main idea behind it is that the family plays a key role in a child’s development. Changing the way families function helps address behavioral issues and resolve them. 

Narrative family therapy

Storytelling can offer a powerful way for families to change their family narrative in adaptive ways. Narrative family therapy gives you and your family a chance to examine your own stories and rewrite or reframe them. It also allows you to view family challenges and relationships from different perspectives. 

Narrative therapy can help you identify unhelpful stories that may be contributing to family problems. You can then change these stories into helpful ones that boost family relationships and reduce conflict. 

Structural family therapy

Structural family therapy revolves around the family unit or family structure. It explores the hierarchies and relationships within families in order to encourage change. This involves taking a close look at the way family members directly interact with each other. 

This type of therapy can help you and your loved ones recognize unhelpful patterns that affect family functioning. With guidance, you can work on restructuring your family’s organization. This typically includes setting boundaries, improving communication, and developing empathy. 

Systemic family therapy

Systemic family therapy takes a deep dive into the underlying issues within family interactions. This involves going below surface-level interactions between you and other family members. For example, therapy might explore your roles as a parent and spouse and how these relate to ongoing family issues. 

This type of therapy also takes other kinds of context into consideration, such as socio-economic status and cultural views. Looking at the bigger picture may help families make adaptive changes that improve each family member’s emotional well-being. 

Bowenian family therapy

Family history is a key part of Bowenian family therapy. This approach explores the emotional and behavioral patterns that develop from generation to generation in families in order to understand present-day family dynamics. 

Bowenian family therapy can help you and your loved ones discover how your own family history has shaped the way you handle current issues and challenges. You might explore generational or inherited trauma, or you might work on understanding how parents sometimes project their own issues onto their children.

Functional family therapy (FFT)

Functional family therapy is another type of family therapy that’s used for families dealing with behavioral issues in children. It’s a short-term form of therapy that explores family dynamics. FFT aims to help you and your loved ones understand how family interactions and functioning may contribute to behavioral issues. 

Through FFT, families learn to build adaptive parenting skills and improve communication skills. FFT also focuses on using positive reinforcement, like praise or rewards, rather than punishment to help resolve behavioral issues. 

When to consider family therapy

Now that you’re aware of the benefits family therapy offers (and its many approaches), you may wonder if it’s time to consider it. Every family is unique, and there is a wide range of situations that therapy may help address. 

The following list isn’t exhaustive, but includes some of the reasons you may consider seeking family therapy:

  • Concerns over a child’s behavior 
  • Conflicts over finances or parenting 
  • Death of a loved one or another traumatic loss
  • Divorce or separation
  • Mental health conditions
  • Ongoing communication problems 
  • Serious or chronic illness
  • Substance use disorders

Embrace healing and growth in family therapy with SonderMind

No matter what struggles you face with loved ones, family therapy may help. From learning to communicate more openly to working on solving problems in a collaborative spirit, you can work toward a stronger family bond. 

You might not be sure which type of family therapy would be most beneficial for you — and that’s okay. A mental health professional can help determine the right type of family therapy for your unique situation. 

At SonderMind, we’ll connect you with a family therapist who can help you and your family members heal and grow. Whether you prefer to meet online or in person, you can quickly and easily find a therapist to help your family meet your therapeutic goals at SonderMind.

Get started on the path toward stronger family relationships today with SonderMind

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