What is Family Counseling?
Family counseling is a type of therapy that aims to increase positive communication, decrease conflict, and strengthen relationships within a family. Ideally, each person in conflict within a family meets with the counselor together. However, a session can also be family therapy if there is one client and the therapist focuses on resolving familial conflicts. This approach differs from individual and group therapies, in which counselors focus on disordered patterns within an individual.
Some professionals call family therapy “strengths-based treatment,” because the counselors focus on the strengths that each person brings to the table and how these skills can contribute to improving the group dynamic.
Families may wish to enter counseling together if:
- One member suffers from a mental health disorder
- Someone in the family has a terminal illness or passes away
- Major changes affect everyone, like a move or divorce
- One person becomes incarcerated
- Several members remain in conflict with one another
- A child struggles with developmental, behavioral, or physical challenges
- The group dynamics shift when another person becomes part of the family, like a step-parent or new sibling
- Any disruption negatively affect the group
In family counseling, the term “family” can mean anyone who provides long-term support to another. This can be a few close friends, a biological family, or any other closely-connected group of people.
Benefits of Seeing a Family Therapist
When families do the hard work of attending counseling sessions and changing their behaviors, amazing things can happen. Some possible outcomes include:
- Healthy boundaries that help everyone
- Less interpersonal conflict
- Members learn to solve disputes that do occur quickly and with less pain
- People communicate with one another about their needs and feelings
- Effective communication builds empathy and trust
- Members have relationships that allow them to support one another during difficult times
These benefits of family counseling tend to make life easier for all members. The lack of conflict and the robust support system benefit everyone involved.
Families should not expect their counselors to pick sides. Therapists do not decide conflicts or act as umpires. Instead, they give each person the tools they need to empathize and communicate with one another.
Counselors also cannot make conflicts go away overnight. Families that want to see the incredible benefits must be willing to put in the work and make changes. Each person must want to be there, at least a little bit.
Sometimes, family counseling goes alongside individual therapy. Patients can see reductions in their symptoms through one-on-one sessions. Then, these patients also get better support thanks to family counseling. Then, the support helps their symptoms reduce even more.
What to Expect in a Family Counseling Center
The structure of family therapy depends on the locations of the participants, the availability of the counselor, and the family preferences. When possible, therapists try to get all members of the group together for about five to 20 sessions, depending on the conflict’s severity and the progress members make in each session.
Sessions generally last about 50 minutes, but the first meeting may be longer. In the first session, the counselor will ask a lot of questions about what happened and why each member feels like family counseling is necessary. They may also try to discover what everyone hopes to gain from the process.
In subsequent sessions, the counselor may:
- Identify strengths in each person
- Discover how and why communication broke down
- Come to understand the family dynamics
- Make recommendations for healthy changes
- Give individual members ways to cope with familial problems
It’s important for families to understand what counselors will not do in these sessions. They will not lay blame on any one person, chastise someone, or take sides. The goal is to provide a comfortable space for all members to thrive.
If you want to see the benefits of family counseling for yourself, contact an LifeStance Health clinic today.