Suggested links

Family Therapy

Families facing extreme changes or behavioral problems can benefit greatly from family therapy. Different types of therapy cater to unique needs and can improve family relationships. Additionally, family therapy can help families learn how to support loved ones with mental health or substance abuse issues.

Battling addiction and ready for treatment? Find Treatment Now

What Is Family Therapy?

Family therapy, also called Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT), is a form of evidence-based psychotherapy that focuses on addressing the mental health and functioning of the family. Like most talk therapy, family therapy involves discussing issues with a licensed therapist.

Family therapy is based on the idea that a family is a system of different parts and that a change in any part of the family system will trigger changes in all the other areas. It can promote positive change for the entire family by improving how family members interact and relate to each other.

Who Is Family Therapy Designed For?

Family therapy is designed for any family unit that is struggling with conflict, communication problems, and any specific mental health conditions or substance abuse issues.

Sessions can involve any combination of family members, whether a married couple, parents and their child, or the entire family. While family therapy can address mental health conditions, it can also be helpful for less severe day-to-day family issues.

How Can Family Therapy Help With Addiction Treatment?

Addiction often shatters the trust within the whole family. Even after an addict enters treatment for their substance use disorder, lingering resentment, distrust, and anxiety can linger. If these feelings are not addressed healthily, the family dynamics may suffer.

Family therapy provides an opportunity for loved ones and the addict to be honest about the effects of addiction and approach hard feelings from a productive place of love.

In addition, families can be instrumental in supporting addicts through their recovery and sobriety. Getting the entire family involved in treatment and aftercare can improve treatment outcomes and fewer relapses.

How Does Family Therapy Differ from Individual Therapy?

Individual therapy tends to focus on one person’s situation and struggles. While individual therapy can be life-changing, it cannot help with broader family problems as a unit.

Family therapy focuses on improving family functioning and the relationships between family members.

One-on-one therapy can only help the individual’s interactions with other family members; family therapy addresses the entire family unit and works to improve family relationships.

Common Types of Family Therapy (and What They Do)

There are many types of family therapies, each specializing in certain aspects of family dynamics.

The type of therapy your family may need will depend on your family’s unique circumstances and needs. Some mental health professionals may choose to combine some of these types as well.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most popular type of individual therapy and has many applications in family interventions. CBT works by helping participants identify and change the behaviors and false self-beliefs that lead to problems.

In the context of family therapy, CBT can help family members find patterns of behavior that impact how loved ones communicate and support each other. Cognitive behavioral family therapy can also help with problem-solving specific behavioral problems.

Systemic Family Therapy

The main focus of systemic family therapy is understanding the context of each family member’s background and experience. This approach includes consideration of the person’s political views, religion, and cultural upbringing.

By understanding the context behind each family member, the therapist or social worker can help address family issues in a way that also considers each person’s background.

Structural Family Therapy

Structural family therapy emphasizes the structure and interactions between each family member and focuses on allowing each family member’s viewpoint to be heard and considered.

The therapist focuses on how small changes can improve the family’s structure and lessen dysfunction. Often, these changes can lead to better boundaries between family members and better hierarchies that lead to more positive interactions.

Narrative Family Therapy

Narrative family therapy dives deep into the stories family members may develop and carry with them throughout their lives. During these sessions, family members identify not only their narratives but also the narratives that control their loved ones.

The goal of narrative family therapy is to help family members separate themselves from their narratives and take full control of their lives rather than being controlled by that narrative.

Strategic Family Therapy

Strategic family therapy is a short-term therapy that involves changing the family environment to address a child’s behavioral issues. Changing how the family functions around the child can help reduce the factors that may worsen behavioral problems or cause new ones later.

While the focus may be on the child, strategic family therapy also helps the parents learn to play a more positive role in their child’s development and help protect them from future issues.

Functional Family Therapy

Functional family therapy (FFT) is another option for families who are struggling with a child’s behavioral issues. Through FFT, a therapist can assess and identify the family dynamics that led to the problematic behavior.

FFT can be beneficial for children who are justice-involved or at risk for violence, substance use, or other behavioral problems.

The goal of FFT is to improve parenting skills and family interpersonal communication and to build positive reinforcement rather than negative reinforcement.

Couples Therapy

Couples therapy is perhaps the most familiar form of family therapy for the average person. Unlike other family therapies that focus on the entire family, couples therapy offers solutions for the complexities of romantic relationships.

In couples therapy, partners can feel like their perspective is being heard while in a neutral setting that doesn’t favor one side over the other. Partners will learn how reframing conflict can de-escalate disagreements, as well as better coping skills for daily relationship stressors.

Goals of Family Therapy

Family therapy has many goals, as each family will have different goals depending on their unique situation.

For some families, therapy is part of an individual treatment plan. For others, family therapy is the last desperate attempt to find some peace for a dysfunctional and overstressed family.

Your mental healthcare provider will help you determine a reasonable goal for your family and develop a plan to achieve it.

Common goals of family therapy include:

  • Improve family communication and well-being
  • Solve family problems in healthier, more productive ways
  • Understand and handle special family situations
  • Create a better-functioning home environment
  • Weather difficult transitions as a family unit
  • Address existing mental illness and improve family support
  • Gain access to other mental health services if needed

What to Expect in a Family Therapy Session

Family therapy sessions are conducted similarly to individual therapy sessions, although exact methods may vary depending on the therapy type. The parents, caregivers, child, and other family members convene in a quiet, comfortable room where a clinician begins the session.

Most sessions typically include time for each family member to discuss their feelings and perspectives.

From there, the provider may take the family through different exercises or thought exercises. Sessions are usually an hour long and could span a few months to a few years.

Family therapy may be challenging for some. Productive therapy requires participants to be honest and willing to discuss difficult or painful topics. However, by allowing vulnerability and honesty, families can slowly rebuild to restrengthen what they already have.

Find a Family Therapist Nearby

If you think your family might benefit from family therapy, there are a few ways to seek help. First, you can talk to your healthcare provider to see if they have a referral.

If you don’t have a healthcare provider, you can contact offices in your area that offer family therapy.

You can also visit the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy to find family therapists in your area who are currently accepting new patients.

Ready for Treatment?

Centric Behavioral Health, our paid treatment center sponsor, is available 24/7:
Learn More About Centric or For Immediate Treatment Help, Call (888) 694-1249.

FAQs About Family Therapy

What is the difference between family counseling and family therapy?

Family counseling is a broader term that refers to any type of advice for families, not just clinical settings. That may include speaking with community leaders, pastors, or advisors for help with family issues.

On the other hand, family therapy uses an evidence-based method for resolving and improving family issues in a clinical setting. Family therapy is often a more in-depth and serious approach for families who are struggling with serious mental health or behavioral issues.

Who are Marriage and Family therapists?

Marriage and family therapists are mental healthcare providers who specialize in many types of family and couples therapy. These therapies can utilize very specific approaches that take years to learn. It’s common for these therapists to specialize in certain types of family therapy.

How do I know if my family needs therapy?

The answer will be different for each family. For families who are in constant states of chaos and dysfunction, there may not be a “breaking point” or sign that helps them realize they need family therapy.

In other cases, traumatic events or big family changes may cause serious issues within a family that can’t be solved alone. Going to family therapy will seldom ever have a negative effect, so there’s nothing to lose by choosing family therapy if you believe there are unresolved issues.

What are common techniques used in family therapy?

Family therapy often focuses on several techniques, which may vary between types of therapy. Common techniques used include:

  • Allowing each family member to be heard and acknowledged
  • Creating or reestablishing hierarchies within families
  • Helping reframe conflict into more productive conversations
  • Improving parenting skills and support for children
  • Addressing false beliefs or negative behavioral patterns within family members
  • Developing robust coping skills and strategies to improve family communication and conflict resolution
Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

  1. Brennan, D. (2024, March 10). Family Therapy & Counseling: Purpose, How it Works, Pros, and Cons. WebMD.
  2. Family Therapy Can Help. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2013).
  3. Family Therapy: What it Is, Techniques & Types. Cleveland Clinic. (2022, November 20).
  4. Horigian, V. E., Feaster, D. J., Robbins, M. S., Brincks, A. M., Ucha, J., Rohrbaugh, M. J., Shoham, V., Bachrach, K., Miller, M., Burlew, A. K., Hodgkins, C. C., Carrion, I. S., Silverstein, M., Werstlein, R., & Szapocznik, J. (2015, October). A Cross-Sectional Assessment of the Long Term Effects of Brief Strategic Family Therapy for Adolescent Substance Use. The American Journal on Addictions.
  5. Morales-Brown, L. (2023, May 18). Benefits of Family Counseling and How it Works. Medical News Today.
  6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2020). Chapter 3—Family Counseling Approaches. Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Family Therapy: Updated 2020 [Internet].
  7. Sussex Publishers. (2022, September 1). Structural Family Therapy. Psychology Today.
  8. What is Marriage and Family Therapy? American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. (n.d.).

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Our free email newsletter offers guidance from top addiction specialists, inspiring sobriety stories, and practical recovery tips to help you or a loved one keep coming back and staying sober.

By signing up, you’ll be able to:

  • Stay Focused on Recovery
  • Find Ways To Give Back
  • Connect with Others Like You
Sign Up For Our Newsletter
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Find Treatment Now