What is involved in family therapy?

Initially a family therapist will meet with your family for an assessment. The therapist will aim to hear each person’s voice (even if the whole family is not present at the appointment). In family therapy, the therapist will not take sides.  As with any type of group therapy, they will aim for each person to feel heard and understood.

They usually draw a specific type of family tree called a genogram to help them understand your family better.

The therapist may then recommend a block of family therapy sessions (say 4-6) at regular intervals.  They will usually write a letter to the family (or just to the parents) outlining the treatment plan. Some family therapists write a therapeutic letter after each appointment with you.

Young children can be involved in family therapy but may not attend all sessions. The therapist may use play therapy strategies to engage younger children.  They will often use creative or fun activities even with adults and teens.

At each appointment the aim is to understand any unhelpful patterns and dynamics, and make small shifts to produce healthier family relationships.

The family therapist may suggest that different members of the family attend each appointment. This helps address specific patterns of interaction between subsections of the family, such as the parents or the siblings.

Generally family therapists offer in-person sessions with families, but since the pandemic online therapy sessions have become more common. Online therapy services can work well, but if the entire family is involved I recommend face-to-face sessions if possible.

Online family therapy can be a great way to work on issues, if being all the same place at one time is a problem.  But in-person sessions allow us to see all aspects of body language and better gauge how others are thinking or feeling.

It is most helpful if all members of a child’s immediate family get involved in the therapy process, but this is not essential.