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How to Get the Most out of Family Therapy

Family therapy is a form of psychological counseling in which you and one or more of your family members are regularly seeing a therapist. The therapy is often focused on improving communication among family members as well as resolving conflicts. Family therapy is usually administered by a psychologist, clinical social worker, or a licensed therapist.

Most therapists who are trained in family therapy believe that the family itself is a unique system that has developed certain patterns regarding communication, relating, and behaving. Some of those patterns are healthy while others may not be so healthy. The therapist’s aim is to increase a family’s awareness toward those patterns that are getting in the way of communication and healthy relationships.

There are two primary principles of family therapy that are important to keep in mind, especially if you and your family are currently in therapy. First, if anyone in the family has a mental illness (depression, anxiety, addiction, etc.), that mental illness may be made worse by the unhealthy patterns a family may have. This is another reason why family therapy aims to heal the dysfunctional patterns within the family system. The second principle in family therapy recognizes that family members are often the closest forms of support for a person who may be struggling in life. This is yet another reason to heal any dysfunctional patterns in a family – it can help to improve the life of one or more members of the family.

If you’re in family therapy now, perhaps you’re hoping to get the most out of it. Perhaps you’d like to best support yourself and your loved ones. If this is the case, here are some tips to consider:

1.      Whether you’re just starting or have been in therapy for awhile, meet with your family to discuss your goals for therapy. What do you hope to achieve? Try to make this goal one that everyone agrees with. Your goal might be obvious to everyone, like reduce the level of fighting, or it might not be so obvious. Once you have one or two shared goals, write them down so that they are clear to every member of your family. (Furthermore, research shows that goals that are written down are 9 times more likely of coming into fruition.)

2.      Communicate your family goals to your therapist. It’s likely that your therapist already has a set of therapeutic goals. And it’s also possible that he or she might have asked you from the beginning what you’d like to work on. However, having a clear goal in mind as you sit down together might facilitate success in each session.

3.      Take notes on the progress you’re making. As you continue to meet with your therapist each week, document the progress or lack of progress the family is making toward each goal.

Family therapy might be essential for any family who is going through a divorce, grieving the recent death of a loved one, or struggling with addiction. If you or your family are seeking therapy or currently participating in therapy, the above tips might support your healing process. 


Chris Massman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. Chris' training includes Family Systems Theory along with numerous other theories. She believes therapy is an art and chooses the theory she feels will most benefit the individual sitting in front of her. Her specialty lies is in the field of Chemical Dependency and Addictions. Chris is currently seeing individuals, couples and families. Chris is a Clinical member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists as well as the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Chris has two locations including Tarzana and Agoura Hills, CA.