Family therapy addresses the problems people present within the context of their relationships with significant people in their lives and their social networks. It is a well-recognized psychotherapy approach primarily aimed at the family system as a social unit in contrast to other psychotherapy approaches such as psychodynamic or cognitive-behavioral therapy which focus on the individual. Family therapy and systemic practice is a heterogeneous field; there are different schools and models that share several principles and guiding assumptions. Some of the goals of family therapy might be for instance: improvement of family functioning on different levels, enhancement of mutual understanding and emotional support among family members, development of coping skills and problem-solving strategies in various life dilemmas and situations and so forth. Traditionally family therapy has had a primary focus on interactions among family members, quality of family relationships, various aspects of family development and functioning and so forth. However, family therapy rests on so-called systemic assumptions or contextual perspective which emphasise the role of wider systems, such as community, society and the culture to which the family belongs. In recent years family therapists have started to call themselves `systemic therapists’ as they pay more attention to the impact of wider systems and social contexts on people’s lives. The systemic perspective – which underpins the practice of most family therapists - views the problems of an individual in relation to the different contexts in which people live: i.e as a partner in a couple relationship, as a family member, a person with particular cultural and/or religious allegiances, while also taking into account socio-economic circumstances and political processes. Systemic practice regards `context’ as being of paramount significance for an individual’s psychological development and emotional well-being. A family therapy session usually lasts between 60-90 minutes; the intervals between sessions are from one to several weeks depending on the presented problems, needs of the family members, the stage of the treatment and other variables. Decisions over these matters are negotiated collaboratively with clients and any other involved professionals. Although it is hard to estimate and it differs widely, the average length of family therapy treatment ranges between 6 – 20 sessions. Family therapists most often work with more than one family member in the room but individual sessions or meetings with parents separate from children, for example, are also offered when appropriate. Some models of family therapy include collaboration with a co- 2 therapists or a team. There are also times when systemic practitioners will intervene in the professional and/or social networks around families rather than focus specifically on the nuclear family unit. Both the length and the setting of family therapy result from a collaboration and a mutual agreement between a therapist and a family.
Family can be both a great source of support for people but also a source of distress, misunderstanding and pain. Therefore family therapy and systemic practice is important whenever the aim is to enhance the ability of family members to support each other. Enabling family members to use their resources more efficiently in a supportive way can be vital in helping members manage transitional stages of family development or stressful life events such as a serious illness or a death of a family member. Generally speaking, any situation or a problem that affects relationships between family members and family functioning and its supportive role, can benefit from systemic family therapy. Similarly, any problem of an individual that affects his/her life in relation to his/her relationships with family and wider contexts will benefit from a systemic approach. Involving others in an individual’s family or social network in the treatment can help to avoid the pathologizing of that individual and also address the problem more effectively. Family therapy can be useful in times of crisis and also with regard to long-standing problems. It also serves to prevent problems such as a behavioural difficulty, for example, deteriorating into delinquency or mental health breakdown.
1. Health problems, particularly chronic physical illnesses,2. Psychosomatic problems,3. Child and adolescent mental health, 4.Adult mental health, 5. Psychosexual difficulties, 6.Alcohol and other substance abuse, 7.Marital problems including separation and divorce issues,8.Foster care, adoption and related issues,9.Family life cycle and transitional stages of life issues, 10.Promoting parenting skills and family functioning, 11.School-related problems, 12.Work-related problems,13, Traumatic experiences, loss and bereavement, 14.Disruption of family life due to social, political and religious conflicts. It should be noted that socially and economically disadvantaged families may in particular benefit from family therapy and systemic practice. In a number of European countries, such as Finland and the United Kingdom, for example, these approaches are available and well established within public services.
A lecture of Mr Merle Yost, LMFT " So You Want to be a Therapist -"
Structural Family Therapy based on a client about the Mastering Competencies in Family Therapy and Theory and Treatment Planning in Family Therapy.