What is Family Counseling?

What is Family Counseling?

Families are powerful; they are also unique. A family composes the only system from which it is virtually impossible to completely exit. “The power of the family is such that despite the possible separation of members by vast distances, sometimes even by death, the family’s influence remains. Even when a member experiences a temporary or permanent sense of alienation from one’s family, he or she can never truly relinquish family membership (Goldenberg & Goldenberg, 1996, p. 3).

Family counseling differs from counseling for individuals. First of all, family members are seen together, not individually, although at times it may be appropriate to see only a part of the family, such as the parents. The reason for this difference is that family therapists view family members as belonging to a system, or a whole, and thus they are not separate or isolated in function. Each family member both affects and is affected by the behavior of the other members.

Family therapists believe that many of the difficulties faced by families are rooted in the ways they typically interact with each other. Therefore, simply providing counseling for one family member does not result in as great a change as including all family members in the counseling process. This process is particularly helpful in cases involving children and adolescents who are exhibiting behavioral problems at school and/or at home.

During the counseling process, therapists explore hierarchy (who has control and/or power in the family), boundaries (what kind of barriers and separators exist between individual family members or between parents and children), and coalitions or alliances (who is allied with whom and why). Because family therapists use a “systems” approach in helping families, they often look at relationships not only within the immediate family, but also at those within the extended family, as well as at relationships between the family and larger social systems, such as church, school, employment, and social networks.

Although family therapy is “talk” therapy, there tend to be various activities included in sessions. The therapist may move around the room, sitting behind a parent to coach him/her in talking with children, for example. The therapist may ask family members to switch seats temporarily, so that certain individuals can be brought closer together or separated. When children are present, various forms of play therapy are utilized with the whole family, including puppet shows, sand play, games, made-up stories, reading, and artwork. Families are often assigned “homework” to complete during the week.

Goldenberg, I. & Goldenberg, H. (1996). Family therapy: An overview. 4th Ed. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks-Cole Publishing Company