Families are powerful things. The key strength of the family unit is the ability to come together to solve a problem or approach an obstacle. When an issue arises that affects this connection, it hinders the family’s ability to work together. In this came, many families look for solutions, and the question arises; how does family counseling work? Family counseling can play a big role in restoring healthy family dynamics, but most people do not really know what to expect from family therapy. We’ll explain how family counseling works, and what you can expect.

How Does Family Counseling Work?

How family counseling works depends on the family unit and the individuals. As in most cases, your therapist will help you and your family construct the best therapy plan based on the issues you are addressing. Sometimes, individual family members may meet privately with the therapist, and other times the whole family might meet. Regardless of the exact structure of the sessions, family therapy addresses group dynamics as well as individuals’ thoughts and feelings.

It’s important to remember that one person is not “to blame” in the family; family counseling is not about assigning blame to anyone or the group. Family counseling works by strengthening the family through communication, acceptance, empathy, conflict negotiation, group and individual awareness, building self-esteem, and more.

Who is Involved?

Usually, all or most family members are involved in at least one session, often the first. In general, both parents usually attend family therapy sessions with younger children. Teens, on the other hand, may have more individual sessions.

Family counseling can include any family members, including aunts, uncles, grandparents, unmarried partners, and even close friends. Family members do not necessarily have to be related by blood or marriage, or even live in the same household, such as in cases of divorce.

What Does Family Counseling Do?

There are different approaches your family counselor may take to help the family address issues and approach conflict constructively. These are different than strategies used in individual counseling or marriage counseling, and this looks different for different families. For example, a family with a young child who is struggling in school will work on different strategies with their family therapist than a family with two older half-siblings who are often fighting. Though these strategies work in different ways, they are focused around many of the same things. Some of these include;

  • Lowering emotional reactions: Intense emotional reactions often lead to escalation, turning one issue into a series of larger ones. Family counseling sessions may focus on helping family members express emotions in a healthy way and approach conflict in a calm and reasonable manner.
  • Recognizing patterns: Your family counselor will most likely help you to identify patterns within the family unit in order to see their effects on the issue at hand. For example, a mother who is frustrated with her husband may complain about him to her daughter, or an isolated sibling may instigate fighting between other siblings when they feel left out.
  • Balancing power dynamics: Though it is necessary for parents or parental figures to have authority, even young children may act out when they feel they have no power or independence. On the other hand, a parent with too much power may be overburdened with responsibility. Recognizing and balancing power dynamics can lift up everyone in the family.
  • Encouraging healthy separation: Families function through connectivity, but each family member also needs autonomy. A healthy level of emotional separation between family members helps the group and individuals thrive.
  • Building clear boundaries: Rules within a family should be able to adapt to changes as needed, but they should clear enough so that every individual knows what they are. This includes not only what is expected or allowed from children, but also prioritizing partners’ spousal relationship over their parental relationship at times.

Can Family Counseling Solve Our Problems?

The therapy plan that you and your family counselor develop is designed to address the issue in a set number of sessions. This will involve active participation from all family members, and how well these solutions work will partly depend on the family’s and individuals’ participation. It is also important to keep in mind that, though a issue may improve during therapy, it can worsen again if problematic power relationships or structures are allowed to reappear.

Family counseling can help families address all of the following issues, among others;

  • Parenting inconsistencies or arguments
  • Grief or loss of a family member
  • Divorce and creating a constructive separation
  • Coping with trauma
  • Lifestyle shift, such as living with a grandparent
  • Children struggling to focus or make friends at school
  • Children engaging in risky behavior or substance abuse

If arguments, secrecy, anxiety and conflict have become commonplace in your home, or an sudden event has changed your family dynamics, family counseling can help restore trust and communication. Now that you know how family counseling works, you can decide if this is right for you and your family.