Family therapy is a form of psychotherapy that involves members of a family that typically live with one another and often involves a nuclear family or family of origin; however, family therapy can include almost anyone in a particular family, from caregivers to extended family members like cousins and grandparents.
It is common for families to get “stuck” in the same interpersonal or communication patterns, and family therapists can help families move past these “stuck points” or issues that cause conflict or disagreement. The goal of family therapy is typically to improve relationships and the functioning of the family as a cohesive unit. Families commonly start attending therapy for a variety of reasons, including the following:
Improve communication skills
Improve displays of empathy and respect
Improve emotion regulation skills
Mediate conflicts between family members
Learn how to best support family members with mental illnesses
Learn how to best support family members with substance abuse problems
Process family crises or the grief associated with the loss of a loved one
Learn how to best resolve conflicts
What should I expect from family therapy?
1. First, your family therapist will usually want to conduct some form of an “intake interview,” where they ask the various family members questions related to why they are seeking therapy and what they ideally would like to get out of therapy. The therapist will typically ask questions related to when a particular issue started, how each person views the problem(s), and how the family has been attempting to manage the problems thus far. Early on in the process, the family therapist will usually try to form manageable goals for the family to progress towards through the course of treatment.
2. The family therapist will likely discuss logistics about session fees, anticipated number of sessions, and matters concerning confidentiality and consent for treatment.
3. Therapy in general, including family therapy, is a judgment-free zone, and the therapist will likely try to promote open-mindedness, empathy, and respect between the various family members. Family therapy is about treating the “dynamics” or patterns within family interactions, and is not a “blaming game.” Each participant should feel safe enough to share their thoughts and emotions. The goal is not to eliminate discomfort; sometimes life is uncomfortable and at times, distressing (especially during conflict or about particularly sensitive topics). However, the therapist will likely attempt to create an environment in which the family members can have “corrective experiences” with the therapist present to mediate conversations and points of conflict between family members during the sessions.
4. As with all forms of therapy, do not expect perfection. What does this mean? There is no guarantee that you will never argue again with your family members, never feel “down” or anxious again, or whatever the case may be. No one is perfect; we all make mistakes. However, therapy can help give you and your family tools to better manage certain situations or issues in healthy ways, as well as strategies to help repair relationships when you do happen to “slip up.”
How do I find a family therapist? Which one is right for me?
Family therapy (as well as individual and couples therapy) is frequently offered by Regent University’s Psychological Services Center in Virginia Beach. Call the center at 757-352-4488 for further inquiries.
Ask your family doctor or medication provider for a referral. Ask local friends if they have providers that they would recommend. Google family therapists in your area.
Contact your health insurance company and ask for a list of therapists that accept your insurance.
If you don’t have insurance or have an insurance that is not commonly accepted by therapists in your area, advocate for yourself to providers and practices by asking if they provide sliding scale fees (i.e. fees vary according to your income). Alternatively, you can also ask if the provider or practice offers pro bono (i.e. free of charge) services if finances are particularly burdensome.
Keep in mind the following questions for therapists when making inquiries about family therapy:
Are you trained in family therapy or do you have experience conducting family therapy?
How long is your waiting list? Do you know of any providers in the area that have a shorter waiting list?
How long does each session last?
Where is your practice located?
How much does each session cost (if paying out of pocket)? Do you expect payment at the time of each session, or can a payment plan/ schedule be agreed upon?
Family therapy can be a restorative and healing process that can bring about growth and change. If you’re feeling “stuck” in the same old patterns or unhealthy ways of interacting with your family members, start your search for a family therapist that can work with you and your family’s needs today!