Family Therapy 101

Big or small, we depend on our families more than we know, or care to admit. Starting from a young age, family sets the basis for who we become.

Look at it this way: families are like pieces of a puzzle. Each piece has a place to fill and a role to play, depending on their responsibilities within the family.

If one or more pieces don’t make an effort to collaborate, the puzzle will begin to break apart. When this happens, some families seek counseling through family therapy sessions.

In this post, we’ll talk about the fundamentals of family therapy 101. We’ll focus mainly on four approaches commonly used by family therapists.

Let’s get started.

What Is Family Therapy?

A branch of psychotherapy, family therapy’s main role is to help nourish healthy relationships within the family. It also teaches family members hands-on communication methods to help them get to the root of the problem.

One of the advantages of family therapy is that each family member will learn more about the other. They’ll recognize one another’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as their hopes and dreams. This way, they can cooperate and work together to rebuild their family unit.

What Is The Role Of A Family Therapist?

Family therapists are typically assigned by a licensed therapist or clinical social worker. These licensed professionals have either graduate or postgraduate degrees. Many are also accredited by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).

A therapist’s main role is to act as a catalyst to get the conversation going. When communication improves, it becomes easier to forge stronger, more resilient connections.

Therapists will encourage family members to use certain techniques outside therapy sessions. They can also be used with friends and colleagues.

After all, how you interact with family is a reflection of how you interact with the outside world. When the former is healthy and balanced, the latter will be as well.

4 Common Family Therapy Techniques


Murray Bowen is the father of this family therapy technique. His comprehensive approach depends on the ability to separate feelings from thoughts.

Bowen called this technique self-differentiation. He believed that this form of therapy reduces anxiety levels within the family unit. He suggested it would be better to work with each family member individually. Then, as things progressed, they could attend the sessions together once again.

His therapy method mainly uses genograms as an essential tool. It helps sort out intergenerational family dynamics and identify underlying problems.


Two renowned therapists, Milton Erickson and Jay Haley, are the masterminds behind this technique. They believed the best way to bring about change is to generate new responses to old behaviors. So, they devised the strategic family therapy technique based on second-order change.

Second-order change refers to the formation of new reactions to old behavioral patterns. To carry this out, most of the therapy is carried outside the session itself.

How it works is that a therapist will give the family certain tasks to do at home. In turn, family members are encouraged to experiment with different responses.

With this technique, therapists usually use paradoxical intention. This is when each person in the family increases their problematic behavior. Inevitably, certain changes are bound to take place as a result.


The structural technique recognizes that family problems arise because of an imbalance within the family structure. Developed by Salvador Minuchin, he felt that to be healthy, a family needs to set up certain boundaries.

One of the most-used tools in this technique is the structural map. In it, each family is encouraged to define its hierarchies and boundaries.

Through this technique, parents are advised to take a more dynamic role in their children’s lives. They’re encouraged to present a unified front.

They’re also advised to use triangulation. This is when one person steps in to help restore lines of communication between two family members. This person could be part of the family, a close friend, or the therapist.


The systemic family therapy technique is also known as the Milan Model. It‘s built on the belief that family units are interconnected. 

Many times, a family member may develop certain traits to help them cope with the behavior of others in the family. This technique aims at changing that unwanted behavior in the hope of reconciling the family unit once more.

It does this by encouraging family members to question their knowledge of family dynamics. One common tool used in systemic therapy is circular questions. 

With the help of circular questions, family members learn to understand one another’s viewpoints through certain questions, like:

  • How does problem X affect you?
  • What ideas does so-and-so have about situation Y?
  • Who in the family cares the most about you?
  • What do you appreciate about Z?


We now have some basic understanding of family therapy 101. Family, as a larger context, is almost always the culprit behind a child’s behavioral problems.

This is where family therapy comes in. It’s a comprehensive approach that relies heavily on interpersonal and cognitive therapy.