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What are the Different Family Therapy Theories?

By Jessica F. Black
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The most commonly used family therapy theories are structural, strategic, intergenerational, systematic, and experiential. Family therapy is used to approach issues among family members. The need for various techniques stems from the different types of problems, personalities, and situations that may occur, which often requires personalized treatment. Professional therapists usually determine the method of therapy that is needed by evaluating the involved patients and gathering information on any issues that they are experiencing.

Structural family therapy theories use interaction and observation of family structures to determine what problems need to be addressed and changed. The therapist becomes directly involved and may act as a family member to help practice communication. Diagnosis of family interaction is needed to identify problem areas and create solutions to allow the family unit to avoid misunderstandings and verbal barriers. A few primary techniques used in this family therapy technique are reframing, unbalancing, restructuring, and enactment.

Strategic therapy is often used to approach an individual's problems through his or her family members. Therapists who use strategic family therapy theories are interested in family background, communication skills, and relationship dynamics. Some techniques involve designing a genogram, which allows the patients and the therapist to construct a family tree. Background information on immediate and extended family members can sometimes be helpful when searching for the root of a problem. Like strategic therapy, intergenerational family therapy theories are also based on a transmission process in which attitudes, anxieties, and behavior are passed from generation to generation.

Systematic family therapy is heavily based on the family working as a whole and viewing individual problems as family problems. Most therapists have family members interact with each other in order to determine relationship types and how each family member perceives the others. Once the therapist observes how the family interacts, he or she may suggest role play or attitude reversals in order to show family members alternative ways to handle problems. By performing these activities, the therapist is able to avoid any family member placing blame and enabling them to experience family life through the eyes of each other.

Experiential therapy places emphasis on releasing honest emotions, discussing the present, and fulfilling individual roles. One of the main purposes is to avoid blame and emotional suppression, which may cause additional tension at home. There are numerous other family therapy theories, and patients may undergo more than one before finding a therapy that works for the family. Extensive research has been done on most of these theories, and patients should research programs to determine which one may be most suitable for their particular family problems.

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Discussion Comments
By SteamLouis — On Mar 24, 2014

I don't really understand how strategic family therapy works. I agree that behavior can be passed down from generation to generation, but how does knowing my ancestors' problems help me and my family? It's not something we can control.

By literally45 — On Mar 24, 2014

My parents and I went through systemic family therapy and it was great. The therapist had us do role reversal. Aside from the fact that this technique was immensely entertaining, it was also educational. We had the opportunity to understand one another and why we do the things we do. In a way, the therapist thought us empathy. After the therapy, I could put myself in my parent's shoes and this caused me to have greater patience with them.

Systemic family therapy definitely made us better people and a happier family. I recommend it to every family out there. Even if you don't feel that there aren't a lot of problems in your family, you will benefit from this therapy.

By bluedolphin — On Mar 23, 2014

I have never participated in family therapy but systemic and experiential family therapies sound the best to me. I think that for a therapy to work, no one should be blamed. If people start blaming one another and if they start fighting, things will get worse rather than better. Avoiding the blame game and concentrating on the root of the problem is better.

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