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Private, individual therapy is effective for many people, but in certain cases, it can be helpful to include family members in a therapy session. Could family therapy strategies help you, your spouse, and your children deal with life’s ups and downs? Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Family Therapy?

Family therapy is a series of appointments with a therapist, counselor, or psychologist that include more than one family member. Family therapists observe how people function as part of a group — how family members interact and affect one another — instead of merely focusing on the individual.

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Types of Family Therapy

Families seek therapy for any number of reasons: to improve a marriage, help children with behavioral issues in school, or support a family member suffering from anxiety and depression. Family therapy also can help families who are coping with grief and loss, separation or divorce, or substance abuse.

Family therapy, which requires special training, is most frequently used when a child or adolescent has an issue, as the family is an important part of the solution. The purpose of family therapy is to help people identify specific challenges and overcome unhealthy ways of interacting. It’s not about assigning blame, and a good therapist respects each family member’s point of view.

Benefits of Family Therapy

A family therapist will develop a customized treatment plan aimed at improving communication among family members by giving them tools to solve problems. Treatment won’t eliminate future conflict among family members, but it can help families learn to resolve conflicts in healthy ways.

One important note: Not all family members need to be present for family therapy to be effective. Some family members may be unwilling or unable to attend therapy — and that’s OK. It’s sometimes more effective for therapists to see a combination of family members — for instance, a few sessions with just parents, and a teenager separately.

If one member of the family has a specific mental illness or problem such as addiction, family therapy can help the other members of the family cope — even if that person is unwilling to seek treatment.

Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist

It’s important to find a therapist who’s a good fit for your family. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Are you trained and licensed in family therapy?
  • How many sessions do you estimate we’ll need?
  • How long is each session?
  • Do you have experience with our particular problem?
  • How much does each session cost, and do you accept my health insurance?
  • Do we all need to attend each session?

Finding a Family Therapist

There are several ways to find a family therapist. One way is to ask friends, relatives, clergy, or local mental health agencies for referrals. Another is to ask your primary care doctor for a referral, or check with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy to locate a family therapist near you.

For locations and more information about counseling services at UPMC, please visit the Department of Family Medicine. To ask questions or to schedule an appointment at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital, call 1-877-624-4100.

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About UPMC Western Behavioral Health

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is the hub of UPMC Behavioral Health, a network of community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, compassionate care to people of all ages with mental health conditions. UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We are here to help at every stage of your care and recovery.