How Family Therapy can benefit your child

If you’re dealing with major stress in your family, family therapy can help. Family therapy builds on your family’s strengths. It helps your family find ways to support and talk to each other better.

What Is Family Therapy?

Family therapy helps with a broad range of challenges. Your ‘family’ can include whoever you see as core members.

It can be as small as two people. It can include people who don’t live in your household and people who aren’t related by blood or marriage.

Therapy is helpful for kids with behavior or mental health issues. Family therapy can also help kids dealing with a loved one’s mental or physical health issues and with household conflicts. It can help a child deal with a sibling’s eating disorder, a parent’s depression, or arguments occurring over family responsibilities, for example.

Many things in the home can affect kids’ mental health and behavior. This includes daily routines, power dynamics, conflicts, and communication styles. Therapy helps change patterns that don’t serve a child’s well-being.

Family therapy can help support kids dealing with:

  • Anxiety.
  • Behavior problems at home.
  • Behavior problems at school.
  • Bipolar disorder.
  • Conflicts with other family members.
  • Depression.
  • Eating disorders.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Parental separation or divorce.
  • Substance use.

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What to Expect With Family Therapy

You may need just a few therapy sessions or dozens based on what your family is facing. You might want to plan weekly visits at first. As your issues improve, you can plan visits less often.

Usually, the therapist starts by getting a feel for your family. They may ask you about:

  • Challenges the family faces.
  • Day-to-day routines.
  • How members make decisions.
  • How members respond to conflict.
  • Parenting methods.
  • The family’s strengths and weaknesses.

The therapist will guide you as you talk about your challenges and emotions. They may give you parenting strategies and ‘homework’ to help the family bond.

Your therapist may plan sessions with only one person or part of the family. For example, teens may be more open without their parents in the room, and vice versa.

It is important that all family members be available to participate as it can be less beneficial if one parent or a sibling is consistently unable to make it.

Does Family Therapy Work?

Family therapy can work better than one-on-one therapy in some cases. It can also help in addition to one-on-one therapy. It helps loved ones solve problems together and support each other. Different the individual therapy it provides family members the skills to work together to address individual and family difficulties.

Studies have shown that family therapy can reduce teen substance use, including cannabis and alcohol. It can also help kids with eating disorders to gain weight and improve their self-esteem.

Family therapy can also help parents feel more confident and capable. Studies show that it helps parents use more fair, supportive, and reason-based parenting methods. They used fewer punishing, forceful, or overly lax approaches.

Family Therapy Types

There are many different family therapy types — even more than those noted below. Many therapists use a mix of approaches. They may mix structural and strategic family therapy types, for example.

Structural therapy

Structural therapy focuses on power dynamics and roles in the family. The therapist works to identify problems in the family structure that lead to dysfunction.

For example, a parent may not have clear enough boundaries with a child. They may share information that is stressful to a child. Or, a child may treat their sibling poorly because they think the parent likes them more.

Once the therapist grasps the relationships between family members, they can improve them.

Strategic Therapy

Strategic family therapy helps everyone work together to solve problems. Sometimes, a family may have outgrown how they communicate and deal with conflict. Or, they may be using strategies they learned from their parents that aren’t getting them the desired results.

For example, scolding a child may have led to better behavior in the past. But it won’t help a child who is anxious about school. It may even backfire — making them more anxious that if they do badly, they’ll be yelled at.

The therapist can help develop new, more helpful ways to work through tough situations. This approach can give loved ones ways to address conflicts, respond to a member’s addiction or depression, and much more.


Psychoeducation is helpful for loved ones dealing with mental health issues. This type of therapy teaches about a family member’s mental health issue. The therapist may offer resources like pamphlets and videos.

They can answer questions about dealing with your loved one’s symptoms and what to expect with treatments.

This approach helps reduce the stigma of mental health issues like bipolar disorder, addiction, and eating disorders. It can add compassion to how people treat their loved ones with mental health issues.

Multi-family therapy

Multi-family therapy brings together many groups struggling with the same issue. Group sessions for parents of kids with eating disorders, addiction, or another common problem can help in many ways.

Multi-family therapy helps people feel less alone. With this type of therapy, parents and guardians can also learn from and support each other. A therapist guides the sessions by talking about common challenges and offering advice and strategies.

Is Family Therapy Right for You?

The best way to tell if family therapy is right for you is to try it. Just one session can show you how it works and if you connect with the therapist. Seeing a family therapist can help even if some members are unwilling to go.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

American Psychiatric Association. Family therapy. Link

Dr. Julian Baudient et al. Multi-family therapy for eating disorders: A systematic scoping review of the quantitative and qualitative findings. International Journal of Eating Disorders. Link

Dr. Aaron Hogue et al. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. Couple and family therapy for substance use disorders: Evidence-based update 2010–2019. Link

Dr. Caroline Fisher et al. Family therapy approaches for anorexia nervosa. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Link

Dr. Lucía Jiménez et al. Effectiveness of structural–strategic family therapy in the treatment of adolescents with mental health problems and their families. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Link

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Family Therapy. Link

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.

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.