According to California licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), Laney Cline King, family therapy is a type of psychotherapy that aims to decrease conflict and stress by correcting the styles of communication between family members.  Although family therapists frequently endeavor to gather all the family members (impacted by the issue) in the office, that goal is not always attainable or required.  What differentiates family therapy from individual counseling is its viewpoint or foundation, not the number of people who show up in the therapy session.  This form of treatment deems issues as patterns or structures that need modifying, instead of viewing the individual person as the only one having the issues.  King further states that “Family” is described as anyone who represents a long-term caring role in one’s life, which may not necessarily involve blood relations or family members living in the same house.

Family relationships are seen as significant for good mental health, notwithstanding all family members partaking in the therapy process.  King concludes that it is an optimal counseling approach for helping family members adapt to an immediate family member plagued with an addiction, health problems or a psychological disorder.  It is also recommended for improving communication and reducing conflict.

In the first session, the therapist will gather all the members of the family and, as protocol requires, he/she will explain the limits of confidentiality, office policies and fees as well as the format of therapy.  During this session, the clinician will endeavor to gather as much information about what brought the family into therapy.  This is accomplished with everyone present, but sometimes it requires for sub-groups (parents, siblings, etc.) to be interviewed separately.  The therapist’s goal is to assess the roles that each individual plays in the family system as well as how each individual interacts with other family members.  Again, the goal is not only to determine what the presenting problem is, but also to evaluate how the issue plays out on other dimensions.

It is noteworthy to point that the therapist will explain to the family how information from each member of the family will be integrated into the family therapy session.  Therefore, it is important for the patients to understand that it is not conducive for the family cohesion for secrets to be kept.  In fact, one of the clinician’s first goal is to inform the family that he/she will not hold secrets for individuals.  It is much healthier for the family to understand and accept that the sooner everyone puts everything on the proverbial table, the better the therapy session will go.

Although it is important to talk about the procedures and go over logistics issues, it is just as important to process the individual feelings of the family members.  It is the duty of the clinician to make sure that each family member feels heard and understood.  In other words, the therapist has the best interest of the family, not that of any particular member.  By no means should any individual feel blamed for the presenting problem or that the counselor sides with a particular member of the family.  The positive signs to look for to gauge a good family therapy session is that the therapist is empathetic, competent and instills enough hope in the family that it is worth scheduling subsequent sessions.