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The American Psychological Association (APA) defines family therapy as “a form of psychotherapy that focuses on the improvement of interfamilial relationships and behavioral patterns of the family unit as a whole, as well as among individual members and groupings, or subsystems, within the family.” Family therapy relies on family systems theory to assess family members in terms of their position or role within the family unit and how it affects the overall dynamic. The work that occurs in family therapy is entirely guided by the needs and therapeutic goals of the family unit. There are numerous family therapy approaches, and through working with the family, a mental health professional can identify which psychotherapeutic techniques and exercises are helpful in moving the family unit closer to realizing the collective therapeutic goals. Some of the most widely recognized and important family therapy approaches include structural family therapy, intergenerational family therapy, strategic family therapy, and systemic family therapy.

Structural Family Therapy

Salvador Minuchin developed structural family therapy. This approach is based on the fundamental idea that the family structure is responsible for its problems. More specifically, Minuchin believed a family needed to maintain a certain hierarchy and boundaries to remain healthy. One of the essential tools of structural family therapy is the completion of a structural map, where the boundaries and hierarchies of a family are visually depicted. Minuchin believed that families would often employ triangulation, a process where a third person is used to cover up issues between two family members. For this reason, in structural family therapy, the facilitating clinician directs the family toward change within the session. 

Bowenian: Intergenerational Family Therapy

Intergenerational family therapy was developed by Murray Bowen. This approach recognizes generational influences on family and individual behavior. Genograms are used as an essential tool to identify intergenerational family dynamics. Bowen believed that the goal of therapy was self-differentiation (the ability to separate thoughts from feelings). Since self-differentiation is an individual process, through the Bowenian technique clinicians can work with single family members instead of requiring multiple family members to take part. This approach operates under the assumption that dynamics within a family often reside in triads and the role of the therapist is to point out dynamics as a neutral coach and educator. 

Strategic Family Therapy

Milton Erickson and Jay Haley worked together to developed strategic family therapy. This approach is driven by the idea that a family maintains problems through repeated responses to family interactions. Paradoxical intention is one of the main techniques used in strategic family therapy. The clinician will help family members learn applicable techniques for solving problems specific to the family’s interaction and structure. However, unlike structural family therapy, most of the work is done outside the therapy session. The therapist will assign the family homework and suggest that they experiment with new responses to recurring problems. 

Milan Model: Systemic Family Therapy

In systemic family therapy, problems are approached practically rather than analytically. This technique believes that a family member develops symptoms to cope with the behavior of other members of the family. Identifying stagnant patterns of behavior within a living system and changing one person’s actions, can help shift the entire family system, as everyone is believed to be interconnected. One of the main techniques of systemic family therapy is called circular questioning, which aims to make someone think about the connections between family members. The primary goal of the clinician is to remain a neutral figure while challenging family members to question their knowledge of the family system, which in turn will lead them to change their behavior. 

Further Information and Support

For most of us, life can be very stressful, leading us to feel emotionally charged, which can cause anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and getting stuck in a cycle of being burdened with negative thoughts. Navigating through the challenges and emotional turmoil of life can be overwhelming, but you do not have to go through it alone. Engage Treatment is a Joint Commission Accredited professional psychological practice. We specialize in treating children, teens, and young adults struggling with depression and anxiety through community-focused treatment plans that incorporate a carefully selected combination of therapeutic interventions. Our compassionate, multidisciplinary practitioners are devoted to providing the highest quality of care that helps ignite positive change and enables clients to reach optimal health and well-being. Please do not hesitate to reach out for guidance. We are happy to answer questions and provide you with any additional information. Feel free to call us at 805-497-0605 or email us at [email protected]. You are also welcomed to get in touch by filling out our contact form. We look forward to connecting and having the opportunity to discuss how we might best be able to support you.

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