Family Therapy and Family Counselling

Who should be Involved in family therapy

Family therapy can include any combination of family members depending on how your family is structured and what your goals are for therapy.  

Family dynamics

Families are dynamic living systems of relationships that can be understood on different levels. Family therapy is different than individual therapy in that therapists seek to understand and bring about change at the individual level and at the level of interaction (i.e. the way family members behaviour affects one another). At the individual level, each member of a family has their own values, personalities, strengths and difficulties. As family therapists, it is our job to connect with each family member as a unique person with something to contribute. At the level of interaction, families are engaged in patterns of behaviour with particular roles, tendencies, and functions that can both maintain desirable aspects of family functioning as well as undesirable aspects. 

For example, one family member may be more isolated than others, another may be seen as "the problem", and yet another responsible for fixing the problems. These roles are partially the product of individual characteristics (i.e. the "responsible one" may be more skilled at problem solving) and partially the product of cyclical patterns of interaction that keep people in their roles (i.e. the "responsible one" acts annoyed when other people attempt to resolve problems, others lose confidence in their problem solving and act less effectively, and the responsible one becomes annoyed with their ineffectiveness).

If we  freeze-frame one moment of interaction, it may appear that the family problems are the result of one individual's poor choices, but if we look at overall patterns of interaction, a different picture may emerge where no one is to blame and everyone is responsible for making change. Shared responsibility for change does not take anything away from each members responsibility for their own choices. This last point is especially important if there has been any physical, verbal, or emotional violence in family relationships. 

The power of family patterns

Interactional patterns emerge in every family and these patterns can be so powerful that they sometimes overpower an individual's best intentions. When painful dynamics are taking a hold of a family, it can lead to blame, division, resentment and a sense of failure. Kids frequently feel responsible for their family's problems (although it may not always appear that way) and parents can easily feel inadequate despite all their parenting successes and competence. In order to address family concerns, it is important to attend to both the individual needs and desires of each family member as well as the interactional dynamics between them.

Why family therapy is important

Whether a problem appears to be occurring at the level of the individual or the whole family system, it may still be resolved best through a coordinated family effort. A child who is fighting with other kids at school or a teenager who is involved in risky sexual behaviour may not be directly engaged in the problematic behaviour with their own family members, however, it still has an effect on the whole family and it may require a family effort to produce change. 

Working together

As family therapist, we will work with you to develop shared goals and facilitate conversations so that every member is heard and understood. We will also draw on your family's strengths and problem solving skills, point out interactional patterns, and work with your family to produce the change that you desire. 

Follow the links to learn more about individual adult psychotherapy, couple therapy, and therapy for kids & teens. To learn more about our therapist see About Us.

Learn more about our therapists. Read articles about therapy, relationships, parenting, sex and mental health.

For more information on therapy and counselling for individual adults,  couples, and kids & teens.

More Information About Family Counselling and Family Therapy

+ Family Counselling Vs Family Therapy

Family counselling (sometimes spelled family counseling) and family therapy are terms that usually refer to the very same process of working together as a family to resolve issues that may be affecting the whole family or that may be affecting only or two members of the family but using the support of the whole family to help make change.

In other contexts, like individual therapy, the terms therapy and counselling may refer to slightly different processes, with counselling being more about coping with day-to-day life problems and therapy referring to a deeper process of getting at the psychological roots of the issues and patterns in one's life, however, within the context of family therapy and family counselling they are almost always referring to a very similar processes.

Since the terms family counselling and family therapy will not be meaningful in distinguishing between the therapy approaches, it will be more important to know the background, therapy approach and family therapy experience of the family therapist or family counsellor.

+ Are all therapists qualified to do family therapy and family counselling?

No. Family therapy and family counselling is its own discipline and most therapists are not qualified. Therapists who are specifically trained in family therapy are often referred to as Marriage and Family Therapists or, in Canada, they may be referred to as Couple and Family Therapists. The training of a Couple and Family therapists require that they learn multiple models of family therapy over the course of their graduate school training with extensive mentoring and supervision and that more than half of their client load is made up of relational clients (couples and families).

While some social workers and psychologists also have training in family therapy, few have the degree of training or expertise in family therapy that Couple and Family Therapists have.

+ Should we do family therapy if only one of us has a problem?

While it is common for people to suggest that the person in the family who is most obviously struggling does their own individual therapy, as family therapists we often encourage the whole family to participate as individual problems may be rooted in more complicated family dynamics that are not so obvious to see when you are embedded in the family.

Even if the problem is an individual problem, the family may be able to offer support and insight that can make family therapy and family counselling more effective than individual therapy.

Here are some helpful questions to consider when deciding between family therapy or family counselling and individual therapy.