What Does a Family Therapist Do, Anyway?

Counselors, with their extensive knowledge and expertise, can fulfill the gamut of human, community and institutional needs. One type of therapist whose work is incredibly important is that of a family therapist. Experts in the dynamics of family life, these caring professionals assist families in everything from conflict resolution to taking responsibility for problems to achieving better communication among members.

In many ways, the family is the most basic building block of human civilization, regardless of culture, nation or time period. When families are healthy, they yield more stable communities and individuals. When families are distressed or dysfunctional, that stress is felt in the community at large. When therapists invest in the family, they are investing in humanity as a whole. Here is a look at a little of what family therapists do for their clients.

Provide Insight into How a Family Functions family therapist provides invaluable insight into how families, function. This clinical perception assists the family members in therapy as they work to uncover, understand and learn from the specific dynamics that are at work within their own family unit. As Leo Tolstoy famously wrote in the opening pages of “Anna Karenina,” “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Family Therapist

By granting an unhappy family acuity into the ways their particular family unit uniquely functions and dysfunctions, a family therapist can set the stage for dynamic change to occur. Through the analysis of general communication patterns, systems of behavior, underlying psychological issues and more, the family therapist provides language and categories for a family to begin to observe its own way of being in the world. I

identifying Dysfunctional Patterns of Behavior When it comes to harmful behavior in a family, it isn’t just the individuals’ behavior that must be examined and understood, but also the dynamics of the group and the ways these influence one another.

A family therapist must be astute enough to identify and understand the patterns of the family’s behavior and the individuals’ behavior because while they are cut from the same ill-functioning cloth, they manifest in different ways in different people. In more traditional therapy, behavior modification takes into consideration the individual’s psychological needs as being primary. A family therapist must balance the needs and context of multiple individuals and a family unit to improve a person’s, and a family’s, ability to function.

Diagnosing Mental Illness, a family therapist is still a therapist, and while the dynamics of the family unit are of supreme interest in the course of therapy, mental illness — when it is present in an individual — must be identified, diagnosed and treated. Often, an undiagnosed or misdiagnosed mental illness has led to a family’s difficulties.

 However, because human relationships, especially intimate ones, are so complex, resolving a mental health issue will not necessarily solve a family’s dysfunctional dynamics. Habitual patterns and ways of relating — even when the reasons behind the habits are removed — take time and effort to change. Treating mental illness within a family system requires complicated maneuvering amidst a family to bring about true resolution.

Focusing on Relationship Dynamics Family therapists bring otherwise unheeded attention to relationship dynamics between their patients. From power struggles in a marriage to bullying between siblings, a family therapist will help adults and children see the ways their relationships affect them each as individuals. Knowledge of and attention to everything from coercive conflict to triangulation and defensive mechanisms can greatly transform relationships and the participating individuals. By being a relationship guide and resource, a family therapist helps change systems, and when systems change, people do, too.

Family therapists are an incredible asset in helping us gain more understanding and happiness in our most important human relationships. They can be found in clinics and hospitals, local and state government agencies, private practices, schools and universities, churches and alternative health clinics. Not only does their expertise assist in changing negative or unhelpful family dynamics, but the compassion and empathy required to do the job also provide real modeling and mentoring to those being treated. When trying to be healthier and happier individuals, members of the world’s families can greatly benefit from the help of a skilled family therapist. It is true that people and families can change for the better, and family therapists can help them do it.