Family therapy is a type of counseling that can help family members improve communication, mend relationships, and resolve conflicts. During marriage and family therapy, a mental health professional assists family members in addressing psychological, behavioral, and emotional issues causing family problems.
Over 98 percent of those participating in family therapy report the service as good or excellent. After treatment, almost 90% of family therapy participants reported enhanced emotional health, and nearly two-thirds described an improvement in their overall physical health.
Continue reading to learn how to find the right family therapist for your family.
What is Family Therapy?
Family therapy is typically offered by psychologists, licensed clinical social workers, or licensed therapists. Marriage and family therapists have a master’s degree or postgraduate degree and may be credentialed by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).
Family counseling was introduced as a clinical approach in the 1970s and has increased in popularity, with the AAMFT reporting that 1.8 million clients are currently in treatment.
In 2020 an analysis of 17 studies found that online therapy was more effective than in-person sessions in some situations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, online marriage and family therapy sessions became more commonplace, and research has confirmed the efficacy of online family counseling.
How does it work?
Marriage and family therapy can focus on the entire family or only those who want to participate. Family counseling can include child therapy, couples therapy, or break-out individual therapy sessions. Your treatment plan will be developed specifically to meet your unique needs and family dynamics.
While different families will have specific goals, in general, marriage and family therapy can deepen connections, improve communication, and teach coping skills that last a lifetime.
Types of Family Therapy
Family counseling centers primarily around talk therapy initially, with your therapist recommending other treatment modalities as needed. Additional types of family therapy include Functional Family Therapy, Multisystemic Therapy, Transgenerational Therapy, Brief Strategic Family Therapy, or Structural Therapy. During a family therapy session, healthcare professionals may talk with each individual family member, to the entire family as a unit, or use a combination of the two.
Benefits of Family Therapy
Marriage and family therapy can provide you with the ability to resolve conflicts, comprehensively address mental illness or substance abuse for a particular family member, improve student learning outcomes, learn effective communication skills, or process traumatic events. Family therapy teaches family members how to establish healthy boundaries and resolve conflicts in a way that is safe and comfortable for all family members.
A comprehensive literature review found family counseling to be an effective tool for various situations. Therapists can support new parents and help them address sleep, feeding, and attachment issues in infancy. Therapists can help clients of all ages recover from child abuse and neglect and manage behavioral conditions and disordered eating. Additional research showed that family therapy is an effective option for adolescents with mental health conditions, with participants reporting fewer internal and external problems after treatment.
Family counseling can help you define roles within the family, address dysfunctional interactions, and improve the entire family’s problem-solving abilities. Family therapy brings family members together to resolve issues in a healing environment.
Traditional vs. Online Family Therapy
In-person family therapy usually takes place in an office setting. Teletherapy functions the same way as traditional therapy; however, visits are conducted using an online platform to connect the marriage and family therapist virtually with clients. Techniques utilized for online therapy are the same as those practiced in traditional therapy with comparable effectiveness.
Traditional Family Therapy
Family therapy often focuses on a specific issue that can be resolved over a short time: on average, clients need 12 sessions lasting approximately an hour each. Families might see a therapist to work through disagreements or high-conflict issues such as finances, substance abuse, or behavioral problems. Families contact a therapist and, after an initial consultation, identify the areas of focus and develop a plan for routine visits.
Online Family Therapy
After enrolling with a licensed mental health professional, clients virtually participate in online family therapy sessions. Online family counseling follows a similar pattern as traditional services, with families sharing their current needs, discussing experiences, and practicing techniques learned during therapy, followed by evaluating results.
Pros and Cons of Traditional Family Therapy and Online Therapy
The American Psychological Association noted that online therapy is a growing treatment option. Clients experience efficacy comparable to traditional approaches, and both clients and therapists report favorable results. Researchers from the Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Research at the University of Memphis concluded that in-person and virtual interventions produced similar outcomes.
Participating in online family therapy techniques can require adjustment for both the therapist and client, but studies show participants gain comfort over time. Virtual therapy sessions involve the use of technology, and this can sometimes pose a barrier until everyone can operate devices as needed. Learning curves aside, online family counseling services offer families the chance to participate in therapy in a comfortable environment with more flexibility.
Another study conducted at the University of Zurich found that 57 percent of those using online therapy were successful, compared to 42 percent of those who engaged in traditional in-person therapy.
[Read: Is Virtual Counseling Effective? (2022 Guide)]
Finding the Right Online Therapist for You
There are several aspects to consider when selecting a therapist. You’ll need to decide if you want to see an online therapist or if you prefer in-person marriage and family therapy. Every therapist has different skillsets, and you want to be sure you find a licensed and credentialed marriage and family therapist.
When seeking a therapist to treat specific mental health issues, you might find local therapists through a national association, network, or helpline.
Here are a few examples of organizations that offer search tools to help you find a specialized therapist near you:
- National Eating Disorders Association
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- National Center for PTSD
Many employers also offer limited therapy visits at no cost to employees and provide a list of mental health resources.
Do Your Research
Insurance companies can provide a list of therapists available under your specific plan and help you gain more clarity around your coverage. You will also want to check with your health insurance to see how many visits you can attend in a year and if there is a copay. Many mental health organizations offer databases of therapists. Some of the most used online search tools include:
- American Psychological Association
- American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
- Association of LGBTQ+ Psychiatrists
Ask for Referrals
You can ask trusted family, friends, or co-workers if they recommend a specific therapist. Remember, sometimes, a therapist that treats one type of mental health concern may not provide treatment for your particular needs (see credentials and licensing below). Be sure to review any online reviews about family therapists you may be considering.
Consider Your Location
Sometimes you may be able to access local resources. Students can get help locating resources by contacting a school counselor. Employers often provide a list of resources to help their employees. There are specific resources for victims of crime, sexual abuse, or domestic violence.
Check Credentials and Licensing
It’s important to confirm that the therapist you select is licensed and can work in your state. You can ask your therapist for their licensure information and verify with a third party.
When evaluating your therapist’s credentials, consider that every therapist has unique qualifications and documented expertise in certain areas of mental health. You want to make sure you see a therapist able to treat your specific family dynamic.
Find a Therapist Who Makes You (and Your Family) Feel Comfortable
Not every therapist will be a perfect fit, but if you don’t find someone that works for your family, try again. There are thousands of online therapists out there, and you’ll want to find someone who can connect with your entire family. Your family counselor will be privy to the most sensitive issues in your life, and you must find someone you trust and can share with openly.
Things You Need to Consider When Doing Family Therapy Online
There are a few additional aspects to consider if you plan to participate in family therapy online. You’ll want to be sure you have a method to attend virtual sessions and are comfortable with technology. You will want to have specific goals or treatment needs in mind before you engage in therapy.
Determine Your Needs
The type of therapy you need will inform which therapist you select. You want to be sure to connect with a therapist able to treat your family’s unique needs. For example, some therapists specialize in substance abuse while others have experience treating eating disorders or PTSD.
Define Your Goals
During your first session, the therapist will ask what you hope to achieve from therapy and seek to develop specific goals. It’s okay if you have a general idea; your therapist will help you focus on your goals and tackle manageable pieces. Your therapy goals will also direct which therapist you select because this will define your treatment needs.
Assess Your Comfort Level
Before starting online therapy, you need to be comfortable with online communication. Most virtual appointments are very easy to participate in, often as simple as clicking a specific link on the therapist’s website.
Virtual communication can be a learning curve, but this aspect is usually easy for clients to overcome. Your therapist will be able to answer general questions about connecting virtually.
Figure Out Your Budget
Online therapy can be more affordable than traditional therapy. If your therapist is contracted with your insurance company and you are simply paying a copay, this will be much more affordable than paying out of pocket. Busy schedules can make it challenging to schedule and attend therapy, and online therapy offers much greater flexibility with time while saving you travel time.
Find the Right Fit
Having the time and money to attend therapy will play a massive part in whether your family can continue treatment for an adequate time frame. You want to be sure to select a licensed and knowledgeable therapist who can give you the best chance possible to resolve family issues.
Laying the Foundation
Starting online therapy can be a mental and emotional challenge. Not knowing the therapist or what to expect can cause anxiety, and sometimes various family members are hesitant to participate.
While every therapist is different, there are some basic commonalities you can expect with your first therapy session. Your therapist will want to know why you’re seeking treatment, what you hope to attain from treatment, and your brief family history. Laying the foundation for your first session can go a long way in putting you and your family members at ease.
Check Your Internet
You must have a good internet connection free from interruptions while attending therapy via a video chat. As you discuss sensitive topics and emotions rise, you’ll want to be sure you can focus entirely on the session without being stressed about technology concerns. If you don’t have access to an internet connection, many public places allow you to connect for free.
Therapy will delve into sensitive topics and emotions. Your family may work through some high-conflict situations. Be sure to choose a neutral environment where everyone feels safe, comfortable, and able to communicate openly. If only certain family members are participating, it is essential to ensure you select a location that will allow privacy.
Your Emotional State
Check in with yourself during the first visit. Do you feel like your therapist truly listens to you? Do you feel free to express yourself without judgment, interruptions, or being invalidated? Listen to your body and watch for unexpected or unusual tension. While therapy does delve into intense emotions, you should leave the visit in a state of emotional equilibrium.
[Read: 5 Surprising Behaviors That Are Hindering Your Recovery]
Starting Your First Session
Knowing what to expect in your first session can set you up for success and help resolve a lot of anxiety. Treatment and successful communication depend on all parties involved, but you can do what you can to show up authentically.
Be honest with your therapist. An experienced therapist has truly heard and seen a variety of unusual life circumstances and will not be surprised by your revelations. Honesty and understanding your own needs and the needs of your family members is the first step to recovery.
Therapy can be intimidating – it’s easy to put up barriers and be resistant to change. However, you’re starting therapy to try a different approach and learn new life skills. Even if something seems new or awkward at first, if you can maintain an open mind, you will be in the best possible position to take in new information and grow.
Be Prepared to Participate
Your therapist is not capable of healing you passively. To attain healing and resolution, you must be willing to participate, even when stepping outside your comfort zone. Always know you’re not alone, and your therapist will be there to guide those uncomfortable moments for you and your loved ones.
Sometimes professionals use terms that can be difficult to understand – don’t hesitate to ask questions. As an adult learner, you are more likely to participate if you know the reasoning behind an activity or change.
Find The Right Family Therapy at All Points North
Many families and couples wait years before seeking treatment. Without support, the strain can deepen rifts and cause a lot of unnecessary suffering.
The good news is, you can begin online family therapy and embark on your healing journey today.
All Points North exists to serve families and bring access to online therapy to every family who needs it. With in-person service and online treatment in the APN Connection App, we serve clients across the country and around the globe.
Don’t wait any longer. Learn more about APN’s online marriage and family therapy options and start your journey today.