Television often romanticizes family dynamics. We are shown kids going to school while their parents are at work and how they all come together around the dinner table each night for some mashed potatoes and gravy.
In reality, family dynamics are far more complicated. Family members routinely fight with, manipulate, and misunderstand each other. Schedules, finances, obligations, and expectations tend to collide. TV shows rarely show how hard it can be to live with the people you’re supposed to love.
Too often, strained family relationships turn estranged when they don’t have to. Family counseling can help you heal the hurt, learn constructive communication, and rebuild your family relationships. The first step in the process? — just like everything else we need an answer for — go ahead and enter a search for “family counseling near me.”
What is Family Counseling?
Family counseling is a type of therapy that brings family members together to resolve conflicts, improve communication, or work through stressful or traumatic events. Unlike individual therapy, family counseling is often short term and usually consists of six to ten sessions. Its goal is to create, or re-establish, a healthy family dynamic.
Though sessions ideally involve all family members concerned with the issue, not all members need participate for sessions to be considered family therapy. Unlike individual therapy, which seeks to treat patterns of thinking within the individual, family therapy addresses individual problems within the scope of the larger family unit, focusing on building open lines of communication and mutual understanding between members to resolve issues.
Your “family counseling near me” search results should include licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT), licensed psychologists, or licensed clinical social workers (LCSW).
When Should You Seek Family Counseling?
The reasons a family might seek counseling are as diverse as families themselves. Most commonly, family counseling might be sought in response to:
- Restructuring of the family unit (separation, divorce, remarriage)
- Children and teenage behavioral issues
- Substance abuse
- Illness or death of a loved one
- Domestic violence
- Major life changes or transitions, like birth or relocation
While the presence of one or more of these circumstances don’t always necessitate family counseling, other signs like emotional outbursts, increased arguments, social withdrawal, secret-keeping, and rule-breaking can be indicators that family counseling might be beneficial.
You don’t have to search “family counseling near me” wherever there is a conflict between your family members — family counseling can also be helpful as a preventative measure, done proactively. Even if there are issues that aren’t currently putting family members at odds, it can be a good time to start looking for family counseling. It’s also important to note that family-counseling sessions aren’t limited to the nuclear family or even blood relatives. All those involved in the family dynamic — including stepparents, stepchildren, significant others, and extended family — have critical roles to play.
What Happens at Family Counseling Sessions?
A typical family counseling session usually lasts around 50 minutes and involves the participation of multiple family members. As with individual counseling, in the first session, the therapist will take time to get to know each member of the family, ask about the family’s history and structure, and clarify the reason that prompted the family to seek help. Hearing the responses and observing the way family members interact with each other allows the therapist to identify problems and develop a sense of the family’s dynamics.
Most sessions will include all affected family members, though therapists often ask to speak with family members on an individual basis or even recommend complementary individual therapy. Whenever several parties are present, the therapist will establish some ground rules for respect and confidentiality to facilitate the discussion.
Family Counseling Techniques
Therapeutic techniques employed at family counseling sessions vary between therapists and familial problems. The most common forms of family counseling are the Bowenian, Structural, Systemic, and Strategic approaches.
Sometimes, the presence of a certain family member might cause stress or anxiety in another family member. In the Bowenian approach, the therapist works individually with the anxious family member without that third party present to help them learn to manage their response to the anxiety inducing family member. Some common tools and techniques include roleplay and writing letters.
The structural approach focuses on establishing a healthy family structure. This process can include promoting an appropriate hierarchy and correcting inappropriate power imbalances.
The systemic model urges the therapist to understand the motivations and subconscious factors behind patterns of behavior between family members. The goal is to move beyond the “what” of family discord to get to the “why” to solve conflicts and tensions.
The strategic approach is perhaps the most results-oriented. The therapist prescribes specific actions to reframe a problem into a positive solution.
Regardless of method, family-counseling sessions are designed to identify patterns of behavior, give every family member a voice, foster empathy, and establish healthy boundaries.
The Benefits of Family Counseling
While the goal of family counseling is primarily to resolve a particular conflict or issue, its benefits don’t stop there. By committing to the process of family therapy with openness, honesty, and a true desire to improve, family members often walk away with:
- Greater self-awareness
- Improved self-confidence
- Stronger communication skills
- Stronger familial bonds and an improved support system
- Better conflict-resolution skills
These skills also help individuals build and strengthen positive relationships moving forward, both inside and outside the family dynamic.
How to Find a Family Counselor
You will probably find many options when you search for “family counseling near me”; it’s important to know how to choose the right therapist for you and your family. Though finding a qualified provider may require time and patience, doing the research to find a therapist whose experience is a match for your needs will pay off in the long run. Here are a few extra resources for finding the best provider for family counseling:
- Try online therapy to find a family counselor on platforms like Talkspace.
- Use the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy’s therapist locator.
- Ask for a referral from your medical doctor, friends, co-workers, or religious authority.
- Ask your insurance company for a list of in-network providers. This way also ensures that your provider will be covered by your health insurance plan.
- Search the listings provided by Psychology Today.
It’s Worth It
Family counseling isn’t easy — it requires patience, honesty, and empathy — but living with pain and family conflict is far harder.
Doing the work to foster communication, resolve conflict, and establish healthy boundaries with the guidance of a professional is key to familial health and happiness. So, if you feel like you have enough information, go ahead and search for “family counseling near me” now!