Family Attachment

Family Attachment


Family therapy seeks to improve communication and understanding between family members so during times of conflict, tension, and stress, situations and disagreements that arise can be constructively addressed (Sholevar). It is based on the theory that an impartial therapist can observe and improve communication and interactions between family members. It is a common form of counseling that goes by many names like couples therapy, marriage therapy, family counseling, and family systems therapy. Historically common among nuclear families, this branch of therapy has begun including extended families in treatment when needed. This definition has evolved to include a much more socially global application of the term ‘family unit’. A family unit is a more broadly term and close knit social support networks can be included as part of a family treatment program. As more evidence arises from studies in clinical therapy it opens the scope of using family therapy to address more family dysfunction and interpersonal family disorders.

Goals of Family Therapy

The overall goal of family therapy is to help families solve problems and help handle special situations that occur. Family therapy and counseling seeks to moderate issues and conflicts by helping individuals express themselves to others in the family unit more effectively. It seeks not to label things as “bad” or “good” but to investigate the results and ramifications of those actions on those around you and focus on the interconnectedness of the family as a unit. When individuals can interact with each other in a more positive manner, there is more room for constructive conflict resolution. When communication can be increased, conflict can be resolved, stress and tension can be reduced, and families can function in an overall more agreeable environment. 

When is Family Therapy Used?

Family therapy can be used for problems ranging from resolution of disagreements to improving understanding of special family situations, and has also been found effective for children whose family unit may not reflect a perceived social norm. It is often sought for cases of depression, marital problems, anxiety, individual psychological problems, and child-parent problems. It has, in somewhat more recent years, also been found effective in addressing issues relating to eating disorders, families with same sex parents, blended families, and family members with addiction. It is common for families to seek therapeutic guidance during times of stress, loss, or life transitions of all kinds.

How Does Family Therapy Work?       

In order to effectively address necessary social issues within a family, a more global form of counseling evolved to treat whole families. It sought to improve the lives of the individuals by improving interactions of the family unit. Many of the theories are based on ideals introduced by Gregory Betson and his classification of communication into two forms, verbal and nonverbal. It allowed for nonverbal communication to enter as part of a system of treating family communication (Sholevar). Applying these theories opened behavioral and social interactions to enter into review for a more inclusive treatment approach to family interaction. 

Salvador Minuchin theorized that families should alter the rules of social engagement and thereby alter interactions amongst themselves (Sholevar). This form of therapy allowed therapists to take a more global approach to problem resolution in families. By increasing communication and understanding in one another it makes interactions more positive in the family unit overall. Therapists help facilitate more effective and constructive approaches in handling conflict and family problems by addressing all interactions.

Criticisms of Family Therapy

A number of problems arise, however, when dealing with family dysfunction and one of the criticisms is that many have for the family systems approach is it’s limitations addressing individual bias between therapist and client. Because therapists have been included as such an integral part of the therapeutic unit as whole, the therapists personal issues such as religion and personal moral code as well as race play into the creation of a new family dynamic and must be compatible with the clients or may lead to ineffective and potentially detrimental practices.

Feminists have also been a large critic of family therapy on a number of issues. The protest rests largely in the absence of gender, socio cultural, or political context in family units (Doherty). Therapist dynamic may also affect poorly victims of abuse and battery. The core problem rests in the practice of family therapy systems reluctance to label behaviors “bad’ or “good”. In cases that involve abuse the practice of family therapy to review how interactions lead to undesirable situations, can be interpreted by the victim as a means of accepting partial blame for the abuse.


Doherty, W.J. & Baptiste, D.A. (1993) Theories emerging from family therapy.Sourcebook of

family theories and methods: A contextual approach (pp. 505-524).New York: Plenum.

Sholevar, G.P. (2003). Family Theory and Therapy.Textbook of Family and
Couples  Therapy: Clinical Applications. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing Inc.

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