Family therapy is a form of therapy that is delivered with close family members. The therapy can focus on how a person’s actions have caused problems for their wider family.

In many cases, the family will be told not to condone nor reward behaviour that is associated with the problematic behaviour of their family member.

In theory, by seeing the damage their behaviour can cause, this can help the individual change their behaviour.

Families often have difficult dynamics to them

The Science Behind Family Therapy

Family Therapy is more of a logical therapy, rather than scientific. It is based on the idea that when an individual sees the harm he/she is causing their family, that it will make them rethink their behaviour.

A family can also learn how to support an individual with their problems.

A range of techniques are used by a therapist, or a team of therapists, to try and solve harmful relationships, and set goals for improvements.

How Does Family Therapy Work?

Family therapy involves a therapist meeting a family on a semi-regular basis – usually once a month for six months, or twice a month for 3-4 months.

While most of the therapy is taken as a group, each person may have a small amount of time devoted to one-on-one conversation.

A therapist will try and iron out differences between family members, or show the impact one person’s behaviour has.

In this case, it shares some similarities with an intervention. The therapist will attempt to show the family that by engaging in healthy relationships, that their psychological health will improve.

Different techniques are employed to facilitate change – such as changing unhelpful behaviour patterns, altering long-standing (and unhelpful) rules and resolving long-held differences among other methods.

By conducting therapy with the whole family, it is easier for the group to agree to implementing change, after seeing the benefits together.

The therapist will expect the family to implement what they have learned during every day activities. Therefore, the whole family needs to be committed to change – especially if the focus is on one person’s unhelpful behaviour.

Most people who partake in family therapy leave the treatment in a much healthier state. Families can enjoy significant benefit from therapy.

When is Family Therapy Useful?

Family therapy can be very useful in the treatment of a few different conditions. In substance-related disorders, a family can show an individual the impact that their harmful behaviour has.

Family therapy offers a non-judgmental and calm setting for a mature discussion to take place. There are several situations where Family therapy can benefit family members.

Conversely, one person who has bad anxiety problems may want to organise family therapy to show their family the impact that they are having on their condition.

Someone who has Schizophrenia may also benefit from this. Eating disorders, Somatic disorders and some forms of Depression may also be helped by family therapy.

Family therapy can also be used for non-mental health conditions – within reason any situation that requires familial conflict being solved, can benefit from family therapy.

How effective is Family Therapy?

Family Therapy has a good evidence base to support its effectiveness.

A large study carried out in France found that Family Therapy was the second-most effective treatment (following Cognitive behavioural therapy) for a range of conditions – such as Substance-Related Disorders, Schizophrenia, and Anorexia – the eating disorder [1]. This has been confirmed since by other studies [2].

When combined with medication, it appears that Family Therapy can be particularly useful in the treatment of Schizophrenia [3].

Finally, another study found family therapy to be more useful than individual therapy in the case of eating disorders anorexia and bulimia nervosa [4]. It appears that overall family therapy seems to be effective.

However, many members of the psychiatric community have disputed the efficacy of Family Therapy. Some have questioned the ethics behind it, including how the therapist’s personal views can prove problematic [5].

Famous American psychiatrist Frank Pittman suggested that abusive, violent or traumatic behaviour has the potential to be deemed justifiable in line with certain techniques in family therapy – which shouldn’t be the case [6].

While many people will derive help from family therapy, it isn’t for everyone. Clearly, family dynamics are different from family-to-family, this is reflected in how some families thrive off of therapy, and others will struggle.

How to find a therapist?

It is recommended that you contact your GP and inform them of your problems. They will refer you to the relevant mental health team.

If you are aiming to use the private sector, you could ask your GP or someone you know for a recommendation. You can also look online – the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy have a therapist directory on their site.

See Also


This website should be used purely for informational purposes, and does not intend to, nor should it ever, be used as a replacement for professional medical advice.

We strive to keep all of our pages updated, and ensure that our website is full of factual and in-depth information. However, we encourage you to browse this website with care.

As a reminder, this website and all content within it cannot and should not replace the advice of a trained medical professional. You can read our full disclaimer at this link.


If you are struggling with your mental health, help is available. With the right support and treatment, you can make a recovery. For information on helplines, or if you are in a state of crisis, please visit our crisis page by clicking on the relevant link for your geographical location (United Kingdom), (United States), (International). You can also see how to get mental health treatment and the process involved by clicking this link.


[1]  INSERM. (2000). Psychotherapy: Three approaches evaluated. INSERM Collective Expert Reports.

[2]  McFarlane, W., Dixon, L., Lukens, E. & Lucksted, A. (2007). Family Psychoeducation and Schizophrenia: A Review of the Literature. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 29 (2), p223-245.

[3]  Goldstein, M. & Miklowitz, D. (1995). The Effectiveness of Psychoeducational Family Therapy in the Treatment of Schizophrenic Disorders. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 21 (4), p361-376.

[4]  Russell, G., Szmukler, G., Dare, C. & Eisler, M. (1987). An Evaluation of Family Therapy in Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. Archives of General Psychiatry. 44 (12), p1047-1056.

[5]  Wall, K., Needham, T., Browning, D. & Susan, J. (1999). The Ethics of Relationality: The Moral Views of Therapists Engaged in Marital and Family Therapy. Family Relations. 48 (2), p139-149.     

[6]  Pittman, F. (1994). A Buyer’s Guide To Psychotherapy. Available: Last accessed 5th April 2020.