Family Counseling: Who It Can Help and How

By Beacon Care Services • 26 Oct 2018

  • Family counseling can help improve family relationships. It can help family members work through a crisis or stressful event.

Jenna recalls her family’s initial reluctance to seek family counseling. “My husband was worried about the cost. My children feared their friends  would find out. And I felt ashamed. I thought, ‘Are we really so bad off that we cannot work things out on our own?’”

Your family, too, may not want to get professional help for problems at home. Yet doing so can help your family identify and change  communication and behavior patterns. That can improve the health of your family dynamic.

When to seek help

Sometimes, a family has trouble working through a crisis or stressful event. Or, perhaps constant family squabbling is making home life unpleasant. Other possible reasons for seeking counseling include:

  • When a child or teen is troubled, has behavioral problems, or performs poorly in school
  • When a family member is overusing a substance
  • When words or actions are physically or emotionally hurtful
  • When a physical struggle is used to settle disagreements
  • During times of family transition (birth of child, child leaving home, separation, divorce, etc.)
  • When problems are recurring and never adequately solved
  • When one family member has a mental illness

Finding the right therapist

You should look for a good therapist who specializes in working with families. Your doctor, school, friends, clergy, and local mental health association can help. If you are worried about cost, your local family service agency and mental health association can help you get counseling you can afford. Make sure your therapist is licensed by the state or accredited by a professional organization.

Your first meeting

During your first meeting, the therapist will:

  • Get to know each family member
  • Try to get a basic understanding of your family dynamic
  • Identify the primary problems that brought you to therapy
  • Try to learn about alliances among family members
  • Get a handle on communication and behavior patterns
  • Ask about family values and beliefs as well as unspoken “rules”
  • Review the process, treatment, confidentiality, and cost

Once your family gets to know the therapist, make sure everyone feels comfortable.

How therapy works

Your family can expect to see the family counselor one or two times a week. The duration of therapy varies. Sometimes, the session will include all family members. But the therapist may want to request to see just one or a few family members together. The therapist will use many methods to learn more about your family. She may listen, ask questions, reflect, and interpret what is said during the session. She might give advice and make recommendations. She may ask you to role-play. Or she may assign “homework,” like keeping a journal or changing a behavior.

What to expect

As therapy progresses, the counselor will help your family uncover feelings under surface problems. This may be painful or troubling. Sometimes it can make family function feel worse in the short-term. But working through tough family issues will result in better communication and improved family function.