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Family therapy

The aim of family therapy is to find ways for family members to help each other.

In family therapy, a therapist works with families and those in close relationships who experience problems. 

The therapist explores their views and relationships to understand the problems they are having. It helps family members communicate better with each other. It can help families to change, develop and resolve conflict.

You may be offered family therapy if the whole family is in difficulty. This may be because one member of the family has a serious problem that’s affecting the rest of the family.

Family therapy is also known as systemic psychotherapy.

Who it’s for

Family therapy is suitable for children and adults of all ages.

Issues we can help with

Family therapy can help with a wide range of things including:

  • parenting issues
  • child and adolescent behaviour
  • divorce and separation
  • adult mental health
  • changes in family life

We work with problems that children, young people or adults may experience. Sometimes these problems have been present across generations. 

Length of treatment

Family therapy sessions last from 45 minutes to 1.5 hours. They usually take place every two to three weeks.

Treatment can last from a few meetings to more than a year. 


Assessment starts with a meeting to understand what the difficulties are. You may meet with one therapist or a team of therapists working together.

We talk to you about your concerns and ask questions about how you think and feel. We talk about important family beliefs and who else is involved with the family. We listen to the point of view of everyone there. 

We explain how family therapy works and with your family we agree a plan for future therapy sessions.

Therapy sessions

The whole family, including children, are usually seen together in one room for therapy sessions. Sometimes we work with individuals, couples or combinations of family members depending on what the problem is.

We consider the impact on families of differences including:

  • power
  • financial hardship
  • race
  • religion
  • culture
  • politics

A family therapist is more active in asking questions than some other kinds of therapists. 

Therapists working in a team might talk together in front of the family about the problem and the ideas coming out in the session. The family can listen to this. 

The aim of family therapy is to help family members find ways to help each other, whether the problem is believed to be a personal issue or a family issue. 


Research shows that family therapy is proven to be effective for children and young people affected by:

  • problems in infancy (sleep, feeding and attachment)
  • child abuse and neglect
  • child and adolescent conduct problems such as attention and over activity, and behavioural difficulties
  • emotional problems including anxiety, depression, grief, bipolar disorder and suicidality
  • body related problems including enuresis, encopresis, recurrent abdominal pain and poorly controlled asthma and diabetes
  • drug abuse
  • eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia and obesity

Research shows that family therapy is proven to be effective for adults and families affected by:

  • relationship difficulties
  • psychosexual problems
  • domestic violence
  • mood disorders such as anxiety and depression
  • alcohol and drug abuse
  • schizophrenia
  • adjustment to chronic physical illness

Risks and side effects

Talking and thinking about emotional problems can be difficult. For this reason some people can feel worse before they feel better. We work with you to manage strong emotional reactions.


Family therapy is not for everyone. There is a range of alternative treatments that your therapist talks to you about during assessment. 

Other psychological treatments include: 

  • child psychotherapy
  • cognitive behavioural therapy
  • psychodynamic family therapy 

Questions or worries

Therapy can bring up difficult issues. We want you to feel able to discuss any questions or worries with your therapist. This is important to progress your therapy. 

If you would like to discuss any concerns with someone independent of your therapy please contact our patient advice and liaison service.