What you can expect

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Family therapy typically brings several family members together for therapy sessions. However, a family member may also see a family therapist individually. Sessions typically take about 50 minutes to an hour. Family therapy is often short term — generally less than six months. However, how often you meet and the number of sessions you'll need will depend on your family's particular situation and the therapist's recommendation.

During family therapy, you'll examine your family's ability to solve problems and express thoughts and emotions. You may explore family roles, rules and behavior patterns in order to identify issues that contribute to conflict — as well as ways to work through these issues. Family therapy may help you identify your family's strengths, such as caring for one another, and weaknesses, such as difficulty confiding in one another.

For example, say that your adult son has depression. Your family doesn't understand his depression or how best to offer support. Although you're worried about your son's health, conversations with your son or other family members erupt into arguments and you're left feeling frustrated and angry. Communication diminishes, decisions go unmade, and the rift grows wider.

In such a situation, family therapy can help you pinpoint your specific challenges and how your family is handling them. Guided by your therapist, you'll learn new ways to interact and overcome unhealthy patterns of relating to each other. You may set individual and family goals and work on ways to achieve them. In the end, your son may be better equipped to cope with his depression, and the entire family may achieve a sense of understanding and togetherness.

Oct. 13, 2011