What Is Family Therapy?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 10, 2024
3 min read

If your family is going through a tough time -- whether it's from stress, anger, or grief -- family therapy can make a difference. It can help couples, children, or members of an extended family learn to communicate better and work through conflicts.

Sessions are led by a specialist called a family therapist. They could be a psychologist, social worker, or therapist who's had extra training in family therapy.

Problems in your family can affect all areas of family members' lives. You and your loved ones might notice trouble cropping up at work, at school, or in everyday interactions with other people.

When it feels like the issues in your family are too big for you to handle -- and aren't getting better -- it may be time to see a family therapist. They can help you find new ways to manage struggles, conflicts, and challenges.

Some of the things that family therapists can help with are:

  • Conflicts between family members
  • Substance abuse or addiction
  • A family member's mental illness
  • Financial problems or disagreements about money
  • Problems in school
  • Difficulties between siblings
  • Children's behavior problems
  • Caring for a family member with special needs
  • Issues with extended family members
  • A family member's illness or a death in the family
  • Infidelity
  • Separation or divorce
  • How to plan for shared custody of children


First, your therapist will talk to everyone in the family to help them understand what's going on. They'll ask questions about how each person views the problem, when the trouble started, and how the family has been trying to manage things so far.

Next, the therapist will work out a treatment plan. The goal is to improve conflicts in a family, not to blame anyone for the issues.

Your therapist will help family members communicate better, solve problems, and find new ways to work together. Family therapy can't always make a problem go away. But it can give family members new skills to get through difficult situations in healthier ways.

Family therapy doesn't have to take a long time. The average is about 12 sessions. How often you meet with a family therapist and how many sessions you'll need will depend on the specific issues you focus on in therapy.

Try these ways to find a family therapist:

  • Ask your primary care doctor for a referral.
  • See if friends have a family therapist to recommend.
  • Contact your health insurance company and ask for a list of therapists. You may be able to find the list online.
  • Check the website of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and search for a marriage and family therapist near you.
  • Search the Internet for a family therapist in your area.

To see if a family therapist is a good fit for you, ask them these questions:

  • Are you trained in family therapy?
  • Do you have experience with our family's particular issues?
  • Where is your office? What are your hours?
  • How long does each session last?
  • How many sessions do you think we'll need?
  • Do you take my health insurance?
  • How much does each session cost? Do I need to pay upfront, or do I pay per session?