Here’s What You Can Expect From Family Therapy

If your teenager is in treatment for anxiety, depression, ADHD, an addiction, an eating disorder, or any other type of mental health condition, it’s likely that part of his or her treatment will include family therapy. During family therapy, the patient’s family members join in on counseling sessions to give the therapist a broader view of the patient’s personality. It also helps teach the family members how to best support their loved one.

What to Expect

If family therapy is new to you, it’s natural to be nervous. Here are some of the things you can expect from family therapy.

Getting-to-Know-You Sessions

Particularly in the first several sessions, the therapist will ask a lot of questions about family dynamics, the history of different family members, mental health issues that run in the family, concerns that various family members have, and so on. You’ll also fill out forms that will ask questions. Some of the questions might feel intrusive or out of place. It’s important to understand that the mental health professional wants to get to know your family so he or she can help your adolescent.

Help With Communication

Many families have trouble communicating effectively. If one member of the family is struggling with a mental health issue or an addiction, it’s common for communication to be further stunted. There is likely fear, anger, resentment, sadness, and disappointment present in different family members and they might feel awkward or guilty talking about those feelings.

Learning how to communicate more clearly and more respectfully can help avoid the bad feelings that go along with fighting and arguing. They’ll also help members of the family avoid repressing their feelings or denying that they are experiencing negative emotions. It’s important that family members are honest with one another and also that their feelings are expressed in an appropriate and respectful manner.


Between each counseling session, it’s likely that family members will be given assignments. They might be given specific strategies to use in communicating or the parents might need to come up with age-appropriate responsibilities, boundaries, or consequences for the children. It’s wise to take these assignments seriously and work on them diligently throughout the week. Better communication and conflict-resolution habits will stick if you work on them daily.

Plans for Solutions

When you start family therapy, you’ll be asked what some of the problems are, as you see them. Other family members will be asked the same thing. As treatment is honed and shaped for your particular family, you’ll begin to formulate plans to create and implement solutions to these problems. Some will work and some might not. That’s not a reason to give up, though; it’s a reason to continue trying and tweaking as needed.

Some of these plans and solutions might be uncomfortable for some or all family members. That’s okay! Remember that getting to the root of the problems and solving them is hard work. It’s normal for it to feel uncomfortable–even painful–at times. Your situation should, in most cases, slowly improve as time goes on.

Better Understanding of Your Teen’s Mental Condition

Part of the family therapy will focus on making sure that your teen and all family members understand his or her mental health condition. Whether it’s addiction, anxiety, an eating disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or something else, it’s important that everyone in the household knows what’s wrong (in age-appropriate terms, if there are small children) and how they can help their loved one recover.

Keep in mind that many times, there is more than one disorder present. For example, your adolescent might have an addiction to alcohol and also be suffering from depression. It can feel overwhelming to learn that your teen has more than one diagnosis, but it’s a step in the right direction because all conditions should be treated at the same time in most cases.

When Is Family Therapy Right for You?

You might wonder whether family therapy is really right for your family. This is something that your teen’s therapists will work out, but in most cases, it is the right choice. Your teenager is going to need your support and the support of his or her siblings, if any, not only during the acute treatment phase but also in the coming years as he or she continues to pursue recovery.

Family therapy is also right for families who are going through a trauma together. For example, the loss of a loved one, a house fire, a job loss, an assault, and various other traumatic events affect the whole family. Some will go to therapy because they realize that their communication and conflict resolution styles aren’t working well. In fact, there are really not many problems that would not be helped by having at least a few family therapy sessions, and some will require counseling for the whole family for several weeks or months.

How Can You Get Started With Family Therapy?

If your teen is in a program for a mental health condition, it’s likely that his or her therapist will broach the topic of family therapy with you early in the treatment plan. If it’s something you’d like to try, you can contact a counselor that any family member has seen to find out if they offer family therapy sessions. If they do not, they can refer you to someone who does.

Families who have never been in any type of therapy can still pursue family therapy; simply go to your physician or the physician of one of the household members and ask for a referral. If you go to your own doctor, be sure they understand that you will be bringing children and/or adolescents with you; they will want to refer you to someone who is experienced with young people who are the same ages as your kids.


Going to therapy as a family can bring all of you together and will show your children that it’s good to seek help for mental health conditions promptly. It might make them more likely to reach out for help in the future if they need it. Talk to your or your teen’s doctor about the benefits of family counseling to find out more.

Further Reading