Marriage and Family Therapy Techniques

In marriage and family therapy, practicing clinicians employ a variety of techniques and approaches to help their patients address issues within personal and family relationships. In short, marriage and family therapists consider the entire family unit rather than only the individual.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

A common form of talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) asks patients to recognize, reframe, and/or challenge negative thoughts with a new way of thinking. By using CBT in marriage and family therapy, counselors can help patients identify negative feelings, understand their effect on relationships, and learn to challenge those feelings and behaviors.

CBT is generally considered a short-term form of treatment, with an average of 16 sessions, to help people problem-solve and understand that how they perceive events ultimately determines how they will act. This technique has been known to treat depression, anxiety, mood issues, and phobias, among other issues.

cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) asks patients to recognize, reframe, and/or challenge negative thoughts with a new way of thinking

Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy separates patients from their problems and helps them readjust the way they view themselves and their personal history. Those dealing with mental health issues or working to overcome trauma may craft personal narratives that negatively paint themselves and their experiences. Narrative therapy helps patients rewrite their personal narratives in a positive light so they see themselves as more than their trauma.

In marriage and family therapy, a narrative approach may offer couples and families a way to reframe their individual and collective issues and develop healthier ways to navigate them.

Milan Systemic Therapy

Formed by a group of researchers in the early 1970s, the Milan approach to systemic therapy proposes that certain types of maladaptive individual behavior result from feeling isolated by a power struggle within a family. As such, this form of therapy emphasizes the role of family interactions and dynamics in individual behaviors and mental health.

Marriage and family therapists utilizing the Milan systemic approach may guide patients through identifying "rules" that exist within a family unit and how those rules dictate the way each family member interacts with and understands the world. Then, the therapist may challenge those rules, assisting patients to move past those limitations and see things differently.

Narrative therapy helps patients rewrite their personal narratives in a positive light so they see themselves as more than their trauma

Transgenerational Therapy

Transgenerational therapy allows marriage and family therapists to see the way family members interact, particularly those from different generations. For example, the therapist may observe interactions between parents and children or grandparents and adult children, depending on the individual family context. The observation allows the therapist to identify real issues at hand and better develop treatment plans for individual patients.

Therapists often use this approach alongside other methods to identify and frame the ongoing issues addressed in individual and group therapy sessions, allowing them to get a better picture of the family dynamics at play and identify ways to navigate these dynamics with the patient.

Strategic Therapy

When implemented in a marriage and family therapy setting, strategic therapy generally involves the therapist observing family interactions and then attempting to implement themselves into the discourse. By doing this, the therapist can point out glaring issues in the way the family unit interacts and deals with problems.

Using strategic therapy, marriage and family therapists aim to highlight strengths and weaknesses of a family's interaction dynamics and then emphasize the strengths so the family may identify solutions and goals. Ideally, this method provides tools for family members and spouses to interact in healthier, more productive ways.

Using strategic therapy, marriage and family therapists aim to highlight strengths and weaknesses of a family's interaction dynamics

Family Systems Therapy

Family systems therapy emphasizes the family as an emotional unit and suggests an individual family member's behavior is usually informed by and inseparable from their family of origin. According to some therapists who use this approach, if one family member changes their behavior, it will influence the way the entire family functions over time.

Individual and group sessions may be used so family members can address one another and work together through issues as the therapist facilitates. Families, couples, and individuals have benefitted by family systems therapy, as have those who struggle specifically with schizophrenia, alcohol and substance dependency, depression, and food issues.

Structural Therapy

In order to evaluate the structure of a family, structural therapy uses therapy sessions to observe a family's relationships, behaviors, and patterns. Therapists see how members communicate and establish or fail to establish boundaries. Perceivably at-risk family units, including blended families and those with single parents, tend to benefit from this particular approach.

The therapist identifies the different relationships, sub-relationships, and power dynamics within the family unit. Then, they work with the family to overcome the constraints and limitations of these structures to develop and grow together. In-session activities like role play may be used.

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