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Family Therapy Concepts & Methods

Updated: Apr 5


family therapy concepts and methods

“Family is just an accident. They don’t mean to get on your nerves. They don’t even mean to be your family, they just are.” — Marsha Norman, Broadway playwright and screenwriter


There’s an old saying that you can choose your friends, but not your family – and depending on how your family is, that can be gratifying or frustrating. While every relationship between parents, siblings, children, and relatives will have its share of disagreements and conflict, some definitely experience more than others. That’s where family therapy methods come in.


Whether you’re facing insurmountable challenges, poor communication, a lack of respect or consideration, or something else entirely, family therapy can be an incredibly useful way to move forward. So, let’s take a closer look at how these approaches can help you and your loved ones heal, grow, and better understand one another.



Different Family Therapy Techniques

There is a wide range of approaches to family counselling, and each method takes a different path toward conflict resolution and improving relationships in the future. At Flourish, we specifically focus on:


Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy, as the name suggests, encourages family members to construct and share their stories with one another. This allows them to gain new perspectives and, by working together, to rewrite narratives that may have previously caused distress. This method is a great way to reframe challenges and discover mutual solutions for moving forward.


Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) equips individuals, and by extension their families, with tools to identify and modify negative thought patterns and behaviors. By fostering healthier cognitive processes, CBT empowers families to create positive change and develop more harmonious relationships.


Solution-Focused Therapy

Solution-focused therapy focuses on finding and building upon a family's strengths and resources. This approach helps them concentrate on required solutions rather than dwelling on problems, leading to better resolutions to conflicts both now and in the future.


Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) encourages family members to embrace their emotions – even, and especially, difficult ones – and commit to making choices driven by their own sense of values. This method fosters acceptance of both individual and collective experiences, with the goal of greater harmony in family interactions.


Family Systems Therapy

Family Systems Therapy is a robust and holistic approach to understanding and addressing family dynamics. It emphasizes the interconnectedness of family members, explores how individual behavior impacts the family system as a whole, and lays a fundamental groundwork toward understanding each other better. It’s based on several different approaches and interlocking concepts of genetic and environmental influences, which we’ll outline below.



Exploring Family Systems Therapy

This type of therapy focuses on the intricate web of relationships within a family unit. It’s rooted in Murray Bowen's research in schizophrenia and his family systems theory of the late 1960s, which emphasizes the interconnectedness of individuals within their network of relationships.


In contrast to traditional individual therapy, which focuses on the individual's inner psyche, Bowen's theory addresses the broader structure and behavior of the full family unit. He believed these factors played a significant role in shaping one's character and thought changes in the behaviour of one family member could impact the whole group over time.


Family Systems Therapy Approaches

Diving into family dynamics and interactions in order to pinpoint the root cause of conflicts, subsequent researchers have expanded on Bowen’s work across three separate areas:

  1. Structural family therapy, developed by Salvador Minuchin, focuses on evaluating the “structure” of a family within a session – the relationships, behaviors, and patterns that define its members and their interactions. Activities like role playing can help delineate these structures in a safe, healthy way.

  2. Strategic family therapy looks beyond the session itself to examine processes, functions, communication, and problem-solving in the family’s behaviour outside of therapy sessions. Reframing and redefining problem areas, as well as other interventions, can work to effect change, often in rapid ways.

  3. Intergenerational family therapy focuses on how past generations influence family and individual behavior, such as management of anxiety or the ability to freely discuss mental health needs. The goal is to normalize challenges by considering how other families may approach them, describing reactions of family members rather than acting them out, and emphasizing the use of "I" statements when communicating, rather than accusations.


Family Therapy Concepts

There are multiple underlying concepts to consider in family therapy, with each being of equal importance to the others. Each family will struggle with them to different degrees, but they can play a big part in creating a common understanding from which to move forward.


  1. Differentiation of Self: This is a core concept, dealing with a person's ability to separate thoughts and feelings, manage stress and anxieties, and pursue personal goals while maintaining emotional connections. Highly differentiated individuals can maintain individuality within a group, while those with less may come to seek validation from others.

  2. Emotional Triangles: These represent stable network systems in human relationships, with a three-person system – such as parents and a child – offering more resources to manage anxiety and maintain emotional health. Even so, sometimes one of these three people can come into conflict, causing stress on existing connections.

  3. Family Projection Process: As parents, it’s almost unavoidable not to project some anxiety and emotional concerns to your child. This leads to a cycle of projection, distress, and parent-led resolution, which may cause children to become dependent on the parent to “fix” problems.

  4. Multigenerational Transmission Process: This describes how individuals seek partners with similar levels of differentiation, and how the effects can compound over time unless more “individuality” is consciously prioritized.

  5. Emotional Cutoff: In this situation, individuals emotionally distance themselves from family members to manage emotional difficulties, but this often increases anxiety and stress, impacting new relationships.

  6. Sibling Position: Sibling roles within a family are influenced by factors like birth order, parental discipline, and family expectations. A good example is older children often assuming more responsibility in their roles, while the youngest ones “get away with everything”.

  7. Societal Emotional Process: This is an interesting concept that connects family behaviors and emotions with overarching society. For example, large-scale societal anxiety and instability (during periods of war or natural disaster, for example) will have an effect on a family’s emotional health.

  8. Nuclear Family Emotional Process: Nuclear families experience issues in four areas: partner conflict, problematic behaviors in one partner, emotional distance, and impaired functionality in children. These issues are primarily seen as a result of the family emotional system rather than individual belief systems.


Getting Family Therapy in Calgary

The healing journey for you and your family is truly one of a kind, and it should revolve around what feels right for your situation. Here at Flourish Psychological Services, we encourage you to connect, grow, and – well, flourish, all under the expert guidance of our therapists.


So, whether you're thinking about starting with one-on-one individual therapy sessions or you’re ready to drop in with your whole family for some much-needed emotional support, we've got your back. Reach out today and we’ll be here to empower you to live your healthiest, happiest life – in the best way possible for you!

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