All couples and families have problems and disagreements from time to time. However, ongoing issues that aren’t resolved can put a lot of strain on marital or family relationships. These might occur due to behavioral or clinical problems, financial stress, or other reasons. In these situations, seeking professional help can provide couples or families with the right guidance and support. Marriage and family therapy offers a way to work through issues and find effective solutions with the help of trained and licensed professionals.

What Is Marriage and Family Therapy?

Marriage and family therapy is solution-focused psychotherapy that couples or families participate in as a way to resolve differences or problems. This type of therapy is typically brief and involves working toward achieving specific goals to improve relationships. This treatment approach often includes a combination of individual therapy sessions and couple or family therapy sessions.

Differences Between Individual Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy

Individual counseling focuses on helping individuals handle personal issues or struggles. While these might include problems with family members or a spouse, the main goal of this type of counseling is to help individuals improve their emotional and mental health and well-being.

Marriage and family therapy focuses on helping couples or families work through issues or struggles that affect their relationships. This involves helping spouses or parents and children understand how marital or family issues affect everyone in these relationships. This type of therapy helps families and couples work on resolving issues and improving communication in order to create healthier relationships.

Reasons to Consider Marriage and Family Therapy

When families or couples are struggling, relationships can deteriorate. This can have a negative impact on each spouse or family member’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Turning to a marriage and family therapist for guidance can help couples and families improve their well-being and the quality of their relationship.

When should families or couples think about marriage and family therapy? Some signs that it might be time to explore this kind of treatment include:

  • Recurring issues, such as ongoing conflicts between spouses or parents and children
  • Communication problems
  • Specific issues, such as financial problems

Keep in mind that family and marriage therapists are also able to help when a spouse or family member has a mental health problem that is affecting the marriage or family as a whole. Some of these conditions include depression, anxiety, adult schizophrenia, and conduct disorders in children. Marriage and family therapists can help in situations where a family member or spouse is struggling with substance abuse, such as alcoholism. In severe cases, spouses or family members might participate in marriage and family therapy, while the spouse or family member with an addiction also undergoes residential treatment.

Family in therapy session

Benefits of Marriage and Family Therapy

Marriage and family therapy treats issues or problems with a more holistic approach. This type of therapy offers several benefits for spouses and families, including:

  • Learning better ways to communicate
  • Understanding how to set boundaries and respect others’ boundaries
  • Gaining a deeper understanding of relationship dynamics
  • Learning to solve problems more effectively
  • Reducing conflict and learning to resolve conflict in healthy ways
  • Building trust between spouses or family members

Effectiveness of Marriage and Family Therapy

How effective is marriage and family therapy? According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), nearly 90% of those who go through this treatment have improved emotional health afterwards. For children who participate in family therapy, just over 73% have improved behavior after treatment, as well as improved academic performance and social interactions with other children.

Choosing a Marriage and Family Therapist

For those who decide to go through marriage and family therapy, choosing the right therapist is important. Healthcare providers, friends and family members, mental health agencies, and other organizations can provide referrals or recommendations. Couples and families should make sure the therapist they choose is experienced and qualified to provide the help they need. Keep in mind that the qualifications to become a marriage and family therapist include a master’s degree, doctoral degree, or post-graduate clinical training, along with licensing. All U.S. states require marriage and family therapists to have proper licensing.

What to Expect from Marriage and Family Therapy

Marriage and family therapy usually isn’t done on a long-term basis. Instead, this type of treatment includes an average of 12 sessions overall. Each session is generally an hour or less. During these therapy sessions, couples and families can expect to take a close look at how to solve problems and communicate more effectively. They’ll also learn how to recognize sources of conflict in their lives and how to approach these situations. Couples and families can expect to learn more about their family or marital roles during therapy as well.

Child in therapy

Techniques Used in Marriage and Family Therapy

Several techniques can be used to help couples or families achieve their goals in therapy. Examples include narrative family therapy, psychoeducation, and family systems therapy. Narrative family therapy involves having family members talk about how the issues or struggles they face within the family affect them. This uses a storytelling approach that can make it easier for family members to relate to or understand each other better. Psychoeducation involves helping spouses or family members understand the mental health problems or conditions that their loved one has. Family systems therapy involves helping families identify their strengths as a family and use these to achieve their goals.

Remember That Therapy Takes Time and Effort

Making the decision to go through marriage and family therapy can be a big step in bringing couples or families closer. How long does this process take? That depends on several factors, including the kinds of issues spouses or families are experiencing and the type and severity of any conditions being treated. In general, AAMFT states that close to 65.6% of therapy clients complete cases within 20 sessions. Those going through marriage and family therapy should keep in mind that the time and effort it takes to go through it leads to healthier and happier relationships.

About the Author: Amanda Delgado

Amanda Delgado has been writing about therapy and other mental health topics for more than a decade. She has a bachelor's degree in Psychology and a strong interest in therapeutic approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.