What it is
Couples therapy (also known as family or marriage therapy) focuses on the family as a system and addresses unhealthy patterns of behavior between family members. This concept forms the core of multiple different subtypes such as emotionally focused, cognitive-behavioral, systemic, integrative, and functional family therapy.
Who needs it
Typically, a single family member (the primary patient) will seek help with a psychiatrist for a mental health issue. The doctor will assess whether the condition is suited to family therapy (depending on how much the main problem involves other members of the family) and refer the family to an appropriately qualified therapist.
How it works
Family therapy supports the treatment of the primary patient’s disorder by involving the spouse and other family members to varying degrees. The degree to which the therapy focuses on the relationship itself depends on how intertwined the relationship difficulties are with the primary patient’s disorder. For example, couples therapy in which the primary patient is abusing drugs may address the relationship more than if the primary issue is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. By seeing the family as a system of interworking parts, family therapy identifies and addresses the poor relationship structures that perpetuate the main disorder.
Where to go
Family therapy is a specialized profession, requiring either a master’s degree, PhD, or postgraduate training. Interested patients should look for providers who are certified by the state and by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy.
What to expect
Studies looking at family therapy show that it tends to be at least as effective as individual therapy. Furthermore, psychiatric patients consistently suffer more in the long run when there are accompanying relationship issues and this therapy addresses that gap.
What could happen
When seeking a therapist, make sure to find one who is an official Marriage and Family Therapist. Some may offer “couples counseling”, but you need to make sure they have the right training to handle a troubled family system. Unseasoned advice may be a waste of time and energy.