Family Therapy for Adults

February 29, 2024

A friend recently asked me, ‘does family therapy work for adults?” I laughed, as I regularly work with adult families. However, that question made me realize that many people aren’t aware it’s an option. The short answer is yes, it’s a viable option.

Adult Family Therapy can offer significant help to families facing various challenges, including:

  • Family estrangement: When one family member begins to stop communicating with the family as a whole or with another member.
  • Cultural/religious differences: Between parents and children, among siblings, or even with in-laws or grandparents.
  • Financial difficulties: Money often complicates relationships, especially when one family member is indebted to another, or when there are class differences within the family.
  • Physical/Mental illness: This can drain the resources of the whole family.
  • Addressing past pain: Events from childhood or later can be sticking points, and family therapy can provide opportunities to revisit those moments in a supportive way.
  • Bringing awareness and change to patterns: Family members can get stuck in roles from their past and continue to act them out later in life. This often leads to recurring arguments.

What does Adult Family Therapy look like?

To be honest, it can vary greatly from therapist to therapist and from family to family. There has been a recent push for more inclusivity, meaning that families from some cultures may include the extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents) and even close friends (e.g., “chosen family” members). Sometimes it’s just a mom and daughter or two siblings. Sometimes the whole family is unable to attend, so therapy is focused on a sub-group of the family.

Addressing Dysfunction

One significant advantage of family therapy is that no one person is solely responsible for any dysfunction. The responsibility is evenly distributed among the family members. So, for example, if only one member of the family has a mental illness and that’s why they’ve sought therapy, the responsibility for creating more family function is still shared.

Speaking Authentically

Often, a goal of family therapy is to speak authentically with other members of the family in a safe environment. An inability to communicate honestly and effectively is a common issue among adult families. Many of the tools learned in therapy can then be applied to daily interactions.

Diverse Goals

The beginning of family therapy may involve setting goals, and not everyone will be there for the same reasons. It can be enlightening to understand the reasons behind differing goals, even if it’s challenging to find one singular goal to strive towards.

Role of the Therapist

It’s important to note that it’s not the therapist’s responsibility to keep a family together. Sometimes the therapist simply helps a family cope with the grief that may arise from not being able to meet individual goals. This, too, strengthens the family unit.

In my experience, family therapy isn’t a quick fix. It’s a process meant to delve deep, understand, and begin to change the roots of issues that may have originated more than one generation ago. That being said, it can be an incredibly rewarding experience filled with joy and laughter.

mike_rothschild therapist austin counselor
Written By:
Mike Rothschild, LPC, Licensed Professional Counselor, NCC, National Certified Counselor


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