Couple and Family Therapy

Couple and family therapy, also called relationship and family counselling, is a method used in psychotherapy in order to improve the systems of interaction in close social relations. Its origins as a professional movement can be traced back to the beginnings of the 20th century when marriage counselling and child guidance came into being in Western societies. Issues connected to interpersonal conflict and power relations, as well as differences in values and ethics are common themes in couple and family therapy.

The techniques used in family therapy are drawn from counseling and other areas such as communication theory, psychotherapy, relationship education, systemic coaching, reality theory or attachment-focused family therapy. The average number of sessions is estimated between 5 and 20, although this of course depends on the specific situation. In these sessions, the therapist invites several family members in order to talk to them at the same time. This makes it possible for the therapist to observe interaction patterns apparent in the family. A special aspect of family therapy is its perspective and its analytical framework: Therapists focus on they way people interact rather than on how they feel. Moreover, they intend to solve problems instead of trying to find their cause.

The number of sessions necessary in couple therapy depend highly on the situation: There is the possibility of short term counselling, which involves only about 3 sessions, and a longer couple therapy with up to 24 sessions. When relationships start deteriorating, this is either caused by external factors like changes in income or health, or it may be triggered by so-called negative interaction cycles fuelled by arrogance or jealousy. In couple therapy, solving such misunderstandings is primarily achieved by the focus on communication and active listening. Another potential form of therapy would be emotionally focused therapy which deals with emotions as the target and agent of change.

There are professional organisations for questions on couple and family therapy. In the United States, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and the American Family Therapy Academy were founded. The Association of Family Therapy in the United Kingdom, the European Family Therapy Association and the International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors can also be contacted.