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Getting the Right Kind of Help for You and Your Family

Family Therapy

When good advice has failed to make things better, it may be time to look into getting some family therapy. There are lots of reasons why otherwise good people can’t seem to cooperate enough with each other to be effective partners in child rearing or can’t seem to handle the demands of being parents. Maybe having a child has triggered old hurts and unresolved anger for a parent. Perhaps the parents can’t get past some of their own issues when confronted by a challenging child. Perhaps a parent is in too much personal pain to put aside his or her own needs at times for the sake of the larger family. Maybe there is covert or overt fighting going on between the adults that gets expressed through the kids. Multi-generational conflicts may be making it difficult to parent well. Divorced parents may still be fighting or be overwhelmed by the complications of sharing custody, blending families, and managing schedules. Additional issues like addiction, mental illness, chronic medical problems, and destructive secrets complicate things further. Where counseling might teach a skill like limit setting, therapy helps a parent take an honest look at why it is so difficult for him to set limits and what makes it hard to do what is needed to make family life run more smoothly.

Complex family conflicts are tough but not impossible to resolve. However, such issues probably won’t be adequately addressed with a parent study group or visits to a counselor. Parent education isn’t intended to provide individualized in-depth psychotherapy. Parents who need therapy, not counseling, will often find ways to sabotage either themselves or each other if they manage to work with the counselor’s advice at all. They somehow can’t find the time or energy to do what a counselor advises or are so wrapped up in either blaming each other or defending themselves that they can’t focus on solving the problems at hand.

Like counselors, family therapists are familiar with child development and work with many, many different kinds of families. Family therapists listen respectfully and compassionately, help people recognize the internal and interpersonal conflicts that are getting in their way, and provide support for making change.

Family therapy is a specialized form of psychotherapy. It is provided by licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs), by licensed independent social workers (LICSWs), and by licensed doctoral level psychologists as well as psychiatrists who have specialized in family therapy.

Health insurance will often pay for at least some of the therapy sessions, depending on the license of the provider and the issues being addressed.

The Right Help at the Right Time

In real life, the distinctions among these alternative types of help are often not so clear. Often family therapy includes education as well as the advice and skill building of counseling. An experienced counselor will often help families gain insight into what is going on. And both parent education classes and counseling, although not intended to be therapy, can often be quite therapeutic. With the help of the professionals involved, and with good information gleaned from supportive family and friends, parents make the choices that work best for them at various points in the family’s life.

Making a successful family and raising children well are among the most difficult challenges of adult life. Needing help now and then is neither a character flaw nor an indication of personal failure. People who are help-seeking and who work to solve problems instead of avoiding them generally do better in life. For that reason, recognizing the need for help and getting it is itself an important skill to model for our children. Even more important, getting the right kind of help at the right time can substantially improve family life and sometimes rescue a family from falling apart.

Getting the Right Kind of Help for You and Your Family

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2020). Getting the Right Kind of Help for You and Your Family. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 30 Jul 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 30 Jul 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.