Family therapy

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Family therapy is a psychological procedure for families in which the family as a social system is at the center of the psychological intervention. If family therapy has healing purposes , it is a form of group psychotherapy . Non-medical family therapy is also called family counseling .

Family therapy seeks to make positive changes in relationships among members of families. It is emphasized that the quality of communication between family members and the development of understanding and empathy for one another is an essential factor for the functioning of the family system ( triad ) and the well-being of family members. The most diverse schools of family therapy share the basic assumption that the involvement of the family in the therapy process also increases the effectiveness of the therapy when treating mental disorders. In palliative medicine that treats both the patient and his / her social environment , family therapeutic interventions can be necessary, especially when the family is overburdened (with breakdown in communication, emotional inhibitions, role conflicts and psychiatric morbidities) and take place as part of a coping-oriented approach .

Purely advisory approaches mostly focus on activating and strengthening the family's resources, which are available to independently solve family problems. The advisors give tips and suggestions and try to work out solutions and options for action together with the family.

Family therapy providers are psychotherapists, psychologists and specialists from other social science disciplines. Family counseling is also offered by institutional providers. On the basis of the Child and Youth Welfare Act , “educational counseling centers” have been set up in Germany. “Marriage, family and life counseling centers” also offer family counseling. In Austria and Switzerland it behaves accordingly on a different legal basis.

Family therapeutic directions

Since the 1970s and 1980s, the perspectives of cybernetics and systems theory have had a strong influence on all directions of family therapy, so that in modern forms of family therapy the family is always understood as a system in which the interactions between members of the family are of great importance Meaning are.


Assuming that mental illnesses are caused by family relationship structures, also going back to earlier generations, both the interactions between family members and the intrapsychic defense structures of the individual family members are analyzed in psychoanalytically oriented family therapy. As in psychoanalysis and in psychotherapy based on depth psychology , unconscious dysfunctional psychological processes are to be uncovered. Nathan Ackerman , James Framo , Iván Böszörményi-Nagy , and in German-speaking countries Horst-Eberhard Richter , Helm Stierlin , and Jürg Willi are considered to be outstanding representatives of this direction .


Some schools of family therapy are heavily influenced by elements of humanistic psychology . In these schools, in contrast to psychoanalytically oriented family therapy, the focus is on experiencing the here and now. Many family therapy methods have been developed in this tradition. These include family reconstruction , working with metaphors , meditation , trance induction and family sculptures . The idea of ​​circularity and the circular questions , the paradoxical prescriptions , and family rituals were also developed here. Virginia Satir is the main representative and founder of this trend . She worked in the Palo Alto Group with William F. Fry , Jay Haley , Don D. Jackson , Paul Watzlawick and John Weakland .

In recent years, person-centered family therapy and counseling has developed in the German-speaking area based on the person-centered approach of Carl Rogers (conversation psychotherapy) (Hollick, Lieb, Renger, Ziebertz 2018). Based on US-American person-centered family therapists (Gaylin, O'Leary) or humanistic family therapists (V. Satir), person-centered family therapy assumes that the therapeutic attitude, supported by unconditional appreciation, empathic understanding and congruence, affects every single member of the family There is space to open up to the other family members and to show oneself with the individual incongruences. As in the theory of Carl Rogers, the approach is based on the assumption of a (family) tendency to actualize, that is, the assumption that every family has a tendency to develop itself further and to cope with the given internal and external requirements .

In the theoretical approach, person-centered family therapy is closely linked to person-centered systems theory ( Kriz ) and also expands its concept against the background of attachment theory and Fonagy's concept of mentalization.


Many of the systemic family therapy methods taught today are based on psychoanalytic and humanistic approaches. Systemic family therapy or systemic therapy is also used in areas outside of the family, such as group therapy , team development and organizational counseling. Many of the methods developed within the framework of systemic therapy have also been modified for their applicability in individual therapy and in coaching . Even family classes follow this approach.

Structural family therapy
In structural family therapy , as developed by Salvador Minuchin , special emphasis is placed on structures (generations, e.g. parents and children) and boundaries (e.g. between generations). The goal is clear structures and boundaries.
Milanese model
The Milan model of the group around the child analyst Mara Selvini Palazzoli developed special family therapy settings in order to specifically change the interaction patterns of the family. The Milan model still has a great influence on family therapy work today.
Strategic approach
The strategic approach to family therapy was initiated by the anthropologist Gregory Bateson at the Mental Research Institute (MRI) in Palo-Alto. The main idea here was to interrupt dysfunctional problem-solving strategies and actively try out alternative strategies for action. The model of problem-oriented strategic short therapy has its origin here.
Constructivist approach
The latest development in systemic family therapy has been heavily influenced by Ernst von Glasersfeld's philosophy of radical constructivism . From the constructivist approach, Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg developed the solution-oriented short therapy . Also, the narrative approach of Harry Goolishian founded in the constructivism and emphasizes the importance of language in the construction of an experienced reality.

Communication psychology

Communication psychological methods and training are mostly accompanying family therapy, but sometimes also central . In particular, non-violent communication according to Rosenberg is used. Also playing maieutic concepts and theories of de-escalation and conflict management role.

See also


  • Hanko Bommert, Thomas Henning & Dieter Wälte: Indication for family therapy . Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1990, ISBN 3-17-011035-7
  • Hartwig Hansen: A to Z of the interventions in couple and family therapy. 4th edition. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2014, ISBN 978-3-608-89037-2 .
  • Ernst Richard Petzold: Psychotherapeutic medicine. Psychoanalysis - Psychosomatics - Psychotherapy. A guide for clinic and practice . Ed .: Hans Henning Studt. De Gruyter, Berlin 1999, ISBN 978-3-11-014498-7 ( - Chapter 4.7: Family Therapy , p. 328 ff .; Chapter 4.8: Family Therapy in Children and Adolescents , p. 332 ff .;) .
  • Michael Wirsching: Couple and family therapy . Ed .: Peter Scheib. Springer, Berlin 2002, ISBN 978-3-540-41857-3 ( - Chapter 1: From family therapy to the systemic perspective , p. 7 ff .; Chapter 6.1: The development of family therapy concepts in German-speaking countries , p . 79 ff .;).
  • Michael B. Buchholz: The unconscious family. Textbook of Psychoanalytic Family Therapy. 2nd Edition. Klett-Cotta, Munich 1995, ISBN 978-3-608-89645-9 .
  • Ulrike Hollick, Maria Lieb, Andreas Renger, Torsten Ziebertz: Person-centered family therapy and counseling. Reinhardt Munich 2018
  • Ulrike Hollick: On the concept of the family update tendency. Counseling psychotherapy and person-centered counseling 3/17, 151–153

Web links

Commons : Family Therapy  - Collection of Pictures, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. Michael Wirsching: Couple and Family Therapy: Basics, Methods, Goals. CH Beck, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-50861-8 .
  2. ^ Gerhard Strittmatter: Inclusion of the family in the care of the sick and accompanying family therapy. In: Eberhard Aulbert, Friedemann Nauck, Lukas Radbruch (eds.): Textbook of palliative medicine. 2012, pp. 1106–1138, in particular pp. 1125 ff.
  3. ^ Herbert Goldenberg, Irene Goldenberg et al .: Family Therapy: An Overview. Thomson Brooks, Belmont 2008, ISBN 978-0-495-09759-4 .