Family therapy involves two or more people who are members of a family, sometimes many more than two members of a very extended family, who meet with a therapist. The assumption behind family therapy is that unproductive and even harmful patterns of interaction arise in families and that these can be changed by family therapy. Often family therapy is initiated by the parents when a child is showing signs of distress. While the goal is to help the child, the therapy involves all the members of the family. Sometimes three or even four generations of a family gather in the therapist’s office. Often the patterns of dysfunctional interactions seem to have been passed down in very complicated ways from one generation to the next and it is necessary to explore what the oldest people in the family remember learning, directly or indirectly, from their parents and grandparents.
Family therapy is usually symptom-focused. In that sense it is primarily seen as the first level of psychotherapy. Once the original problem or symptom has been resolved family therapy usually ends, although individuals and couples from the family sometimes choose to explore individual, couples, or group therapy.