Family therapy, also referred to as couple and family therapy, marriage and family therapy, family systems therapy, and family counselling, is a branch of psychotherapy that works with families and couples in intimate relationships to nurture change and development. It tends to view change in terms of the systems of interaction between family members. It emphasizes family relationships as an important factor in psychological health.

Who attends the sessions?

In the early years of family therapy, there were only parents and children attending sessions. However, over time, family therapy has changed with defining family as strongly supportive, love-term roles, and relationships between people who may or may not be related by blood or marriage.

Counselling techniques used in family therapy may include:

  • Structural therapy: identifies and reorders the organization of the family system.
  • Strategic therapy: looks at patterns of interactions between family members.
  • Systemic/Milan therapy: focuses on belief systems.
  • Narrative therapy: restoring of dominant problem-saturated narrative, emphasis on context, and separation of the problem from the person. A guiding idea is that the person is not the problem, but the problem is the problem.
  • Transgenerational therapy: unpacks the transgenerational transmission of unhelpful patterns of belief and behaviour.
  • Communication skill-building techniques: poor communication is often a major factor in unhealthy family functioning. For example, your therapist may teach you how to “fight fair”, to listen, and may help with how to express yourself.
  • Psychoeducation: is an evidence-based therapeutic intervention for clients and their loved ones that provides information and support to better understand and cope with mental illness.
  • Psychotherapy: helps individuals with emotional and mental challenges using a variety of techniques.
  • Relationship counselling: also known as couples therapy aims to improve the relationship and resolve conflicts.
  • Relationship education: can include premarital education, including tools to communicate more effectively with your partner.
  • Systemic coaching: states that if one member of the family system can change, so can another.
  • Systems theory: states that changing one part of the system usually affects other parts of the whole system with predictable behaviour.
  • Reframing: often a family member’s negative behaviour can be reframed into something positive. For example, a mother who asks her son a lot of questions which upsets him and makes him feel like he is not trusted can be reframed as she is caring and concerned for him.
  • Reality therapy: based on the idea that our most important need is to be loved, to feel that we belong, and that all other basic needs can be satisfied only by building strong connections with others.
  • The genogram: through the use of symbols, the therapist records information about the family history going back usually three generations. It provides a great amount of insight for the therapist and for the family members as you are able to watch for family patterns.

How many sessions are required?

This depends on the therapists’ recommendations and the family’s situation. On average, clients attend six to nine sessions and they are 50 minutes in length.

If you are interested in learning more about family therapy, contact our Client Relations team at 780-482-6215.


Blog post by Vanessa Amundson, Volunteer.


Becvar, D.S., & Becvar, R.J. (2008). Family therapy: A systemic integration. 7th ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Psychology Today. Reality Therapy. (2022).

Szapocznik, José; Schwartz, Seth J.; Muir, Joan A.; Brown, C. Hendricks (June 2012). “Brief Strategic Family Therapy: An Intervention to Reduce Adolescent Risk Behavior”Couple & Family Psychology.