Understanding Family Therapy for Troubled Teens

An Effective Way to Help the Whole Family

Family in counselling session, close-up
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In dealing with a troubled teen, parents may disagree about what is causing the problems or how to respond. Siblings often resent the increased focus on the teen who's having issues. Family therapy is proven to be an effective way to help a troubled teen and their family.

Why Choose Family Therapy?

Our families and their individual dynamics have a profound and lifelong impact on us. They are like their whole own social system, and certainly, along with peers, the most important influence.

Involving the entire family in therapy for a troubled teenager can help deal with issues between family members, show the family how to relate to and support the teen, help each family member learn to change unhealthy reactions to each other and help everyone learn effective communication skills. Research continues to clearly show that family therapy is an effective treatment and that it has the power to quickly identify problematic areas.

Finding a Family Therapist

  • Get specific therapist referrals from informed sources, including friends who've participated in family therapy, health care professionals, insurance companies, clergy, employee assistance programs​ and/or professional organizations
  • Make sure the therapist has specialized training in family therapy, and specifically in helping teens, such as a licensed clinical social worker or marriage and family therapist. 
  • For family therapy to be effective, the therapist needs to be a good fit with the family, someone who is perceived as knowledgeable, helpful and able to engage your teen to talk openly. If this is not the case, ask the therapist for referrals to other therapists who may be a better fit.  

    Getting Family Members to Agree to Participate

    Explain to all family members that their participation is needed in order to help and support your teen. Provide reassurance that therapy will take place in a safe environment.  Ask each family member to commit to participating in an initial session, after which each person can decide whether to continue.

    A good therapist will work with all family members in the first session to gain their cooperation and continued participation.

    Preparing for the First Session

    Be prepared to answer the primary question that will be asked by the therapist, “What do you want to change?” Talk to other family members, especially your teenager, about their answers to this question as well.

    You also might want to make notes about when your teens' troubling behavior started and any contributing factors you are aware of. Make a list of questions for the therapist such as:

    • What is your approach to working with families and why does it work?
    • How long will it take to start seeing changes?
    • What kind of success rate do you have?
    • What can each of us do to help make this a positive experience? 

    Studies have shown that therapy is especially effective when the therapist uses a combination of approaches from different schools of psychotherapy based on the family's individual needs rather than just focusing on one approach.

    How Long Will Therapy Take?

    Typically, family therapy lasts two to six months, but it depends on each individual family's needs.

    Tougher cases may take longer. 

    Sources:

    "Treatment of Adolescents with Substance Abuse Disorders Chapter 6-Family Therapy." National Center for Biotechnology Information (2014).

    "Family Therapy with a Depressed Adolescent." Psychiatry, 6 (1).National Center for Biotechnology Information, (January 2009), 

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