Individual Versus Family Therapy


Researchers are consistently struggling to improve and prove the efficiency of numerous therapeutic interventions. In recent years, studies have attempted to explore the diverse methods that therapists employ in promoting behavioral, emotional, and psychological changes in clients (Ochs et al., 2020). The utilization of various family counseling practice frameworks that seek to build resilience, offer insights, or show empathy have been integrated into the therapeutic model. Individual and family therapy are widely used interventions, but manifest differences in their effectiveness as presented in the analysis.

How Systematic Therapy Differs From Individual Counseling

The basic differences between systemic approach and individual therapy lie in their structure. As the names suggest, individual therapy comprises a single client and one therapist leading the session while the systemic method entails a client system and multiple counselors (Ochs et al., 2020). In the framework of family psychoanalysis, a system refers to a family unit encompassing every individual, as well as the dynamic manner in which it functions and impacts each other. Individual therapy also differs from systems counseling since the latter challenges the counselor to offer the requisite therapeutic experience to many clients concurrently. Members belonging to a system might have dissimilar motivations and expectations for seeking therapy, which should be evaluated and addressed independently.

The Phases of the Family Therapy Process

While it is not probable to affirm that every family counseling follows a sequential and universal trend, the description in the paper offers a basic structure with broadly relevant information on family therapy steps. The conceptualization of the phases is interpretive, anchored in the construct and classifying of clinical material. The phases of family therapy interventions are outlined as follows: referral intake, assessment, treatment plan, and formal contract.

Referral Intake

In this stage, patients and their respective families are commonly referred to as certain family difficulty has been recognized and the therapist prepares the appropriate therapeutic situation based on the existing case. During intake, the therapist also reviews information entailed in the case file and the insights by the referring clinician, making the session last for about twenty minutes. The goal of the intake period is to concisely comprehend the family’s viewpoint of their challenge, motivation for seeking mediation, and evaluation of the appropriateness of family therapy (Varghese et al., 2020). After establishing the modality and nature of the suitable treatment, an informal contract is reached coupled with the requirements to be followed.

Family Assessment

The evaluation of various elements of family interactions and functioning typically takes around three sessions with the entire family and every sitting should last about 45 minutes. Different counselors may require to make assessments in unique ways, starting with the three-generation genogram then making follow-ups with other family functions and life cycle phases (Varghese et al., 2020). The goals established during the referral stage also offer the structure for directing the family to assign tasks linked to daily living.

Treatment Plan

After completing phases one and two, the family enters a new step of commitment, trust, and venture into the treatment work. The stage forms the bulk of the therapeutic job and based on the type of therapy applied, the session can last from a few strategic periods to long psychodynamic meetings (Varghese et al., 2020). The treatment’s plan key features include the ability and willingness of the family to enter into high-level communication and work. The step is devoted to analyzing, exploring, and changing behavior, as well as working to resolve symptoms.

Formal Contract

It is the final phase of treatment and the stage can be completed in a few sessions. The primary objective of the counseling is also evaluated with the family and the attained goals are communicated, as well as identifying emerging patterns (Varghese et al., 2020). The therapist emphasizes the new trends and cautions the family on the need to work collaboratively to maintain such attained feat. In this stage, the therapist also negotiates fresh goals, new interactions, or tasks that the family should perform in the next upcoming months.

How Systems Theory Affects the Family Therapy Process

Systems theory is a concept that views family structure as an emotional unit where members are deeply emotionally attached. Developed by Murray Bowen, the model depicts family relations systems that exhibit interlocking notions of behavior and familial development (Ochs et al., 2020). The theory states that even in a scenario where families are extremely disconnected, they can still be emotionally linked. While the extent of interdependence may differ between various families based on emotions or unique family relations, all members have some degree of relations. Bowen’s systems theory has profound impacts on family therapy interventions. The model recognizes that irrespective of how emotional the members might be, they need to work collaboratively and keep low-levels of anxiety.

Role of Constructivism in Family Therapy

Constructivism, the theoretical concept which forms the basis of constructivist therapy, posits that a person’s sense of realism and the meaning established in life as a result of experience should be built rather than discovered. From this perspective, experience plays a critical role in the manner individuals understand and views the world (Reiter & Chenail, 2017). Constructivism emphasizes active involvement of seeking counseling as they work to establish change, making individuals become ambassadors of their transformation.

In family therapy, the theory has a significant contribution in effecting the desired change. Constructivism views the individual seeking treatment as a champion of change. Since people incline to make meaning from events, this results in the rise of trends capable of impacting behaviors, thoughts, and emotions (Reiter & Chenail, 2017). Therefore, constructivist therapists, acting as change facilitators instead of leaders, can assist such persons seeking treatment to distinguish these tendencies and break them to establish change.

Moreover, constructivist therapists who mostly believe in resiliency coupled with human capability for self-reorganization usually focus on how an individual has applied life experiences concerning the prevailing circumstances. The therapists can work closely with the individual in treatment to form a chain of events to uncover how these patterns of behavior, emotion, and thought to impact an individual life (Reiter & Chenail, 2017). Constructivism practitioners can use techniques like sensory awareness, guided imagery, and journaling to advance treatment plans.

The Importance of the Therapist Understanding How Families Function

Therapists have a significant role in leading the healing process of troublesome members and should therefore have key insights into the workings of a family system. Therapists also help to clarify fights by dissolving misunderstandings, confusions, and barriers in members seeking treatment, hence, a deep understanding of the structure will help in bringing members to a mutual understanding (Ochs et al., 2020). Moreover, therapists serve as the personal agents of reality testing for the conflicting family and can only discharge such mandates effectively when they understand the functions of the family system.


In conclusion, individual and family therapy are widely used interventions, though they manifest differences in their success. Family therapy is seen as an organized type of psychotherapy that aims to lower conflict and distress by enhancing the interactions among family members. It forms a robust counseling technique for assisting troubled family members to change and have harmonious coexistence between them. Systemic counseling approaches are just as common a therapeutic intervention as individual psychotherapy sessions.


Ochs, M., Borcsa, M., & Schweitzer, J. (2020). Systemic research in individual, couple, and family therapy and counseling. Springer Nature.

Reiter, M. D., & Chenail, R.J. (2017). Constructivist, critical, and integrative approaches to couples counseling. Taylor & Francis.

Varghese, M., Kirpekar, V., & Loganathan, S. (2020). Family interventions: Basic principles and techniques. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 62(2), 192-200. Web.

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