Psychoanalytic Family Therapy in Clinical Practice


As a social community, the family in all civilizations has acted as an essential element of development because it is crucial to the stability and prosperity of society. Because it is the foundation of society’s stability and prosperity, the family has played a crucial role in development throughout history. In some cases, psychoanalytic treatment can address the family’s failure to carry out social duties to build the social unit. Depending on the complexity of the issue being investigated, this type of treatment is seen as a long-term option and may last for different periods of time.

The inability of the family to fulfill social functions requires the intervention and implementation of psychoanalytic therapy to strengthen the unit of society. The family’s failure to perform its social functions of reproduction and socialization has led to the depopulation and the deterioration of the upbringing of the young generation. In this case, there is a need for scientific understanding and analysis of the trends in social processes that contribute to strengthening the family. There is a prospect of development and approbation in the clinical practice of family psychoanalytic psychotherapy based on the psychoanalytic method.

Psychoanalytic Family Therapy Functions

Family psychotherapy is multifaceted and has important objectives to build a solid communal unit. It has a theoretical and methodological foundation that helps to distinguish between the various family disorders. It consequently creates the opportunity for a customized strategy and related care. Therefore, preparation is needed before family therapy to help the family group accept this unusual situation (Kam et al., 2018). Therefore, family psychotherapy is multifunctional and has critical goals to achieve a solid community unit. It has a theoretical and methodological basis that contributes to identifying the different types of family pathologies. It, in turn, opens up the possibility of an individual approach and a corresponding treatment.

Family therapists imagined a family group mental apparatus that had its ancient roots in each person’s psychic deposits and the psychic components of their transgenerational inheritance. As a result of their union, the family group’s members shared an unconscious psychic substrate that produced a unique sensation of belonging with “a feeling of familiarity” that was unmatched by anything else (Benghozi, 2022). Using this mental foundation as a foundation, individual imaginations were expressed. The family psychological apparatus (FPA) is a competing co-construction composed of components from each family member’s internal emotion, social group, and common psyche (Carbee, 2020). As a category, the FPA covers the sexual aspect of the roles present in family interactions.

Nonetheless, the therapist’s suggested framework is used to actualize the family group’s psychic organization. The therapist guarantees psychological safety by enabling the therapeutic process to be deployed through the necessary free verbalization, the stability of temporal-spatial settings, the length of the treatment is not predetermined, and the abstinence rule. Therapists pay close attention to group dynamics based on transference and countertransference in their observations and treatments (Schirmer & Michailakis, 2019). The analytical material explains the processes of the interplay between intrapsychic and interpsychic phenomena in the family, as well as the causes of the development of different forms of family disorder (Benghozi, 2022). Therefore, the primary objective of therapy is to address the paradoxical narcissism-ant-narcissism dichotomy that permeates every subject from birth and is a fundamental part of the family psychological apparatus. This goal goes beyond simply treating the designated patient’s symptoms. The aim is to develop the group tension, which is always evident within the family group, to a sufficient degree so that it may access the oedipal conflict and provide autonomy for the individual psyche.

Among psychotherapy, tools are the analysis and correction of interpersonal relations, personality traits, and psychological defenses of all family members, prevention of family conflicts, and rehabilitation of the family. The foundation of psychoanalytic family therapy is the observation that, due to the hierarchy of generations and the division of duties within any group that identifies as a family in a particular culture, there is an objective dependency between the subjects that make up the group. Therefore, therapists were interested in the pathogenic families of certain patients due to treatment challenges; the family and the person with a mental health condition were investigated as a whole, and their unique functioning styles were emphasized (Le Bouille, 2020). Researchers at Stanford characterized the types of communication in the families of people with schizophrenia in the 1950s under the influence of systems theory (Schirmer & Michailakis, 2019). This led to the development of a huge field of study that was later utilized in systematic family treatments. The examination and improvement of interpersonal relationships, personality features, and psychological barriers of every family member, as well as the avoidance of family disputes, are all psychotherapy techniques.

Numerous specialized tests were carried out by psychoanalysts on family groupings where members shared a life in the past and the present. To explain the presence of psychological elements connected to this apparatus’ capacity to channel and convert psychic energy, Freud proposed the idea of a psychic apparatus. Since psychoanalytic family therapy is theoretically and methodologically based on Freud’s theory of drives, ego psychology, and object relations theory, therapy can address various issues (Benghozi, 2022). RenĂ© Kas built on this paradigm to create the idea of group psychic apparatus, which he characterized as an effective and transitory fiction—that of a psychic group supported by a mythical group, which is attempting to become real via the formation of a concrete group through different characteristics.

Psychoanalytic Family Therapy Characteristics

The foundation of psychoanalytic family therapy is the observation that any group that identifies as a family in a particular culture has an objective dependency between the members because of the hierarchy of generations and the division of roles. Due to the challenges associated with treating some patients, therapists started to become interested in the families of these individuals, who were thought to be pathogenic; the family as a whole was evaluated, and their unique modes of functioning were highlighted (Le Bouille, 2020). This family group’s mental organization is realized in therapy within the framework the therapist suggests. By allowing the therapeutic process to develop through the necessary free verbalization, the stability of spatiotemporal conditions, and the fact that the length of treatment is not predetermined, the therapist offers a form of mental security (Le Bouille, 2020). This became the key characteristic of psychoanalytic family therapy.

Psychoanalytic family therapy is the method that often entails interpreting dynamic conflict as well as providing support for defenses and self-esteem. It aims to identify in 10 to 50 sessions the desire and resistance, transference, and countertransference phenomena that appear in the individual, among family members, and between the family and the psychoanalyst (Zhenlei & Scharff, 2021). The initial six to ten sessions and the first and second stages of work that allow for collecting useful data can be used to begin therapy (Zhenlei & Scharff, 2021). Depending on how deeply the issue is being explored, this type of therapy is thought to be a long-term option and can last for several months or even several years.

Interpretation, reconstruction, uncovering, and the amplification of transference and its interpretation are crucial characteristics, just as they are in psychoanalysis for people for whom the technique is being utilized as modified psychoanalysis. The family’s request is given consideration, and the job is completed as a result, as the family often applies during a serious crisis. Compared to individual therapy, there is more widespread and overt resistance within the family. Analysis of resistance and transference, which links the past and present, are goals of all psychoanalytic treatments (Yu, 2019). The problem demands 10 to 50 sessions that assess the severity of the issue, start immediately addressing it, and improve the family. The approach may be long-term, open-ended, limited in scope, and relatively short (Yu, 2019). It can be made shorter using strategies including a psychodynamic emphasis, a predetermined time limit, therapist activity, and goal setting. Overall, classical psychoanalytic family therapy entails the characteristics of psychoanalytic psychotherapy and short-term psychotherapy.

Modern Family Therapy

Modern family therapy shifts from the classical approach by heavily relying on system therapy. Within these settings, real relationship issues surface from psychoanalysis to family therapy, while irrational and unconscious processes are ignored. Modern family problems are discordant, pathological, or abnormal relationships caused by one member’s unmet basic needs (Colapinto, 2019). For the group to achieve harmony and mutual understanding, maturity, and day-to-day functioning, the solution to this problem necessitates additional efforts from all of the group’s members. Solving such a problem requires additional efforts on the part of each member and the whole group on the way to achieving harmony and mutual understanding, becoming mature, and everyday life functioning. In these circumstances, systems theory helps to understand the issue from various angles in this way. Couples seeking a specialist’s assistance learn to communicate and resolve real, not imagined, issues (Le Bouille, 2020). It advances the tie between family members and helps to enhance the family unit.

Systems theory takes into account not only the system as a whole but also the many organizational levels. It is a collection of definitions, presumptions, and assertions that are related to one another and deal with reality as a unified hierarchy of matter and energy groups. A hypothesis useful to that level and treatments tailored to that level is the results of observations at one level. A change in level does not necessarily indicate an increase or decrease in difficulty. Being aware of interactions with levels below and above is fascinating and motivating at each level.

This approach is sometimes criticized and questioned by family therapy scholars. For a number of reasons, sometimes involving abuse, victimization, and power, some systems therapists reject the systems perspective (Kam et al., 2018). However, this criticism is essentially founded on an outdated and limited understanding of linear systems theory. Many of the criticisms are already addressed by a deeper comprehension of these theories of linear systems and systemic levels of the organization, but this does not explain the change (Kam et al., 2018). For the latter, systems therapy in general and family therapy, in particular, requires a theory of how systems change. The best tools for comprehending change, chaos, unpredictability, and adaptability are contemporary dynamical systems and chaos theory (Carbee, 2020). Interactions like rigidity versus flexibility can be used to diagnose family intention across the range. Modern family therapy does not operate directly inside a preexisting framework or sequential system. Instead, it views the client as a distinct member of the family who aspires to be acknowledged. This comprises layering and disarray that can navigate somewhat chaotic surroundings and are somewhat regulated by levels of systems theory or other structures.


Concluding, it can be seen that depending on how deeply the issue is being investigated, family therapy is considered a long-term option and may last for weeks, months, or even years. Although personal psychoanalysis is required for family therapist training, the value of gaining psychoanalytic experience with one’s own family is still up for question. The most effective way to tackle family problems is to develop a relationship with a therapist. Marital, parental, and personal challenges are seen in family psychotherapy as coping mechanisms to manage, mend, and relive previous discordant connections in the parenting family. Early childhood experiences are frequently examined in psychoanalytic treatment to determine if they had any lasting effects on the person or may have contributed to their current problems. Therapists examine the factors that ensure the persistence of the problem, supported by existing family interactions. They, therefore, seek to identify the behavior that reinforces the problem.


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Carbee, V. A. (2020). Future problem solvers leadership and self-identity examined: An interpretative phenomenological analysis. American College of Education.

Colapinto, J. (2019). Structural family therapy. Encyclopedia of the Couple and Family Therapy, 2820-2828. Springer, Cham

Kam, J. A., PĂ©rez Torres, D., & Steuber Fazio, K. (2018). Identifying individual-and family-level coping strategies as sources of resilience and thriving for undocumented youth of Mexican origin. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 46(5), 641-664.

Le Bouille, J. (2020). Diagnostic approach and care process in psychoanalytic family therapy: What kind of possible link? Le Divan familial, 45(2), 123-133.

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Yu, F. (2019). Scaling questions in couple and family therapy. Encyclopedia of Couple and Family, 49(1), Therapy, 2560–2562.

Zhenlei, L., & Scharff, J. S. (2021). A Chinese family: teaching and learning in a clinical case conference. Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy in China, 4(1), 123-133.

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