Therapy 101

Family Therapy Issues

Questions from our visitors and replies by
Family Therapist Corinne Scholtz MFT

The following questions were posted by our visitors (scroll to the bottom if you wish to post a question). Our contributing author and family therapist, Corinne Scholtz, has generously volunteered her time to respond to them. Test

Future of Family Counseling

What directions, if any is Family counseling moving in? What are some of the other applications of Family Therapy in other fields such as organizational Dynamics, or sports psychology?


Dear Devan, We need much more time to discuss the direction of family therapy! There are always changes and evolution in every field of thought.

Family therapy is a systems thinking approach. This means that instead of only focusing on the individual, you will see the bigger picture and pattern of relationship that all members of that group take part. This can be a valuable perspective when working with any set of relationships, including organizational dynamics. In fact, one of my professors teaching in the family therapy program is a business and organizational consultant.

Of course there are many programs that will complement a sports psychology degree. In terms of a family therapy or systems thinking degree, you could potentially take this and apply it in many ways. So what does sports psychology have to do with mental health? In any sport over 75% of performance is mental.

Mental factors influence and are influenced by participation and performance in sport, exercise, and physical activity. Mental factors are connected to emotional states and vice versa.

A professional or high performance athlete may seek aid from a therapist a sports psychologist to improve performance. In general, performance may be enhanced through the teaching of mental strategies that either refine the practices of effective performers or help ineffective performers overcome obstacles that prevent them from reaching their potential.

• Athletes at all levels seek help in dealing with the pressures of competition. Such pressures may stem from parental and/or coach expectations as well as the athlete's own expectations regarding performance. Family therapists are particularly trained to address family dynamics, rules and roles within one's family, communication, and expectation.

• To provide psychological assistance with injury rehabilitation. Victims of injuries may request assistance with adjusting to nonparticipant status, adhering to physical therapy, tolerating pain, or other issues. Family therapists are trained in meditation and hypnosis and can work with a variety of people who are living with temporary or chronic pain. There are coaches who have been known to use zen meditation techniques to help players to stay in the present moment and to increase concentration.

• The role of psychological factors in sports, exercise, and physical activity to individuals, groups, and organizations. We may, for example, assist with exercise adherence, communication and teamwork. Family therapists can use techniques and strategies in promoting communication and teamwork between players. All teams need to have a sense of cohesion and and togetherness to play competitively.

• Teaching participants specific mental, behavioral, psychosocial, and emotional control skills for sports, exercise, and physical activity contexts. They might, for example, focus on relaxation, concentration, or the use of imagery. Yoga, particularly hot yoga, has been found to increase flexibility and strength for athletes which then helps with injury prevention. For example, Dan Marino and many other football players have participated in yoga. Yoga is a holistic systems oriented approach dealing with the mind, body and spirit.

I have also included an article below that may be of interest to you. I encourage you to do as much research and reading as you can before making a decision to enroll in any graduate program. See what other people are doing in the field you are interested in. Perhaps you will discover a niche of your own.

Sincerely, Corinne

Uncommon sports psychology: Consultation using family therapy theory and techniques.

Authors: Toni Schindler Zimmermana; Howard Protinskyb


Coaches and athletes utilize sports psychology as a part of training and preparation for competition. A linear, individualistic epistemology is generally subscribed to by sports psychologists. Marriage and family therapists, with their systems epistemology, can apply their training to working with athletic teams. This article revisits an innovative approach to working with athletic teams from a systems perspective. It presents additional interventions, a focus group interview with a team (postconsultation), and general principles developed in working with several athletic teams using a family systems consultation approach.

Marriage issues involving mother-in-law

My husband and I have had communication problems since the beginning of our marriage, 10 years ago.  Recently, my husband's mother has passed away.  (She was very overprotective and overbearing until he got married at the age of 29. ) Our relationship has gone downhill even faster since. 

He just recently revealed to me he had an affair.  He has been engaging in self-destructive behaviour such as excessive drinking, smoking, and sabotaging our relationship further.  He expressed he wants to fix things, but doesn't understand his own behaviour.  He is seeing a marriage cousellor designated M. Div, OAMFT.  Is this the right person to see to resolve and explain these issues and provide a path to clarity and recovery?


Dear Gisella,

I am so sorry that it has taken me a month to respond to your question.  I think you are wise to ask these questions.  Know that many people who are in turbulent relationships are asking themselves the same things.   I have several ideas based upon the information that you have shared with us.

1. You write that the two of you have had communication problems since the beginning. Many people use this as a general statement but we would really have to look at how the two of you interact and discover areas for growth and adjustment. It seems to me that you may connect your communication problems to the relationship your husband had with his mother. It does sound as though the three of you have been engaged in a triangle for many years. I am wondering what her passing means for your husband? And what effect has this had on your relationship.

2. You provide a list of self-destructive behaviors occurring in the marriage. Of course you are intensely affected by these actions. How have you been responding?  Are you feeling depressed, anxious, angry, sad, etc??  When you are feeling these emotions, what are you doing to take care of yourself?

3. He wants to fix things. Do you?  What would a fixed relationship look like for you?

4. Finally, the crux of your question. My belief is that peace and clarity will be found as the individual and the people in his/her life both work on changing the relationship. This does not say that you are responsible for anyone's actions but your own! In terms of the 'right' person, this will be determined by the relationship that is formed with both you and your husband and the therapist. I do think it is really important for the therapist to work with you as a couple.

I notice that the therapist is a M. Div. This is someone who has a pronounced spiritual/religious study.  Crises can be the exact thing needed for personal and spiritual growth. Finding a higher power to believe in has changed thousands of lives.

In addition, there are many programs that are designed to guide people in gaining self-knowledge such as AA [Alcoholics Anonymous].   This may also be an option to explore along with the therapy.

I hope that these thoughts help you to sort things out.

Heart's love, Corinne

What's the best for our baby?

The baby, dad and i are not together. we seem not to be able to get along. what should we do for our baby's sake?


Hi Stephanie,

Really good question. Once a couple have a baby they are connected for life because of this little person. Regardless of the relationship between you and the baby's dad, you are both forever the parents to this little one. There are some who believe that a child growing up with parents who are not together will not necessarily influence the child in a negative way. The two most important things you can both do for your child is to create and maintain a healthy relationship between you and your child, as well as between child and father. Stable consistent positive contact with each parent and baby is most important. And, of course, the better relationship you and the father have will make life easier for your child.

You state in your question that you 'seem' to not be able to get along. This leads me to think that maybe there have been times when you have gotten along better. Or that perhaps you realize that having a baby is a transition for all and that things between you two may improve in the future. There are always key issues that will challenge every couple, especially when children are involved.

I suggest that parenting classes can be a great resource for new parents. They will introduce skills that perhaps you two can use.

One last thought, if you and the father do disagree often, get into arguments, and feel angry, the best thing you can do for your child is to make sure that they are not a witness to these behaviors. Children are highly attuned and sensitive and pick up on more than we realize. The interactions the baby is a part of now can affect relationship far into the future.

If you have other thoughts, questions, ideas after you have read this, please write to me. I am sure we can go into more detail with more information about your situation. Stay positive and know that this relationship can improve.


Ignored by my family

I would like to find out more about family therapy as I have a great deal of issues regarding my family and the dynamics of this family and really how I am absolutely ignored by said family.

Dear Dawn,

It sounds as though you really want relationships in your family to change. I, too, gravitated to family therapy because of events and relationships within my own family. I wanted answers to my questions!

A family therapist is someone who asks questions that reflect an understanding of systems. For example, instead of seeking to blame, uncover ‘unconscious’ dilemmas, or ‘fix’ someone, the family therapist will ask questions about the patterns within the family. How does this problem exist? What has the family already tried to solve the problem? How is the problem talked about?

Jay Haley, a founding member of family therapy once said, ‘you can never not be communicating’. Even through silence and distance, emotional interactions within the family are taking place.

Thing is, usually the person in the most pain or frustration is the one to reach out for help. Even if you were to begin therapy on your own, a family therapist will be skilled in bringing in your family relationships. Often times as we take steps to change ourselves, relationships around us will begin to change.

I hope this answered your question. You also asked about locating a family therapist. One way to do this is to visit the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists website, or AAMFT. This will provide you with a list of qualified and licensed family therapists in your area. Please let me know if you have other questions.

I congratulate you on taking the first step toward changing things for your family.


Are some families beyond the help of a family therapist?

How can a clinician determine when a family is beyond help by family therapy? (College question)

Thanks for writing Mary. I love that you have found the site and love your question. I'm wondering if you are writing a paper about this question, or if there is a class discussion going on?

Family therapists can and do provide therapy to a vast majority of individuals and families with various presenting problems. My first thought is what 'beyond help' means to you. This phrase is very subjective and could be based on many different things.

Second, as a clinician it is so important to be aware of how we are thinking about a client. What we believe is often what we will see. In the time during, and in-between, sessions what is it that you are saying to yourself?

Additionally, there is an ethical component to this question. If a clinician determines that they are not skilled enough in a particular area to assist a client then the client should definitely be referred to an appropriate therapist or resource.

For example, I would have limitations in my work at the present moment if I were to work with a child offender. That doesn't mean I couldn't, but maybe there is someone I know who is more versed and knowledgable in dealing with this population.

Finally, always seek supervision regardless of how many years you have been practicing. And read, read, read.

Try to get inside the minds of those who you are working with...

  • What is it like to be a member of this family?
  • Who is the most invested in the problem?
  • What is the experience like for them?
  • Who seems to be the least affected by the problem? Why is this?
  • What would the family look like if the 'problem' was solved?
  • How will THEY know when they don't need therapy anymore?
  • What do they say is the most helpful thing about the therapy?
  • What will the family look like to YOU when you reevaluate whether you believe they are 'beyond help'?
  • How have you come to envision this?

Honor that the family has decided to bring you into their lives, and remember that while you are responsible for providing the foundation for new conversations, showing up for your clients, and providing the best therapy you can, the family is responsible for what they do with what you offer.

I would love for you to follow-up about how this answer addresses your question and am interested to know what your classmates also have to offer.

With curiosity, Corinne

Should counselors express their own religious beliefs?

As a family and Marriage Counselor with strong religious beliefs on extra marital relations. Would you express those religious values in a session?


Dear Trin,

This is a great question and one that could take weeks to discuss. Therapists have developed various opinions on the value of self-disclosure during therapy and it's impact on the therapeutic relationship.

My personal philosophy on this is that a degree of therapist transparency is essential. If therapy is considered to be a collaborative relationship and conversation, I think that it is important for therapists to be clear about their own beliefs and philosophies within themselves while remaining open to honoring the beliefs others hold - expecially when they differ.

If I was a client seeking therapy, I would definitely want to know about the beliefs my therapist holds. Once I know I can decide if this is something I am comfortable with, or if I would feel more comfortable with someone more in line with my own beliefs. I base this on personal experience where I have been the client in a therapy that felt invasive and bullying because my beliefs were so different than that of my therapist.

I didn't arrive at that decision right away though. I went through weeks of feeling as though I was 'failing' at therapy. Once I realized this, I could make a clear decision about continuing that relationship.

There is nothing right or wrong with any beliefs that someone may hold. I think it's most important to be clear about these beliefs. In fact when we come up against a belief that doesn't feel right for us, it can be a valuable learning experience so we can discover what it is we do believe.

I would love to continue this conversation with you and others who are interested because I don't think there are any clear cut answers!

I suspect it would be meaningful to expand upon these thoughts which could help each of us and others to arrive at a philosophy that we can bring into therapy.

Hope to hear from you again, Corinne

I want to be a family therapist

This website is inspiring. I am very interested in becoming a family threrapist/relational thinker as I feel it is the foundation to which we lead our lives.

I have bachelor's degree in finance and have been a freelance bookeeper for over 10 yrs, however that is not my passion. Helping others is.

I work part-time with 3 children under 12, so going to school nwould be difficult. Would you recommend a home course tha you value or course to help me affirm my decison.


Dear Nancy,

I am delighted to hear that you are interested in relational thinking!! It is the foundation to which we live out our lives and an understanding of this can enrich and enhance the experiences that we have.

There are many ways to become introduced to relational thinking before jumping into a masters level family therapy program. You are absolutely on the right path to be considering researching more before investing time and money into a program. There are many, many books that are written from a relational point of view, as well as useful websites.

Many works that we would consider ‘spiritual’ are relational works, as they both emphasis the interconnectedness of systems and how to approach change and challenges from a place of understanding and non-judgment, rather than pathologizing and labeling.

I would recommend visiting the Family Therapy website. This is a great website to begin to gain an idea of the field.

Personally, the author who motivated me to study Family Therapy was Harville Hendrix. I took a course my senior year of college and loved everything that he was writing. You will find that he has several books available and I believe that one that I read was ‘Keeping the Love That You Find”.

Family therapists will also implement hypnosis, meditation, visualizations, and solution-focused thinking into their work. You may want to check out Douglas Flemons and Bill O’Hanlon’s work. You can google them on the internet.

I would also encourage you to visit the AAMFT website. This is the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy Professional Organization and would be the best place to research schools, programs, and perhaps online courses.

Well, Nancy, I hope this is enough to get you started! I look forward to hearing about the decision that you make!!



Are some families beyond help?

How do you determine when a family is beyond help?


Hi Resa,

I appreciate your question; here's a few thoughts in response.

As a therapist, I believe that it's not our job to decide that a family is ‘beyond help’. I imagine that if I were working with a family and began to think this way, I would be feeling frustrated and perhaps ineffective with that family and their progress.

However, as a therapist it's dangerous to begin thinking this way because it severely limits what we perceive and blinds us to possible alternatives.

If I felt this way as a therapist I would reevaluate the goals of the family. What are the goals of therapy for this family and does everyone agree on them? How do they feel so far about their progress in therapy, or lack thereof? Could it be that what you deem a failure could be another’s success?

Change is happening all the time and every family has strengths and resources. Significant change may be very small and easy to miss if we aren’t looking for it. The fact that this family continues to show up and participate in therapy says a lot.

You coud also use this as an opportunity to bring up your feelings on how the therapy process is going. They must find it helpful in some way, and you can work to build on this in the sessions. Asking them how you can be more helpful as their therapist puts the responsibility on the family to consider where it is they want to go and how they are going to use their time in therapy.

Many times we will see that while clients appear in our office wanting to change, they are also very ambivalent about changing. There is always great risk involved in changing but of also staying the same.

I consider it a general rule that if you feel you are working harder than the family then perhaps the family needs to reconsider their commitment to therapy. Communicating this is not admitting failure as a therapist but simply recognizing that somehow the therapy has become stuck and perhaps misaligned with their goals.

As therapists, we may have certain goals for the families we work with but in the end it is the family that must decide where it is they want to go.

I look forward to hearing from you to see if this was helpful!



Do family therapists deal with transference?

My husband and I went into family therapy with an experienced counselor about problems with our teenaged son, who turned out to have ADD and depression. Then I began to see the same therapist over some issues with my mother, who ended up becoming ill and dying during my time in therapy with him.

He identified some issues she had as "attachment" wounds, which led her to elect me as the "parental child." That made sense to me and helped.

What was hard was that a couple of months after she died, when I started to experience some transference issues with him, he decided he couldn't handle them, telling me that he was a "family therapist" only.

Does this make sense?

It was very painful for me to have him decide to refer me at the time he did--I was having the worst few months of my life with several deaths and health problems of my own. I felt as if he dodged the issues, and didn't even try to reach any kind of meaningful or redemptive closure with me over all of this. I tried writing some letters to explain how I was feeling, etc., but he didn't respond. It was very demoralizing for me.

Does this make any sense to you? Are family therapists not generally good at dealing with transference?



Dear Portia,

I am so glad that you wrote in about this and shared your story with us. I am actually shocked that the therapy unfolded the way that it did. It sounds as though your therapist was helpful in some areas, but there is never a reason to emotionally abandon one's clients. And he did abandon you by not responding to your letters and attempts to process the ending of the relationship.

However, he may have also done you a favor by referring you to someone he felt was more experienced or familiar with the issues that you were beginning to face in the therapy. Referring you out to another therapist is not necessarily the same as abandoning you, as there are other ways to process the transition to another therapist without completely ending contact.

The way he handled the relationship with you definitely speaks to the level of his own personal discomfort - nothing that you have any control over and is definitely not your fault.

His explanation for not being able to continue therapy because he is only a family therapist is a poor one. This situation could happen with a psychologist, a social worker, a mental health counselor, a is only one piece of the pie.

Creating a safe place to explore one's relationships, emotions and thoughts is one of the most crucial aspects of successful therapy. Another is one's relationship with the therapist. This is so extremely important and I do hope that you will find the connection that you deserve.


Can a family therapist deal with trauma?

If a client presented with Attachment Injury and a history of Trauma, would you recommend they see a Trauma Therapist to work on these issues then move on to a Family Therapist to address family relational issues?

Or, can all of these issues be addressed by a family therapist?


Hi Karie,

This is a great question! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Issues of attachment injury and trauma can definitely be addressed with a family therapist. In fact, many of the adoption and foster care cases that I have worked on inevitably contain aspects of an attachment injury and definitely histories of trauma, neglect, and abandonment. I am not specifically a ‘trauma therapist’ though I have worked successfully with clients who do present with such a history.

A family therapist is truly a relational thinker…meaning that the interconnectedness of family issues, trauma experiences, and attachment injury are all connected and working on one piece of the overall picture will invariably affect the others. As one finds healing in one part of their life, other relationships, attitudes and beliefs may begin to shift in other areas of one’s life. This is the beauty of systemic or relational thinking.

And of course, the relationship that the therapist creates with the client makes all the difference in the world. A relationship created with trust, commitment, patience, and security – the way the therapist creates a holding space for the emotions of the client – aids in the possibility of the client having a different sort of emotional experience.

Hope this helps.

In peace,


Related Topics

Family Therapy Approaches

A Family Therapy Session

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I don't get it. What do you pay him for if he never says anything?