Articles by Jacqueline McDiarmid, Family counselling, family therapy, Uncategorized

What is Family Therapy and Does Family Therapy Work?

Family Therapy is a specialisation in the field of Psychotherapy.  To be called a Family Therapist in Australia, a clinician needs to have a postgraduate qualification which involves` two years of formal study and training.  Only qualified Psychologists, Psychotherapists or Social Workers can apply for postgraduate study in Family Therapy. 

Family Therapy is considered to be a difficult specialisation.  This is because the Family Therapist has to be able to work with a family group rather than an individual or couple – which might mean working with up to 10 people at a time.  A Family Therapist has to be very confident, very skilled and very well trained to be able to manage so many personalities and the conflict that often brings families to therapy in the first place. 

Why do people seek a Family Therapist?

A Family Therapist will work with a variety of different situations from adult estrangements (adult family work), parents who need parenting help, parents who are separated or are wanting to separate, blended families, families where a significant person has died and families where there is a teen or child off track.  A teen or child might be off track for a variety of reasons so it is crucial that the Family Therapist not only holds the skills to work with the family but also has extensive knowledge about childhood development and the child/adolescent brain. 

Quite often, school counsellors and other professionals will refer a family to Family Therapy because individual counselling isn’t getting the desired results. And these days, more and more parents are realising that Family Therapy might be the fastest and most effective way to help a struggling teen/children. 

What happens in Family Therapy?

One person (typically a parent) makes contact with the Family Therapist and outlines the situation.  From there the Family Therapist will have an initial meeting with parents together, separately (if they are separated), or with the whole family group together.  

A Family Therapist likes to hear everyone’s perspective on a problem, including the opinion of young children.  Once the Family Therapist has understood the problem they will give the family feedback and outline a plan for the work that is likely to follow. 

Sessions do not always involve every person in a family group – some things aren’t appropriate for children or adolescents to hear, for instance.  Sessions are often a mix of parent sessions, whole family sessions and sessions for teens/children on their own.

How is Family Therapy different to individual counselling?

The work is fast paced and directive.  Parents are actively taught skills and guided by the Family Therapist on how to manage situations.  When people seek Family Therapy it is usually because there is a highly stressful and worrying situation unfolding.  Sometimes there might be a teen or child at risk of homelessness or suicide.  A Family Therapist has to work hard to contain everyone’s anxiety and manage stressful situations – while also providing immediate direction. Parents typically find the process supportive and say they feel included in the treatment plan. Some feel more confident because they are supported by the therapist to be part of the solution for their child/teen (rather than wondering what is happening behind closed doors in individual counselling for their child or teen).

Is Family Therapy Effective?

Yes, in about 80% of cases Family Therapy is very effective.  Success is dependant on people being willing to make behavioural changes and be guided by the Family Therapist.  The great majority of families at the Sydney Couple and Family Specialists say they noticed positive change by the third session with their family therapist.

However, it is also important to note that Family Therapy can make some situations worse.  If the Family Therapist is not trained or skilled enough, problems can occur.  And there are situations like adult family cut offs and estrangements where it is important that the Family Therapist knows how to guide the family members towards positive change rather than allowing them to dredge up more conflict, insults, or hurt.  

Is Family Therapy always appropriate?

In most cases it is appropriate.  However, it is also important to understand that there are times that a Family Therapist will make a decision to stop the therapy or only to see certain members of a family group.  This usually occurs when the Family Therapist has identified toxic behaviour or abuse and it is not actually ethical or in the best interests of a person to be connected with a family member.

How do I find the right Family Therapist?

Look for a clinician who specialises in this work.  To give you a hint, most Family Therapists will have this in their title rather than something like “Psychotherapist” or “Counsellor”.  They should also have post-graduate qualifications or at the very least, specialised training in family therapy. If someone says they do family counselling but seems to also advertise a whole lot of other services too, I recommend you ask about qualifications and experience before you commit to seeing them. 

In Australia anyone you see for Family Therapy should be a member of the AAFT – Australian Association of Family Therapy. This is a professional organisation which demands very high standards – of tertiary qualification and ethical practice – from its members.

Remember that you should feel like your Family Therapist is skilled and able to work on the problem with you all.  If you don’t really like the person you are seeing or don’t respect their ideas, then look for someone else.

If you think it’s time to see a Family Therapist, please contact us 02 8968 9397

About Jacqueline

Jacqueline has been in private practice for more than two decades, helping individuals, couples and families.  She has extensive experience in couple and family therapy and is considered a specialist in these areas.

In her clinical practice, she has helped people deal with complex trauma, affairs, complex mental health issues, eating disorders, adolescent behavioural problems (including self-harm and suicidal ideation), behavioural issues in young children which are impacting parents and families, relationship issues and post-separation work.

Jacqueline works with many different dynamics: couples, parents, families with young children, same-sex couples, foster/adopted families, families with teenagers and also adult families.  She is particularly interested in helping parents of children with behavioural issues, or with diagnosed conditions such as anxiety, ADHD, ASD and so on.

Although Jacqueline’s work is supportive and friendly, she will challenge her couples and families to make the necessary behavioural changes, to repair relationships and to move towards healthier communication styles in the future.

Jacqueline’s style is direct and fast paced and she is known for quickly getting to the heart of the matter.  Clients report that they feel safe and understood with Jacqueline.

Qualifications and Professional Membership

Jacqueline has a Masters in Couple and Family Therapy (UNSW). She has a Bachelor degree in Counselling and Human Change, and a Diploma in Psychotherapy and Counselling.

Jacqueline is a Clinical Supervisor for Counsellors and Therapists. She lectures in couple and family therapy at Masters and Post Graduate level, and is currently Head Lecturer for the Couple and Family Therapy course (Masters) at the Jansen Newman Institute.  She has been a Lecturer at the University of Western Sydney and Sydney University, and continues to guest lecture at other tertiary institutions.

Jacqueline is also the Director of the Couple and Family Training Centre where she runs regular professional development workshops and seminars for Therapists, Counsellors, Psychologists, Social Workers and Health Industry Workers who are looking to gain skills in this specialist area.

She is a Clinical Member of the Family Therapy Association of Australia and a Clinical Member of PACFA.

“Thank you for seeing me today. Your help with all our family issues and all your advice has been invaluable.
I don’t know how other families do it, without a Jacqueline in their lives.” – Anna (43) step-mum and mum to four children.

If you feel as though you could benefit from talking with a Therapist please contact  The Sydney Couple and Family Specialists on 02 8968 9397 or email

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