Family Therapy vs. Marriage Counseling:  What Are The Differences?

You’ve probably heard of family therapy and couples therapy. The terms are often used interchangeably, but they’re two distinct types of counseling that can help you resolve different kinds of problems.

The main difference between the two is the people that are involved. Couples therapy involves the two people who make up the couple. Family therapy involves the members of the family unit. This could be one parent and one child, both parents and one child, or everyone in the family — parents, aunts, uncles, stepparents, siblings, grandparents, and so forth.

Keep in mind that marriage counseling is more expensive than other forms of therapy, this is because the therapist is treating two people at the same time, so two diagnoses are needed.

Other distinctions make each type of therapy better suited to different issues. Here’s an overview of both types of therapy and the concerns they’re best at addressing.

This is how much marriage counseling really costs >>

Table of contents

  • Couples Therapy
  • Types of Couples Therapy 
  • Family Therapy
  • Types of Family Therapy
  • Which Is The Best?
  • Family Counseling Vs. Couples Counseling
  • What Issues Are Addressed?
  • Schedule An Appointment

Couples Therapy

Couples therapy focuses on you as a couple and your relationship. If you and your partner have problems in your relationship, couples therapy can help you reconnect and improve your bond. 

Couples counseling can be helpful at any stage of your relationship, whether you’ve just started getting serious with someone or you’ve been married for decades. Marital status, race, age, faith, and sexual orientation don’t matter. Couples therapy can help any couple who is having problems.

Many different issues can be improved through couples therapy. Common problems addressed include communication, finances, recurring arguments, sexual desire differences, feeling disconnected, problems caused by external issues, and infidelity. 

Find 5 couples therapy relationship exercises here >>

Types of Couples Therapy

Various types of couples therapy are designed to resolve different problems and relationship dynamics. Here are some of the most common:

  • Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT): ETF aims to improve the bond between you and your partner. To do this, your therapist will help you understand the patterns in your relationship which cause you to feel disconnected and change them.
  • Behavioral Couples Therapy (BCT): BCT strengthens your relationship by reinforcing the positive behaviors which create stability and happiness while at the same time discouraging behaviors that create negative feelings.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT works by identifying thought patterns in your relationship which negatively influence your and your partner’s behavior before changing them.
  • Family Therapy

Family therapy takes the entire family unit or parts of it into consideration and helps you resolve issues. If you and other family members have problems, family therapy can help you manage your conflicts and grow stronger.

Family counseling targets problems that affect the mental health and the functioning of a family. It can help you build stronger connections with other family members, improve the way you communicate, and help you manage conflicts within your family unit.

Some of the most common issues resolved through family therapy include creating a better home environment, understanding the unique problems a family might face in the future, solving specific family problems, and decreasing conflict. 

Types of Family Therapy and marriage counseling

There are several forms of family therapy designed to improve different issues. Here are some of the most common:

  • Supportive Family Therapy: This type of therapy creates a safe environment where each family member can share their feelings and get support from other family members.
  • Family Systems Therapy: This version of counseling focuses on helping family members make the most of the strengths of their relationships to defeat mental health problems.
  • Narrative Family Therapy: This form of therapy encourages each family member to share their story so others can understand how their experiences shape who they are. It helps the person sharing see their problems more objectively than simply viewing their issues through their narrow lens.
  • Pediatric counseling: although formally not a family therapy, it can help your family.

Which Is The Best For Me?

What kind of counseling is the right choice for you depends on your situation. You need to find the right combination of counseling services that best suit your specific needs and the needs of your family.

Many people benefit from a variety of counseling services. These may include individual counseling, family counseling, and couples counseling. If a couple is having issues, that could cause issues within the family unit.

Being honest about your concerns and problems with your counselor/therapist can help you develop the best solutions for you and your family.

Does couples counseling work?

In a nutshell, YES! Couples counseling does seem to work for the vast majority of people, but it really depends on the couple, any relationship is hard work. In some cases, personalities are so vastly different that couples counseling has virtually no chance of success. Some people change and grow apart, which means they are no longer a good match for each other. Find more on “does couples counseling work?” in this article.

Family Counseling Vs. Couples Counseling vs. Marriage counseling

When deciding between family counseling and couples counseling, you need to consider the nature of your problems and the people involved.

Are your issues just between you and your partner? Or do they extend and affect other members of your family? If you’re having problems in your relationship, you may be better off working them out with your partner in couples counseling.

Even if they’re affecting the rest of your family, you should consider resolving the issues with your partner first, then consider bringing other family members in and attending family counseling sessions.

Alternatively, you may be having problems with another family member, consequently harming your relationship. In this situation, you could better address your issues at family counseling. After they’ve been resolved, if your relationship with your partner doesn’t naturally improve, you could consider couples counseling to help strengthen your bond.

If your problems are restricted to you and your partner, without impacting any other family members or your relationship with them, marriage counseling is the best route. Alternatively, suppose your issues affect other family members, involve other people in your family unit, or are impacting the relationship you have with others in your family unit. In that case, family therapy could be the best solution. Some people even get counseling before they get married, this is a great way to sort out any issues before they start.

What Kinds Of Issues Are Addressed?

Both couples and family counseling are very personal types of therapy. Although they follow a basic structure, each session is designed and created for the specific person or people attending. 

Because of this, it’s difficult to specify what kinds of issues are addressed in a therapy session, as each session is personal to you and the problems you’re facing as a couple or a family.

You should jot down all your concerns and what issues you need to have addressed. This way, you can be sure you make the most of your counseling sessions and know that each of your problems receives the individual attention it requires to come to a satisfactory resolution. Core issues can be addressed during couples therapy sessions first, then the problems that have resulted from those core problems can be resolved through family counseling. 

Your therapist will give you homework but there are some exercises you can do yourself at home.

Schedule An Appointment Now

Now is the time to regain control of the situation.  Call CytiPsych to schedule your counseling appointment with Cyti Psychological. We have knowledgeable, licensed therapists who will help you address your concerns while overcoming your relationships’ obstacles. We offer confidential, personalized care that will make a difference in your life. Find more information about rates here.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. If you are in a crisis or any other person may be in danger,  these resources can provide you with immediate help:
Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 988
24 Hour Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1.800.273.8255
Crisis Text Line Text TALK to 741741