Family counseling is a type of psychotherapy that may have one or more objectives. Family counseling may help to promote better relationships and understanding within a family. It may be incident specific, as for example family counseling during a divorce, or the approaching death of a family member. Alternately family counseling may address the needs of the family when one family member suffers from a mental or physical illness that alters his or her behavior or habits in negative ways.
Family counseling often occurs with all members of the family unit present. This may not always be the case. A family member who suffers from alcoholism or drug addiction might not attend sessions, and might actually be the reason why other family members seek out family counseling.
Part of the goal of the therapist is to observe interactions between family members. Another part is to observe the perception of non-interacting family members. Thus if two family members get into an argument in a session, the therapist might want to know how the other family members are dealing with the disagreement or the way in which the two fighting members comport themselves.
In addition to observation, the therapist often helps the family reflect on better ways of communicating with each other. So family counseling may in part be instruction and encouragement. In fact, family counseling often teaches family members new and more positive ways to communicate to replace old, negative communication patterns.