Anna Schäfer Edwards, M.S., M.B.A.

Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern

11011 Sheridan Street, # 211
Cooper City FL 33026

The difference between Family Therapy and Psychology

What is the difference between Family Therapy and Psychology?

Let’s look at the difference step-by-step:


Traditional Psychology


Psychology was born in America in the mid to late 1800s.

It views problems as residing with individuals and attempts to explain why people behave in ways that they do.

The field is rich with research and has offered the public many explanations as to why things are (or should be).

A traditional Psychologist might work on changing emotions before you can change behavior.  You might turn towards yourself and reflect, increasing insight.  They might focus on the past to understand the present.  This is why clients can sometimes be in therapy for years (or decades).

Many people today look for Psychologist titles when they think about therapy.  There are, however, other modalities that provide talk therapy as well.  Family Therapy is one of them.


Family Therapy is Relational & Systemic


Family Therapy was born in America in the 1950s and coincided with divorce rates increasing to the 50th percentile.

Family Therapy is different than Psychology in the way that it does not consider that the problem lies within the individual. Instead, it tries to find solutions within relationships developed in the individual’s system.

It is called “systemic therapy” because it looks outwards instead of being introspective.

Family Therapists can treat individuals the same way a Psychologist can, but it will question whether it is better to look at the relationships of the individual.

The therapist might ask you to bring a member of your family or your whole family into a session.  It is different because for so long we have believed that the problem can be fixed if only one person gets the treatment.

While it is possible to treat people individually, it is more effective to look at how they relate to others in their system.

Family Therapist is different.  We might work on your behavior first and turn towards others, increasing action and direction.

Clients can sometimes come for one session or stay for a little longer, but it is generally brief.  We focus on the present because that’s what needs to change.

The length of treatment does not say anything about the client or the therapist. It only says about the therapeutic model.

Let’s review some aspects of traditional therapy and contrast it with Brief Therapy:


Traditional Psychology is problem-centered


Have you heard of people who are in therapy for years? decades?  Does that remind you of a person laying on a couch and not making eye contact with the therapist? Here’s an example:

“I fell into this hole, I need help”

Traditional therapy: Let’s retrace your steps and see what contributed to you falling into the hole.  What type of hole was it? Let’s retrace your steps and unpack each one of them, measure the depth and the type of soil, speak to experts, assess the environmental conditions that made the hole exists in the first place and discuss what was happening to you at the time you fell in the hole (you speak so much about the hole that you don’t focus on getting out of the hole.)

Brief Therapy: Let’s find out who can help bring you a ladder.

Too simplistic for you? If it is, you can provide feedback to the therapist that you prefer something in the middle.


Traditional Psychology spends too much time on weaknesses


People come to therapy because they are not at a good place at the moment.  A model that makes clients continuously retell their trauma further increases blame and shame.  Traditional long term therapy may focus too much on your weaknesses instead of your strengths.  For sure there will be a lot of “problem talk” in these sessions.  Maybe for years.

In Brief therapy, clients might be asked to spend more time talking about instances in the past where they were successful at what they are trying to achieve.  If they can envision a certain future, they most likely have had some experience with it.


It’s all about you


Long term, traditional therapy is introspective (it’s all about you) and it directs you towards gaining insight.  In Brief, therapy, gaining insight is not necessarily an agent for change.


The professional is the expert


Traditional therapy privileges professional, “expert” knowledge as truth.  People believe that the therapist must know what the right way is.  There’s an imbalance of power in the room making the client feel worse.  Seldom are the clients (individuals, couples, or families) regarded as the real agent of changes.

In Brief therapy, you are the expert in your life and therapists should help you understand what is good for you and what is not.  The most important thing is that the therapist is not an expert in the best way for you to change.  You are.


It’s not cost-effective

I think this is self-explanatory.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of clients who prefer a therapeutic model where there’s plenty of problem talk.  Actually there’s an argument that talking about your problems without being solution-focused is helpful as well, and I believe it.  But there are more efficient ways to change.

If you prefer a more efficient way to turn things around, there are options.  There are hundreds of therapeutic model variations, in fact since we have evolved from the traditional psychoanalytical model.

My preferred model is Brief Therapy.  People today don’t have a lot of time, or a lot of money to throw at therapists. Brief therapy is not less than traditional therapy.  You don’t get less, you get different therapy.  You only get the services that you need.

Contact me if you would like to explore a different way of talk therapy.

Find more information about Family Therapy by visiting the  American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.