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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Acosta M.A., AMFT

How to Decide Between Family Therapy and Individual Therapy

This is an excellent question, as parents we all want to do what’s best for our sons and daughters and at the same time without the data to make an informed decision we may have difficulty determining which path might be the best to pursue individual or family therapy.

Family Therapy

In family therapy the focus is typically on the family system itself, breakdowns in the system that prevent the family from functioning, and so on, this can include families with members in the family struggling with addiction, defiance, and/or incarceration. In this arena as a clinician I want to understand the family history, culture, traditions, communication skills, beliefs and values, and how conflict is displayed and resolved in the home environment.

Individual Therapy

In individual therapy the focus is on the individual whether it’s an individual dealing with anxiety, depression, trauma, self-imposed isolation, addiction, and so on. In this type of therapy the focus will be on the individual and developing coping skills, cognitive reframing, acceptance, confidence building, and dealing with parts of our past that we haven’t healed/recovered from/grieved yet.

Picking between the Two

For this to happen the ability to look at self and the family system we are a part of without deniability is absolutely necessary.

Scenario One: Parents have an adult living at home in his 30’s he has no boundaries can do whatever he wants and talk to his parents in whatever manner he wants with no consequences for his actions despite living under the roof of his parents rent and responsibility free.

Scenario Two: Parents have an adult living at home in his 30’s he has a job, pays rent, helps with chores, projects around the house and talks to his parents with respect. Their son struggles with deep depression and social anxiety and won’t leave his room when he gets home.

Daniel's Take: In scenario one I would recommend family therapy because the family system in this scenario has broken down in communication, lack of boundaries, no accountability, and no consequences for inappropriate actions and/or behavior. This family system needs to go back to basics the mom and dad need to develop boundaries for their son, detailed consequences for inappropriate behavior, and the willpower to enforce them.

Daniel's Take: In scenario two I would recommend individual therapy because in this case the son is a functioning member of his community and society as evidenced by having and holding down a job, helping out around the house in the form of chores and various projects and healthy social interaction with his parents. This individual will benefit from identifying the root cause of his depression, and develop coping skills and build confidence to overcome these challenges.

Daniel Acosta M.A., AMFT is a Registered Associate Marriage and Family Therapist in Mission Viejo, California. He works in private practice with men, women and adolescents and provides individual, couples, pre-marital, family and marital therapy for clients in Orange County. If you would like to schedule a session he can be reached at 949-943-7820 or via email:

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