Family Therapy Skills and Techniques in Action  book cover
1st Edition

Family Therapy Skills and Techniques in Action

ISBN 9781138831438
Published September 19, 2017 by Routledge
228 Pages 29 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

Please watch the following short video advertisement for the book, featuring the Editors:

Relationships are a resource for healing a range of psychological difficulties. This is the fundamental principle of family therapy, an increasingly influential form of psychotherapy that is building up a strong evidence base in a range of psychological problems across the life cycle. Family Therapy Skills and Techniques in Action is both a guide to a variety of family therapy techniques and a review of their history. It provides a thorough explanation of the techniques, explaining their origins and use in contemporary family practice, whilst guiding readers in learning new skills. The authors provide film examples and transcripts of the techniques in action so that readers can develop their skills in a practical way.

The book is divided into sections that describe and demonstrate skills such as:

  • Assessing a family;
  • Building a therapeutic relationship with multiple family members;
  • Enactment;
  • Reframing;
  • Using circular questions;
  • ‘Externalising’ the problem;
  • Using family therapy skills in individual work;
  • Understanding and utilising systemic supervision.

Family Therapy Skills and Techniques in Action will be an essential practical manual for a range of family therapy skills which can be used in family work by family practitioners from a variety of backgrounds: counsellors, support workers, social workers, psychologists, generic therapists and nurses.

Table of Contents


Chapter One: Introduction, setting the scene

Chapter Two: Listening to the orchestra

Chapter Three: Assessment, finding out what we need to know

Chapter Four: Integrative family therapy, a contemporary practice

Chapter Five: Structural family therapy, creating a dance with families

Chapter Six: Strategic family therapy, making language therapeutic

Chapter Seven: Milan and Post-Milan Family Therapy, changing rules and meanings

Chapter Eight: Narrative family therapy, interpreting the story

Chapter Nine: Working Systemically with Individuals, opening up a different view

Chapter Ten: Reflective Practice in Family Therapy

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Mark Rivett is the director of Family and Systemic Psychotherapy training at the University of Exeter and a family therapist in South Wales. He is a past editor of the Journal of Family Therapy.

Joanne Buchmüller is a specialist family and systemic psychotherapist in an adolescent inpatient unit in South Wales and a visiting lecturer in systemic family therapy at the Universities of Bristol and Exeter.


"Family Therapy Skills and Techniques in Action is the best book available for learning about family therapy and the skills involved in it. Writing in a crisp parsimonious style, Mark Rivett and Joanne Buchmuller capture the essence of family therapy and each of its major methods in a way that is fully intelligible to the beginning therapist or more experienced practitioners new to family work. The value of this book is immensely enhanced by its unique format, which incorporates film clips with accompanying transcripts to enable understanding how the conceptual material is utilized in real therapy contexts. Filled with tables that summarize material that readers are sure to continue to refer to over the years, Rivett and Buchmuller’s book should be an essential part of every family therapist’s library."-Jay L. Lebow, Clinical Professor, Family Institute at Northwestern and Northwestern University.

"This is the book for which systemic practice trainers and students have been waiting. Mark and Joanne discuss complex concepts in a manner that is clear, engaging and jargon free. They pull out key ideas and link them to excellent practice examples illustrated with film. Highlights include an excellent chapter on formulation a thorough exploration of the family life cycle and reworking of older concepts into a modern practice environment. Highly recommended for all trainers and students."-Judith Lask, Former Chair of Systemic College of UKCP and AFT and former Head of Family Therapy Training at Kings College London.

Support Material


  • eResources

    This e-Resource features the 8 videos referenced in the book; the introductions to those videos are each presented here again for easy reference. The authors wish to give thanks to John Buchmüller who was the camera man extraordinaire as well as director and producer!

    Film 1 Assessing Families- Understanding Family Patterns

    In this film Mark, the therapist, has already drawn a family tree and has helped the family think about their family. Now he intends to use the family tree to explore in more detail how the family works. He is keen to find answers to three simple questions: how does this family work? How does the way the family work affect the problem they are experiencing e.g. making it harder to solve? How does the problem influence the family? In this clip, Mark is looking for patterns that maintain the problem and what patterns might have caused the problem.

    Stepfather Nick has not come to this first session. This means that Mark must walk a careful line that does not show any disrespect towards him. It also means that Mark will need to consider how he can encourage Nick to come to the next session.

    Film 2 Integrative Model- Talking about talking and building the therapeutic alliance

    This is the second section of a family therapy session devoted to assessment. After Mark has gathered enough information to begin to construct a hypothesis about the relational factors that are influencing the behaviour of the family members, he begins a conversation that elicits how the family and he are going to work together. The clip shows a few minutes of “talking about talking”.

    Film 3 Structural School - Enactment

    This is the second time that Nick has come to the family therapy sessions. If Mark is working with a structural framework, he has a responsibility to help Nick (and all family members) learn something new from the sessions. He has already made a formulation which includes the idea that the way the family works and communicates doesn’t help Joel escape his depression or feel he has his family’s support in managing it. Conflict between Joel and Nick furthers their views that the other is at fault and perpetuates the isolation that prevents the resolution of the depression.  Mark therefore decides to address family communication and verbalisation of emotional experiences. Structural methods are very helpful in such situations because they help families try new behaviours and challenge them to go beyond their normal styles.

    Film 4 Strategic School- Reframing

    In this film, Mark has decided to work with family meanings. Specifically, he has decided to work on how Joel’s anger is perceived. Although Mark guides the conversation, significant elements of meaning emerge from the family members. These allow Mark to uncover a reframe of anger which begins to help the family see both solutions and connections between family members. As the reframe develops, new aspects to anger emerge which give the family more effective ways of thinking about anger rather than ‘depositing’ it in Joel.

    Film 5 Milan and Post-Milan Schools- circular questions

    In this film, you will see Mark meeting with Maria, Nick and Joel. Mark uses techniques from the Milan and Post-Milan schools to help the family members unpick the description of being a teenager, conflict, unhappiness, sadness and anger.

    Film 6 Narrative School- Externalisation

    This is the first session of family therapy for Jess (who is the identified patient), her mother Susie and grandmother Pat; they are meeting Jo, their family therapist for the first time. Jess does not meet the criteria for an anorexic diagnosis at this time, but is struggling to maintain a healthy eating pattern.  In this session, you will see Jo begin the process of ‘joining’ and building a therapeutic alliance.  She uses externalisation to help the family think differently about their current difficulties and externalises a problem related to the disordered eating: ‘Tension’ as this seems to be more important for the family at that time both in the therapy room and at home. However, the process would be the same whether Jo had externalised anorexia or any other problem affecting the family.

    Film 7 Working Systematically with Individuals – Internalised other interview

    Pat is meeting alone with Jo in this session. You will see Jo use internalised other interviewing (IOI) in the hope that the exercise will enable Pat to be more empathic and understanding towards her daughter Susie. This is especially important as Pat is judgemental of Susie and blames her for neglecting her granddaughters’ care through drinking alcohol in the past, but is not able to see that Susie’s depression impacts her ability to parent and that she drank to self-medicate.

    At the start, you will notice Jo clarify that she would like to share some of the information from the individual session with the other family members, this is especially important when balancing working with individuals alongside parallel joint family work.

    Film 8 Self Reflexivity Supervision

    Jo has worked with Jess’ family for a number of sessions. Mark, Jo’s supervisor, has observed some of these. This supervision session is designed to help Jo reflect on her work and find ‘better’ ways of working with them. All family therapy practice raises dilemmas and uncertainties. Mark’s task is to help Jo name these and then find ways of overcoming them.