About Family Therapy

Research and Evidence-Based Practice

Due to the very complex nature of mental health problems, it is not always possible to know accurately what the best treatment for each condition is. Psychological approaches that are not systematically structured are less suitable to be evidenced through empirical research. Despite these constraints, the field of systemic and family therapy continuously reviews and contributes to Evidence-Based Practice (EBP). EBP[i] refers to the process of clinical decision-making that integrates three main areas:

(1) The best available research on the most effective treatment for each condition;

(2) Clinical expertise (judgment and experience of the clinician to consider each client/patient’s particular health state and needs) and

(3) The client/patient’s preferences and values.

In the UK, there is a Non-Departmental Public Body responsible for providing national guidance and advice to improve health and social care across the public sector based on research and EBP; it is known as The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – NICE.

Systemic Family Therapy is recommended in NICE guidelines for the treatment of several child-focused, adult-focused and couple related problems[ii].

“Reviews of research list the following circumstances in which family therapy has been proven to be effective for children, adolescents and the important people in their lives:

    • Problems in infancy; sleep, feeding and attachment

    • Child abuse and neglect

    • Child and adolescent conduct problems such as behavioural difficulties, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and delinquency

    • Emotional problems including anxiety, depression, grief, bipolar disorder, self harm and suicidality

    • Body-related problems including enuresis, encopresis, recurrent abdominal pain, medically unexplained symptoms and poorly controlled asthma and diabetes

    • Drug abuse

    • Eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia and obesity

    • First episode psychosis

Reviews of research show effectiveness of family therapy for adults and families affected by:

    • Relationship difficulties and distress

    • Psychosexual problems

    • Intimate partner violence

    • Anxiety disorders

    • Mood disorders and depression

    • Alcohol and drug problems

    • Schizophrenia

    • Adjustment to chronic physical illness”

Association of Family Therapy & Systemic Practice website.

It is not, however, only people experiencing serious mental health problems that can benefit from professional support as described in the Who can benefit from systemic and family therapy section. 


[i] Sackett, D. et al (1996) Evidence-based medicine: what it is and what it isn’t. British Medical Journal, 312, 71-72

[ii] Journal of Family Therapy (2014) Vol 36 (2)