Family Psychology: The Basics

Being part of a family, whether big or small, is complicated. Family dynamics can be messy and turbulent as every family member has a unique personality, temperament, and way of dealing with conflict. Within one family unit, you can find some members are expressive, in tune with their emotions, and like to talk things out while others are introverted, quiet, and avoid confrontations. No matter how close knit or healthy a family may be, issues, conflicts, hurdles, and challenges are inevitable. In many cases, family members manage to work out problems amongst themselves or with the help of other relatives or friends. However, sometimes, the relationships and struggles that come with them are too complex to resolve without professional help. This is where the role of a family psychologist comes in.

According to the American Psychological Association (2017), a family psychologist works with individuals, couples, families and broader social systems in a variety of contexts and procedures including, but not limited to, the following: family assessment; family and couples therapy; education and training; advocacy for policies that affect families; and conducting research on couples and families. Some examples of problems addressed by family psychologists include, family relationship issues, parenting challenges, caregiver burden, work-family stress, behavioral problems of children or adolescents, communication difficulties, coordination of individual treatment across social systems (APA, 2017).

Just as family systems are complex and intertwined, so is the field of Family Psychology mainly because it looks at the plethora of factors that influence relationships – from developmental to cultural to systems perspectives and much more. As individuals, experiencing life, we are being influenced right and left by so many different things, and this continually manages to shape shift us as people. When we put our constantly evolving selves into a family system – we can well imagine the friction it may cause. As relationships evolve, families expand, and people change – managing a balanced and healthy family dynamic can prove challenging, which is why family psychology is such an important field of study.

Though the basic concept of family has been around since the beginning of time, it is interesting to note that the field of family psychology only really came into being as a professional practice in the early 20th century. In the emergent years of this field, psychologists had a very narrow and traditional view of the family system, which usually included parents and children only. However, as times changed, so did our definition of family and who it included. As the field has evolved, the concept of the family is more commonly defined in terms of strongly supportive, long-term roles and relationships between people who may or may not be related by blood or marriage (Sholevar, 2003).

Family is a universal commonality amongst the humans. Whether close knit or estranged, living near each other or at two ends of the world, big or small, traditional or non-traditional – families are complex and always interesting to study and observe. Family psychology incessantly grows as a field because it is one that is and always will be relevant and current to us.



American Psychological Association (2017). History of the Society for Couple and Family Psychology. Retrieved from

Sholevar, G.P. (2003). Family Theory and Therapy. In Sholevar, G.P. & Schwoeri, L.D. Textbook of Family and Couples Therapy: Clinical Applications. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing Inc.