Despite what you’ve seen on “very special episodes” of family sitcoms, not every household problem can be solved with a family meeting and heartfelt speech from Dad. It may take some outside help to work through big issues. Unfortunately, the words “family therapy” carry a lot of weight.

Sean Morris, CEO of Blomquist Hale, a local counseling and mental health employee assistance program, says some hesitation to seek family therapy stems from the unfair stigma surrounding mental health diagnoses, like depression or anxiety. “Sometimes, we think about life issues and struggles people have, whether it be individual, couple or family, and think ‘Okay, what’s the diagnosis here?’” he says. On the contrary, Morris, a licensed marriage and family therapist, says most of his clients don’t require a diagnosis. Many are just dealing with challenges that can bring feelings of sadness, frustration or overwhelming pressure and need help working through them. Whether therapy leads to a mental health diagnosis or not, though, Morris encourages families to seek help when needed.

“We have a high divorce rate; we have a high rate of depression and anxiety; we, unfortunately, have a high and continually increasing rate of suicide, and if people would be more willing to seek help and talk about the struggles that they’re going through, certainly we could have an impact in all of those areas for good,” he says.

Think your family may benefit from therapy? We did some homework for you. We chatted with Morris about family therapy options, what actually goes on in sessions and more.

Why should I seek family therapy?

Families go through a lot of stress, and the causes of that stress vary widely. Some of the common struggles Morris points out are relationship issues, problems communicating, parenting challenges, addiction-related concerns or issues, and grief over a loss in the family. All are valid reasons for seeking therapy.

Who practices therapy?

According to Morris, there are three major types of professionals who can offer therapy: therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists.

Therapists, go figure, typically rely on therapy (listening to clients and helping them work through their issues), psychologists offer therapy and may also offer assessments and testing to discover issues, and psychiatrists have the authority to offer therapy, perform assessments and prescribe medication. Professionals bring different education and experiences to the table, Morris says, making them experts in different areas.

Outside of those licensed to practice therapy, families may turn to religious or community leaders, who may point them toward resources to help with particular issues; or life coaches, who may not have reached a particular level of schooling but may offer helpful advice. If you’re unsure about a particular professional, Morris recommends picking up the phone to ask questions to see if they’re right for your family or the issue you’re facing.

What happens in a therapy session?

Morris says discussions in most sessions typically center on goals and what adjustments need to be made, or limitations need to be accepted, to reach them. Some clients are good to go after just one session, but most require multiple visits before moving on. “And a lot of the therapy is not necessarily happening right there in that session,” Morris says. “The session gives them (clients) some tools that they can take into their everyday lives.”

A tool often comes in the form of a suggestion or idea formulated during a session that clients can act on to help them work toward their goals. (It has nothing to do with what you’d find at Home Depot or the hard rock band… unless you and your family really connect over carpentry and the Lateralus album.)

Do kids go to therapy?

“Sure,” says Morris, adding that many therapists specialize specifically in child therapy and may work with a particular age range. In family therapy, kids often participate, since each family member may be part of the process in achieving goals.

What background should a therapist have?

Every state has its own set of requirements to provide therapy. Here are Utah’s. “More or less, a person needs to have a master’s degree, at a minimum, and they need to have a license to practice therapy,” says Morris, adding that it’s often important to find someone who specializes in the type of help needed. “If someone is dealing with a marital issue, any therapist, per se, could work,” Morris says, “but it would make a lot of sense to seek out a therapist who has a lot of experience in dealing with couples counseling.”

Will insurance cover therapy?

When clients come to therapy sessions with diagnosed issues like anxiety or depression, Morris says insurance may cover a portion of the session. However, he says that straight up family or marital therapy isn’t typically covered by medical insurance.

If you’re considering suicide, call the confidential Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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