Dysfunctional Family

A dysfunctional family is one whose interrelationships serve to detract from, rather than promote, the emotional health, physical health, and wellbeing of its members.

Although the term dysfunctional family is used casually in popular culture, healthcare professionals define a dysfunctional family as one where the relationships among family members are not conducive to emotional and physical health. Sexual, emotional, or physical abuse, alcohol, drug addictions, delinquency and behavior problems, eating disorders, and extreme aggression are some conditions commonly associated with dysfunctional family relationships.

The concept of the dysfunctional family is based on a systems approach to mental health diagnosis and treatment; the people's symptoms are seen in the context of their relationships with others, rather than as problems unique to them. There is no strict definition of a dysfunctional family. In popular usage the term tends to be a catchall for many different disorders that take place within the family system and its subsystems. Mental healthcare providers and institutions increasingly recognize family and couple's therapy as effective methods of treating diverse mental health disorders, especially for the children within these families.

Some of the characteristics of dysfunctional family systems are as follows:

Family therapists, like other therapists, take many different treatment approaches—psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive, or a combination of these therapies. Clinicians may talk to family members individually, together, and in subgroups. They might ask members to role-play or reenact situations, or to do homework by changing their responses to one another. One goal of family therapy is to help family members see specific events and behaviors more clearly in a broader systems perspective, often one which spans generations.

See also Addiction/addictive personality ; Family ; Family therapy ; Minuchin, Salvador.



Henningfeld, Diane Andrews. Family Violence. Detroit, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2012.

Konig, Karl. Brothers and Sisters: The Order of Birth in the Family, an Expanded Edition. Edinburgh: Floris Books, 2012.

Minuchin, Salvador, and H. Charles Fishman. Family Therapy Techniques. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981.