After reading this material and checking the interactive presentation you will:

  • be able to see the differences between the definitions of family in different disciplines
  • be able to reflect this definitions with your own understanding of the family
  • have more knowledge of various kind of families, knowledge which you might be able to use in your own life or in your clinical practice

The definition of the family has changed over time especially the terms we use to describe different families. Today we tend to use terms like:

  • Nuclear families
  • Reconstituted families
  • Single-parent families
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual families.

To give you an idea of the range of definitions used to describe the family across a range of disciplines we have created an interactive presentation. Use this link to access. In the presentation you can click on the discipline or name of the authors to see their definition of what constitutes a family. The aim of this exercise is not to present a comprehensive list of definitions but to help remind you of the range of interpretations available which are influenced by the different disciplines (e.g. nursing, sociology etc).

From the professional viewpoint, if someone in the family is having mental health problems and the family is included in their care, the following points should be considered:

  • Ask the person who are the people he/she wants to be involved in their care, who are affected by the situation and who might be worried. Let the primary service user define his or her family!
  • The family is considered as the closest persons to the service user, they don't need to be blood-relations.
  • Besides relatives they could be friends, classmates, girl/boyfriend, neighbor etc. (often called as significant others, carers and also networks). Link.
  • The service users might define their family as different people at different times (remember the stages of the family life-cycle).
  • Family could also be considered as a group of people who are worried or people who are affected by a particular situation.

The importance of the family can be seen in the following videoclip called 'Brothers Reconnecting'

  • What was your first thought; how you define family?
  • Think who are the persons you include to your family?
  • If something happens to you, so that you need care, who are the persons you would like to know the situation and participate in your care?
  • Are these the persons who would be worried? Reflect the reasons; why you decided that these spesific people should participate -or not?
  • If you are working in clinical practice what kind of families you meet?
  • Do you ask or involve families in care?

-included in the interactive presentation

Arthur S, Snape D, Dench G. 2003. The moral economy of grandparenting. Generations Review 13(2), 10-12.

Gavriel-Fried B, Cohen O. 2014. How do social workers define the concept of family?. British Journal of Social Work 44(4), 992-1010.

Muraco A, Leblance AJ, Russell ST. 2008. Conceptualizations of family by older gay men. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services 20(1/2), 69-90.

Rigg A, Pryor J. 2007. Children's perceptions of families: what do they really think? Children and Society, 21(1), 17-30.

Stewart P.2007. Who is kin? Family Definition and African American Families. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment 15(2-3), 163-181.

The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.