The quality of family functioning is important for both psychological well-being and physical health. This review describes family interventions that aim to improve the strength of the parent-child relationship and considers ways in which these approaches can be applied to physical health care. This review first describes the development of family therapy in dealing with children's behavioural and emotional difficulties. As shown in psychotherapeutic settings, parenting skills can affect children's emotional well-being and ability to control their own conduct. Intervention strategies that focus on developing the ability of parents to provide a benign and nurturing parenting style are considered. The review then considers how the principles of family therapy can be applied to settings where physical health is the central issue. In medical settings, families are not only affected by medical interventions but they can also serve to facilitate or hinder clinical effectiveness. Illustrations of how these interventions can be applied in medical settings are provided. Although a practising clinician will need training in using family therapy techniques, it may be possible to recruit a family therapist to help in particular cases.