Although the negative effect of epilepsy on patient's psychosocial well-being has been increasingly documented in the last decade, the influence of the condition on the family has attracted much less interest. This paper reviews the present state of family research, examining the influence of both childhood and adulthood epilepsy on the psychological and social well-being of family members. Studies indicate that epilepsy may cause high levels of psychosocial difficulties for all family members, including stigmatization, stress, psychiatric morbidity, marital problems, poor self esteem and restriction of social activities. Studies also suggest that the family environment may be an important intervening factor between the condition and the outcome for the family unit, and a number of family factors are reviewed which have been suggested to mediate this relationship, with recommendations being made for their use in intervention studies. Shortcomings of the family studies to date are discussed and these include: concentration on examination of issues around family life, studies being based on reports from single members of the family and the selection of subjects from clinical populations. Recommendations are made concerning methodological and conceptual issues that need addressing for future research. (C) 2000 BEA Trading Ltd.