[image by mescon]

Sometimes I get the question, “So what does a marriage and family therapist do?” It’s a legit question, especially amongst some of the confusion over the differences between a psychologist, counselor, social worker, etc. There are a lot of ways I can answer that question, but I most often talk about marriage and family focusing on the entire system that one lives in (family, school, work, social) and how that affects the person in therapy, rather than seeing them as an individual, isolated from the impact of others upon their lives and the choices they make.

I like the very brief and succinct way the American Association for Marriage and FamilyTherapy puts it. They write:

What is Marriage and Family Therapy?
A family’s patterns of behavior influences the individual and therefore may need to be a part of the treatment plan. In marriage and family therapy, the unit of treatment isn’t just the person – even if only a single person is interviewed – it is the set of relationships in which the person is imbedded.

Marriage and family therapy is:

* brief
* solution-focused
* specific, with attainable therapeutic goals
* designed with the “end in mind.”

Marriage and family therapists treat a wide range of serious clinical problems including: depression, marital problems, anxiety, individual psychological problems, and child-parent problems.

Research indicates that marriage and family therapy is as effective, and in some cases more effective than standard and/or individual treatments for many mental health problems such as: adult schizophrenia, affective (mood) disorders, adult alcoholism and drug abuse, children’s conduct disorders, adolescent drug abuse, anorexia in young adult women, childhood autism, chronic physical illness in adults and children, and marital distress and conflict.

Marriage and family therapists regularly practice short-term therapy; 12 sessions on average. Nearly 65.6% of the cases are completed within 20 sessions, 87.9% within 50 sessions. Marital/couples therapy (11.5 sessions) and family therapy (9 sessions) both require less time than the average individuated treatment (13 sessions). About half of the treatment provided by marriage and family therapists is one-on-one with the other half divided between marital/couple and family therapy, or a combination of treatments.

You can also find out more information by reading the Wikipedia entry on family therapy which is pretty good.

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT’s) work with a wide range of clinical issues, whether it be family, couple or individual. But I think one of the strengths of them is their focus on the entire system.

I’m curious. When you look for a therapist, psychologist, counselor, etc., do you see any distinguishing characteristics in their training or credentials, or do you usually lump them all into one group?