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 embedded.

Let’s see if we can’t prevent being ill by trying to offer a love of prevention before illness.
— Maya Angelou, Poet

Q: What are the basics of Marriage and Family Therapy?

Q: Who Are Marriage and Family Therapists?

Q: Why Use a Marriage and Family Therapist?

What are the qualifications for a Marriage and Family Therapist?

How can I find a Marriage and Family Therapist?

Rewards of being an MFT

 

Basics of Marriage & Family Therapy?

  • 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.


Who are Marriage and Family Therapists?

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) are mental health professionals trained in psychotherapy and family systems, and licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couples and family systems.

Marriage and family therapists are a highly experienced group of practitioners, with an average of 13 years of clinical practice in the field of marriage and family therapy. They evaluate and treat mental and emotional disorders, other health and behavioral problems, and address a wide array of relationship issues within the context of the family system.

Marriage and Family Therapists broaden the traditional emphasis on the individual to attend to the nature and role of individuals in primary relationship networks such as marriage and the family.  MFTs take a holistic perspective to health care; they are concerned with the overall, long-term well-being of individuals and their families.

MFTs have graduate training (a Master’s or Doctoral degree) in marriage and family therapy and at least two years of clinical experience. Marriage and family therapists are recognized as a “core” mental health profession, along with psychiatry, psychology, social work and psychiatric nursing.

Since 1970 there has been a 50-fold increase in the number of marriage and family therapists. At any given time they are treating over 1.8 million people.


Why use a Marriage and Family Therapist?

Research studies repeatedly demonstrate the effectiveness of marriage and family therapy in treating the full range of mental and emotional disorders and health problems. Adolescent drug abuse, depression, alcoholism, obesity and dementia in the elderly — as well as marital distress and conflict — are just some of the conditions Marriage and Family Therapists effectively treat.

Studies also show that clients are highly satisfied with services of Marriage and Family Therapists. Clients report marked improvement in work productivity, co-worker relationships, family relationships, partner relationships, emotional health, overall health, social life, and community involvement

In a recent study, consumers report that marriage and family therapists are the mental health professionals they would most likely recommend to friends. Over 98 percent of clients of marriage and family therapists report therapy services as good or excellent.

After receiving treatment, almost 90% of clients report an improvement in their emotional health, and nearly two-thirds report an improvement in their overall physical health. A majority of clients report an improvement in their functioning at work, and over three-fourths of those receiving marital/couples or family therapy report an improvement in the couple relationship. When a child is the identified patient, parents report that their child’s behavior improved in 73.7% of the cases, their ability to get along with other children significantly improved and there was improved performance in school.

Marriage and family therapy’s prominence in the mental health field has increased due to its brief, solution-focused treatment, its family-centered approach, and its demonstrated effectiveness. Marriage and family therapists are licensed in 46 states and are recognized by the federal government as members of a distinct mental health discipline.

Today more than 50,000 marriage and family therapists treat individuals, couples, and families nationwide. Membership in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) has grown from 237 members in 1960 to more than 23,000 in 1996. This growth is a result, in part, of renewed public awareness of the value of family life and concern about the increased stresses on families in a rapidly changing world.


Over 98 percent of those surveyed reported that they received good or excellent couples therapy.
— Ammerican Association of Marriage & Family Therapy Research

What are the qualifications for a Marriage and Family Therapist?

Marriage and family therapy is a distinct professional discipline with graduate and post graduate programs. Three options are available for those interested in becoming a marriage and family therapist: master’s degree (2-3 years), doctoral program (3-5 years), or post-graduate clinical training programs (3-4 years). Historically, marriage and family therapists have come from a wide variety of educational backgrounds including psychology, psychiatry, social work, nursing, pastoral counseling and education.

The Federal government has designated marriage and family therapy as a core mental health profession along with psychiatry, psychology, social work and psychiatric nursing. Currently 46 states also support and regulate the profession by licensing marriage and family therapists with the remaining states in the process of obtaining licensure laws.

The regulatory requirements in most states are substantially equivalent to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists Clinical Membership standards. After graduation from an accredited program, a period – usually two years – of post-degree supervised clinical experience is necessary before licensure or certification. When the supervision period is completed, the therapist can take a state licensing exam, or the national examination for marriage and family therapists conducted by the AAMFT Regulatory Boards. This exam is used as a licensure requirement in most states.


How can I find a Marriage and Family Therapist?

AAMFT Clinical Members meet stringent training and education requirements that qualify them for the independent practice of marriage and family therapy.

AAMFT requires Clinical Members to abide by the AAMFT Code of Ethics, the most stringent ethical code in the marriage and family therapy profession. This code delineates specific ethical behavior and guidelines for members to follow to ensure the ethical treatment of clients.

Clinical Membership in the AAMFT signifies an MFT’s dedication to his or her ongoing professional development. Each month, AAMFT Clinical Members receive important updates on current clinical and research developments in the field, as well as numerous opportunities throughout the year to attend professional development conferences. Click here to find a Marriage and Family Therapist today!


Rewards of Being an MFT

  • Help a diverse group of people overcome important life challenges
  • Potential to positively impact not only individuals, partners, and families, but also communities
  • Patients successfully treated by MFTs become more productive and visit doctors less often
  • Ability to work for yourself, earn a good living wage, and be able to establish a flexible work schedule
  • If not in practice for oneself, many opportunities exist in behavioral health facilities, hospitals, schools
  • The future of the profession looks very bright, with far higher than average predicted career growth
  • The cost for MFT counseling is less than traditional counseling
  • Policy makers now recognize that mental health services play a critical role in many areas of prevention

Comparison of Licensure Requirements for LPCC, MFT, & LCSW

 

LICENSED PROFESSIONAL CLINICAL COUNSELOR (LPCC)
B & P code: 4996

Scope & Practice

The scope of practice for Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCCs) is set forth in California Business and Professions Code section 4999.20 and Title 16, California Code of Regulations, Section 1820.5, both of which are available in the Board’s Statutes and Regulations handbook.

Section 4999.20. (a):
(1) "Professional clinical counseling" means the application of counseling interventions and psychotherapeutic techniques to identify and remediate cognitive, mental, and emotional issues, including personal growth, adjustment to disability, crisis intervention, and psychosocial and environmental problems, and the use, application, and integration of the coursework and training required by Sections 4999.32 and 4999.33. "Professional clinical counseling" includes conducting assessments for the purpose of establishing counseling goals and objectives to empower individuals to deal adequately with life situations, reduce stress, experience growth, change behavior, and make well-informed, rational decisions.

(2) "Professional clinical counseling" is focused exclusively on the application of counseling interventions and psychotherapeutic techniques for the purposes of improving mental health, and is not intended to capture other, nonclinical forms of counseling for the purposes of licensure. For purposes of this paragraph, "nonclinical" means nonmental health.

Education

60-unit master’s degree in marriage, family and child counseling, or one of six other related degrees

Coursework to prepare counselors for the general practice of counseling includes a minimum of 45 semester units in the following core content areas:

  • Professional orientation, ethics & law in counseling, including CA law & ethics
  • Multicultural counseling theories and techniques
  • Human growth and development, including normal and abnormal behavior
  • Counseling and psychotherapeutic theories & techniques
  • Assessment, appraisal, & testing
  • Principles of diagnosis, treatment planning & prevention of mental & emotional disorders & dysfunctional behavior
  • Career development theories & techniques
  • Group counseling theories & techniques
  • Research and evaluation in Psychopharmacology
  • Minimum of 15 semester units of advanced coursework to develop knowledge in specific treatment issues and/or special populations, & other clinical intervention; instruction must include methods of service delivery in recovery-oriented practice environments and integrate an understanding of various cultures and the social and psychological implications of socioeconomic position

Additional Requirements

  • Addictions Counseling
  • Crisis/Trauma Counseling
  • Advanced counseling & psychotherapeutic theories and techniques
  • Supervised practicum/field work: minimum 6 units (280/hrs. of face-to-face)
  • Additional curricular experiences such as human sexuality, spousal or partner abuse, child abuse, aging, etc. 
  • Continuing education as required by the licensing board
  • 3,000 post-degree hours in a supervised clinical setting

Licensing Exam

  • Professional Counselor cognitive and clinical exams, including CA jurisprudence & ethics

LICENSED MARRIAGE & FAMILY THERAPIST (LMFT))
B&P code: 4980

Scope & Practice

The practice of marriage and family therapy shall mean that service performed with individuals, couples, or groups wherein interpersonal relationships are examined for the purpose of achieving more adequate, satisfying, and productive marriage and family adjustments. This practice includes relationship and premarriage counseling.

The application of marriage and family therapy principles and methods includes, but is not limited to, the use of applied psychotherapeutic techniques, to enable individuals to mature and grow within marriage and the family, the provision of explanations and interpretations of the psychosexual and psychosocial aspects of relationships, and the use, application, and integration of the coursework and training required by Sections 4980.37, 4980.40, and 4980.41.

Education

60-unit master’s degree in marriage, family and child counseling, or one of six other related degrees.

  • Single, integrated program primarily designed to train marriage & family therapists
  • Instruction includes 12 units in marital and family systems approaches to treatment as well as the following: 
    • CA law and professional ethics for marriage & family therapists
    • Cross-cultural mores and values, multicultural development
    • Developmental issues & life events & their effect on family relationships
    • Theories of marriage, family, & child therapy
    • Psychological testing
    • Planning & prevention of mental & emotional disorders & dysfunctional behavior
    • Diagnosis, assessment, prognosis, & treatment of mental disorders
    • Psychopharmacology
    • Substance abuse, co-occurring disorders and addiction
    • Psychotherapeutic orientations directly related to marriage and family therapy
    • A variety of approaches to treatment of children
    • Methods of service delivery in recovery-oriented practice environments and integrate an understanding of various cultures and the social and psychological implications of socioeconomic position

Additional Requirements

  • Supervised practicum: minimum 6 units (225 hours of face-to-face experience)
  • Additional curricular experiences, such as alcoholism & chemical abuse, human sexuality, spousal or partner abuse, child abuse, aging, etc.
  • 3,000 hours, 1,300 of which can be earned pre-degree, in a supervised clinical setting

Licensing Exam

  • Marriage and family therapy cognitive and clinical exams, including CA jurisprudence & ethics

LICENSED CLINICAL SOCIAL WORKER (LCSW)
B & P code: 4996

The practice of clinical social work is defined as a service in which a special knowledge of social resources, human capabilities, and the part that unconscious motivation plays in determining behavior, is directed at helping people to achieve more adequate, satisfying, and productive social adjustments. The application of social work principles and methods includes, but is not restricted to, counseling and using applied psychotherapy of a nonmedical nature with individuals, families, or groups; providing information and referral services; providing or arranging for the provision of social services; explaining or interpreting the psychosocial aspects in the situations of individuals, families, or groups; helping communities to organize, to provide, or to improve social or health services; or doing research related to social work.

Psychotherapy, within the meaning of this chapter, is the use of psychosocial methods within a professional relationship, to assist the person or persons to achieve a better psychosocial adaptation, to acquire greater human realization of psychosocial potential and adaptation, to modify internal and external conditions which affect individuals, groups, or communities in respect to behavior, emotions, and thinking, in respect to their intrapersonal and interpersonal processes.

Education

Master’s degree from an accredited school of social work.

  • Values and ethics
  • Diversity
  • Human behavior and the social environment
  • Social Work practice, social welfare policy
  • Populations at risk & economic justice

Additional Requirements

  • Additional curricular experiences, such as alcoholism & chemical abuse, human sexuality, spousal or partner abuse, child abuse, aging, etc.
  •  3,200 hours post-degree supervised experience
  • Field education total of 900 hours for master’s programs
  • Continuing education as required by the licensing board

Licensing Exam

Social work cognitive and clinical exams, including CA jurisprudence & ethics.