Who are Marriage and Family Therapists

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) are mental health professionals trained and licensed to serve individuals, couples and families. Trained to diagnose and treat mental health issues, such as depression, substance abuse, alcoholism, marital problems, child-parent problems, ADD/ADHD, and schizophrenia, MFTs receive special training in family dynamics attending to how these dynamics shape and maintain our well-being.

Marriage and Family Therapists are skilled to address a wide array of relationship issues within the context of couples, family systems and communities.  MFTs take a holistic perspective to health care; they are concerned with the overall, long-term well-being of individuals, their families and their communities.  MFTs broaden the traditional emphasis on the individual and attend to the nature and role of individuals in their primary relationship networks. This unique training and focus differentiate MFTs from other mental health professionals.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists 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.
Research has shown that MFT clients are highly satisfied with the services they receive. Upon completion of therapeutic services MFT clients report an increase in emotional health, and many report an improvement in their overall physical health.

What services are provided by MFTs?

MFTs provide a variety of different services based on the needs and severity of an individual, couple or family’s situation.  These services include:

  • Assessment and diagnosis of psychological and emotional disorders
  • Individual, couples and family psychotherapy
  • Group therapy
  • Treatment planning
  • Pre-marital Counseling
  • Life Coaching

What diagnoses/issues do MFTs treat?

MFTs are trained to assess, diagnose and treat a number of psychiatric disorders and relational issues.  Some of the most commonly addressed issues in therapy by MFTs include:

  • Mood Issues (e.g.: Depression, Anxiety, Bi-polar)
  • Childhood Behavioral and Developmental Disorders (e.g.: ADHD, Autism)
  • Conduct Disorders
  • Trauma-Related Issues
  • Alcoholism and other Addictions
  • Marital and Relational Problems
  • Domestic Violence and Abuse
  • Chronic Illness
  • Cultural Issues (e.g.: gender, ethnicity, religion)

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists notes that 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.

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.

What is the difference between a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) and other mental health professionals?

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) are professionals trained in psychotherapy and family systems, which independently diagnose and treat a variety of mental health, substance abuse and relational issues.  MFTs focus on understanding their clients’ symptoms and interactional patterns with their environment.  MFTs provide help to individuals, couples, families and groups with a variety of theoretical approaches. MFTs are one of the five core professionals in the mental health system, with distinct differences among each discipline.

  • Clinical Social Workers are licensed mental health professionals trained to help people find solutions for many of life’s most difficult situations.  Additionally, Clinical Social Workers believe in drawing upon the strengths of the individual and are skilled at mobilizing family, friends, and community resources to help solve problems.
  • Clinical Psychologists Clinical Psychologists are involved in research, teaching and supervision, program development and evaluation, consultation, public policy, professional practice, and other activities that promote psychological health in individuals, families, groups, and organizations. Professionals are trained to administer and interpret a number of tests and assessments that can help diagnose a condition or tell more about the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves.
  • Psychiatrists are physicians (a medical doctor–either an MD or a DO) who specialize in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental, addictive, and emotional disorders. Psychiatrists are trained to work with a variety of mental health disorders and utilize a broad range of treatment modalities such as diagnostic tests, prescribing medications and psychotherapy for clients and families.
  • Psychiatric Nurses are registered nurses who work with individuals, families, groups, and communities to assess mental health needs, develop diagnoses, and plan, implement, and evaluate nursing care.  Psychiatric nurses use a variety of interventions that promote and foster health, assess dysfunction, assist clients to regain or improve their coping abilities, and prevent further disability.

Where do MFTs usually practice?

Marriage and family therapists provide services in a variety of sectors in the health care industry.  Nearly half of all MFTs assume work in private practice settings.  Therapists are starting to obtain employments in agencies and companies outside of the traditional healthcare sector.  The most common areas of employment include:

  • Private Practice
  • Community Mental Health Centers
  • Inpatient facilities
  • Hospital and Medical Centers
  • Schools and Head Start Centers
  • Social Service Agencies
  • University clinics
  • Courts and Prisons

What are the qualifications of becoming a licensed MFT in the state of Minnesota?

There are specific requirements that the Minnesota Board of Marriage and Family Therapy has for prospective therapists obtaining licensure. The general requirements include:

  • Complete a Masters or doctoral degree from a Marriage and Family Therapy program from a regionally accredited institution
  • Have at least two years of post-masters supervision from an approved supervisor, with at least 200 hours of supervision.
  • Complete 1,000 post-masters clinical contact hours (500 hours must be with couples or families)
  • Complete 4,000 total professional hours (This may include not only client contact hours, but any work related to therapy such as progress notes, case consultations, phone calls, etc

For more information about specific licensing regulations and rules, you can visit the Minnesota Board of MFT website

How long does it take to complete training in an MFT program?

Typically, it takes 2-3 years to complete a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy.  The time of completion may differ based on curriculum of departments, length of one’s internship and other department requirements.  Usually, a student completes their clinical internship (or practicum) portion of their training in the final year of the program.

Where can I find an MFT?

There are a number of online sites that you can look to find a therapist in your area. One of the most popular sites to locate a specific therapist is therapistlocator.net. All therapists on the site are AAMFT clinical members and have met the necessary standards and requirements for practice. Another popular site is Psychology Today  which provides listings of other licensed professionals. Additionally, other mental health professionals or physicians may have certain recommendations or referrals based on one’s issue or reason for therapy.

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