What is Marriage Family Therapy?
Most psychological counseling tends to focus on an individual’s mental health and relationship problems. Marriage family therapy (MFT), on the other hand, is more concerned with counseling the couple or family as a unit and getting others involved in the matter. This form of group therapy may lead to better solutions in the long term for the individual, couple, and family.
If you are interested in becoming a marriage family therapist, you will need to earn your master’s degree in the field as well as clinical experience and a state license. Before making that commitment, read more below about what marriage family therapy is, how to become one, job outlook, and more.
Marriage Family Therapy Overview
Marriage and family therapy is a type of psychotherapy that addresses the behaviors of all family members and how these behaviors affect relationships and the family as a whole. Treatment in marriage family therapy is often divided between individual therapy, couple therapy, and family therapy. MFT also may be referred to couple counseling, family therapy, marriage counseling, or family counseling (Psychologytoday.com)
Many physical and psychological problems are treated with MFT, including:
- Marital and couple conflicts
- Parent and child conflicts
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Sexual dysfunction
- Grief and distress
- Eating disorders and weight problems
- Problems with children’s behavior
- Dementia in loved ones
Marriage family therapists also help people with mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, or schizophrenia, and how these problems affect the rest of the family.
Most marriage and family therapy is short term and consists of approximately 12 solution-focused sessions. More sessions may be needed depending on the severity and nature of the problems. In a situation where a couple is being treated, the marriage family therapist will start by meeting both partners, then spend time with each person.
In family therapy, the therapist will meet the entire family and then meet with separate family members.
While regular psychological therapy tends to focus more on one person, MFT looks at how the behavior of an individual affects the individual and their relationship as part of a family or couple. The theory of MFT is that no matter whether the problem seems to be with the individual or in the family, getting all family members involved in the process will lead to better solutions.
How Does Marriage Family Therapy Help the Patient?
Research has repeatedly shown that MFT is effective in treating many mental and emotional disorders, as well as health problems. (AAMFT.org). Drug abuse, depression, alcoholism, obesity, and dementia, as well as marital conflict and distress, are some of the conditions that MFT can treat effectively.
Clinical studies also show that most clients are satisfied with MFT services. Clients have reported major improvements in family relationships, partner relationships, emotional health, overall health, social life, community involvement, work productivity, and co-worker relationships.
A recent study found that consumers said that MFTs are the mental health professionals they would recommend to friends the most. More than 98% of MFT clients said their therapy services were good or excellent.
After receiving MFT treatment, 90% of clients have reported improvement in their emotional health, and almost ⅔ report improvement in their physical health. Most clients have reported improvement in their work, and ¾ who received treatment report improvement in their personal relationships. When a child is a patient, parents said their child’s behavior improved in 73% of cases. Also, their ability to get along with their children improved dramatically.
How Can You Become a Marriage Family Therapist?
To become an MFT, you need to have a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy or psychology. A bachelor’s degree in most subjects is acceptable to be admitted to an MFT program. (BLS.gov). A master’s program in marriage and family therapy teaches how families, marriage, and relationships work, and how these relationships affect emotional and mental disorders.
There are many excellent online and on-campus master’s in marriage family therapy programs to choose from today. Some of the courses you may take in your master’s program include: (USC.edu)
- Creating Communities of Interest
- The Counseling Process
- Professional Identity, Law, and Ethics for Counselors
- Theories in Counseling
- Counseling Through the Lifespan
- Psychopathology for Marriage and Family Therapists
- Research Methods and Data Analysis For Counselors
- Theories of Marriage and Family Therapy
- Measurement Procedures for Counselors
- Psychotherapy With Children and Adolescents
- Psychopharmacology and the Effects of Substance Abuse
During your master’s program, you will gain hands-on experience in an MFT internship or residency. There you will learn how to provide family, individual, and group therapy under the supervision of a licensed counselor.
What Do You Need to Apply to the Program?
Every admissions office has different standards for its applicants, but most will require most of the following to apply for a master’s in marriage family therapy.
- College transcripts: Official transcripts from all previous college work are required.
- Standardized test scores: Some master’s programs will require you to submit GRE or GMAT scores. Others may not require them, or offer waivers to students with a high GPA and/or significant related work experience.
- Letters of recommendation: MFT programs are competitive and you need solid recommendations from employers and professors.
- Prerequisites: If you have a bachelor’s in psychology or a related field, you probably will have the prerequisites you need to be admitted to a master’s program in MFT.
- Personal essay: How well you write is critical to be admitted to any master’s in psychology program.
- Application: Most MFT applications are completed online. Be sure you provide all information requested and apply by the deadline.
What Do Exams and Licensing Involve?
All states require MFTs to be licensed. Earning your MFT license requires a master’s degree at minimum and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. Also, all MFT candidates must pass a state examination and complete continuing education classes annually.
Is The Job Outlook for a Marriage Family Therapist Good?
Yes. The employment of MFTs will grow by 22% by 2028, which is much faster than average. Growth is anticipated because of the greater use of integrated care, which is treating several problems at once by a group of healthcare professionals. During the integrated care process, MFTs work with counselors who specialize in substance abuse, behavior disorders, and mental health to address the issues of the patient as a team. (BLS.gov)
Further Resources for Candidates in Marriage Family Therapy
If you are interested in marriage family therapy as a career, below are additional resources of interest:
- How to Become a Marriage Family Therapist: As a marriage family therapist, you will observe how patients behave in their families and identify any problems that exist. You will come up with treatment plans so that each person has their needs met, and the family works more happily and efficiently.
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy: AAMFT is the largest professional association in the US in the field of marriage and family therapy. There are more than 50,000 MFTs in this organization from the US, Canada, and overseas.
- American Counseling Association: AMA is dedicated to the growth and enhancement of the counseling profession in the US and Canada.
- Mayo Clinic Definition of Family Therapy: Excellent overview of family therapy provided by the Mayo Clinic. Includes why it’s done, what you can expect, clinical trials, and more.
- Difference Between MFT & LCSW Degrees: The differences include the educational degree but also extend to differences in therapeutic approach, job titles and salaries, and licensure and other requirements.
Now that you understand the important aspects of a marriage and family therapy education and career, you just need to get started on your master’s degree!