What Is a Marriage and Family Therapist?

Marriage and family therapists (MFTs) are specialists in relationships, not only one’s relationship with others but one’s relationship with oneself. Marriage and family therapists are psychotherapists licensed by the State of California. Requirements for licensure include a related doctoral or master’s degree, passage of a comprehensive written and oral examination and at least 3,000 hours of supervised experience.

MFTs Are Trained to Assess, Diagnose,
and Provide Treatment in the Following Areas:

Individual Counseling and Psychotherapy with Adults, Adolescents, and Children

MFTs traditionally provide both short and long-term help with a wide variety of issues and concerns, including depression, anxiety, trauma, life adjustment problems, personality disorders, and more.

Marital and Couple Therapy

MFTs work with couples along the entire spectrum of their relationship, including domestic partnership, premarital, and marital therapy; therapy and counseling for separation and divorce and for business partnerships.

Family Therapy

MFTs provide support and therapy for family problems that may require the attention and involvement of multiple generations to resolve.

Group Therapy

Where appropriate, many MFTs use a group setting for individuals, couples, and occasionally even families to provide support, insight, and modeling for problem resolution. SC-CAMFT therapists offer a wide variety of groups.

Life Coaching

Some MFTs offer coaching as part of their practice. The goals of coaching, while often similar to those of therapy, focus on defining, motivating, and assisting people to mobilize their personal and professional resources for work- and life-related goals.

Critical Incident Debriefing

Some MFTs are specially trained to respond quickly to people in communities where severe trauma has occurred. Traumas of this sort include natural disasters, airplane or train accidents, school or work shootings, or other forms of violence. Often a team of therapists is sent to counsel survivors of tragedy and those who have witnessed devastating events.

Consultation to Business, Corporate, and Other Organizations

MFTs provide invaluable assistance to businesses of all sizes, as well as schools and other public institutions, to help with a variety of relationship issues and concerns for employees and management. Many MFTs work in employee assistance programs (EAPs) and/or have specialties in organizational psychology.

Signals of Distress

The services of a marriage and family therapist can be useful if you are experiencing difficulties with your relationships and functioning in your daily life. Symptoms to look for include:

  • Feelings of sadness or depression
  • Moodiness
  • Feelings of loneliness, isolation
  • Emotional stress or anxiety
  • Sexual disturbances
  • Unexplained fatigue or difficulty sleeping
  • Unusual eating patterns
  • Unexplained injuries to family members
  • Excessive drug or alcohol use
  • Family conflict or tension
  • Divorce or separation
  • Child behavior problems
  • Difficulty coping with change
  • Fear, anger, or guilt
  • Conflicts with coworkers or peers
  • Grief or emotional pain

What to Look for in a Marriage and Family Therapist

Qualified Therapists:

  • Are licensed or registered as interns by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences and are thus bound by a professional code of ethics. Their license or registration number should be made available upon request.
  • Welcome inquiries about methods, background, experience and fees.
  • Are clear on office policies, clients’ rights, fees and payment methods before treatment begins.
  • Provide a comfortable, nonjudgmental environment in which a trusting and understanding therapeutic relationship can develop.
  • Keep informed and educated regarding the newest trends and advancements in the profession.
  • Treat patients only within their scope of license and competence. Therapists often specialize in specific areas of treatment. Ask.
  • Refer patients to other qualified practitioners when appropriate or necessary.
  • Communicate with other professionals (for example, physicians and psychiatrists) regarding treatment of patients after obtaining the patient’s permission through a written release of information.
  • Keep client discussions confidential except as otherwise required or permitted by law.
  • Have goals. Effective therapy is focused on goal(s) that are discussed and agreed upon by the client and the therapist.
  • Participate in a professional association, such as the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists.

Competent therapists help clients find solutions for themselves within the individual’s values and lifestyle, rather than take sides or recommend solutions. They do not allow their personal issues to interfere with the therapeutic process, and recognize that it requires personal honesty and courage to seek professional assistance.

Psychotherapy services of MFTs are often eligible for insurance reimbursement. Check with your health plan, as a doctor’s referral may be necessary. Marriage and family therapists are providers under the CHAMPUS (www.tricare.mil) program and many are eligible providers under managed care programs. If you are covered through a managed care plan, you may need to be preapproved for services. Call the intake number on your insurance card to find out more information about your benefits and requirements.