What is Marriage and Family Counseling?

Marriage and Family counseling is a system within our society. Within the system of marriage and family counseling lies another system, families. The family involved that is seeking help is in itself a system. The treatment isn't just isolated to one person. Even if only single person is being interviewed, that person stems from a series of other relationships. They are involved in a system set up of relationships that exist with their life. Marriage and Family Therapist's are licensed to treat and diagnose mental and emotional disorders involved within marriages relationships, and family systems. They are out in the world helping people because they care enough to do so.

So how do you find a Marriage and Family Therapist? Many individuals choose to visit a therapist outside of their living area, due to the patient's desire for confidentiality. Most of these people wish to have the convenience of having a therapist not too far out of their way, so they seek counseling close to work. Although many people look for convenience in counseling, they also look for trust. Some people might go way out of their way to seek therapy due to the trusted referral of a friend, family member, a pastor, doctor (family or OBGYN), or even a coworker.

Family therapists practice under a variety of degrees and titles. Sometimes, the few letters following the therapist's name can be very confusing: MFT, LCSW, Ph.D. Therefore, what do they mean, are they different from each other, do they all practice and focus on specific topics? Many therapist focuses on different topics, and work in specific field. Therapist's focus on what they know best, and what they receive the most cases about.

MFT indicates a Marriage and Family Therapist. They usually have a master's degree in counseling, psychology or a related field, although occasionally a Ph.D.. or Ed.D will practice with this license. Family therapists work with the diagnosis and treatment of mental and nervous disorders within the context of marital and family systems. MFT's treat many of their patients through the modification of behaviors and the structures of the family system. The treatment usually involves intervention with many, if not all, family members. It is rare to treat an inpatient or an outpatient client without attention to the family and dynamics to the family system. Most clients seek therapy due to chemical dependency, substance abuse, eating disorders, disorders of childhood, adolescence, depression, marital problems, anxiety, and individual psychological problems. These problems can stem from issues ranging from lack of communication to serious psychological problems.

LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, with an MSW (Master of Social Work) degree. Their counseling/psychotherapy practice can be similar to that of an MFT. Most of these people work with families and marriages no different from a person with their MFT. Although their training and approaches to therapy tend to be similar, social worker programs often include more education about larger social and governmental systems. MFTs are licensed in the state of California and a few other states, although additional states have comparable licenses or certification. LCSWs are licensed in all states, and there is generally reciprocal recognition of out-of-state licenses.

Ph.D. or Psy.D. is a doctoral degree in psychology. Most licensed practitioners have a specialty in clinical psychology or counseling. Most doctoral graduates practice psychotherapy, clinical psychology, or counseling with a psychologist's license. However, some do practice with an MFT license, and many specialize in family and individual counseling. A Ph.D. has more education than a masters level counselor, although that education often tends to focus on research and theory, rather than on counseling and psychotherapy skills. Psy.D. programs focus on clinical psychology, while Ph.D. programs may offer a variety of emphases. Clinical Ph.D.s and Psy.D.s have more training in research and testing and assessment that masters level practitioners.

--Monica Sanchez & Danielle Katz