What is MFT

What is Marriage and Family Therapy?

Marriage and family therapy (MFT) is a type of therapy that emphasizes relationships and is uniquely designed to help couples and families in need. MFT is based on the scientific findings that individuals and their problems are best seen in context, and that the most important context is the family. Trained in psychotherapy and family systems, MFTs focus on understanding their clients' symptoms and the interaction patterns with family and friends that may contribute to the problem. MFTs will typically ask questions about roles, patterns, rules, goals, beliefs, and stages of development. MFTs work with the individual, couple and/or family to change interaction patterns so that the problem can be resolved.

At any given time, MFTs treat over 1.8 million people.
Included are...
250,000 to 360,000 Couples
130,000 to 190,000 Families
545,000 to 710,000 Individuals
Doherty & Simmons (1996)

Do I have to be married to go to a Marriage and Family Therapist?

Absolutely not! MFTs are trained to work with individuals, couples, and families in all types of relationships. In fact, some states are beginning to call themselves "Couple and Family Therapists" to be more inclusive of all couple relationships.  

Should I see a Marriage and Family Therapist?

Although all individuals, couples and families experience some problems, it is not easy to identify which problems require the assistance of a marriage and family therapist. All of us traverse a series of normal and expected developmental stages, each posing challenges and possible pitfalls. For example, as children move from childhood to adolescence, or adults move from productive employment into retirement, the family may need special support to make necessary changes and adjustments.

Many individuals, couples, and families have unique needs and face difficult problems, such as school failure, a rebellious teenager, or alcoholism and/or substance abuse. In addition, most individuals, couples, and families also face unexpected problems and crises, such as death in the family, a divorce, a sudden illness, or unemployment. These and other problems often require professional services such as those provided by qualified marriage and family therapists.

Distress Signals

Symptoms of marital and family distress arise as individuals, couples, and families experience normal developmental stages, face special needs and problems, and/or confront unexpected crises. These symptoms are not always obvious, even to the trained observer. 

Some signals to look for are:

  • Feelings of marital and family dissatisfaction.

  • Frequent references to a child’s behavior, school adjustment, or underachievement. 

  • Sexual problems or concerns.

  • Complaints of "unexplainable" fatigue.

  • Emotional distress when talking about one's fiancée, spouse, children, parents, other family members, friends, or co-workers.

  • References to feelings of loneliness, isolation, moodiness, and depression.

  • Unexplained physical injuries to spouse or children.

  • Repeated requests for tranquilizers, energizers, or sleeping aids.

  • Repeated illnesses or non-compliance with treatment regime.

  • Excessive abuse of alcohol and/or drugs.

  • Repeated financial difficulties.

  • Inability to set or attain goals.

  • Drastic weight fluctuations and/or irregular eating patterns.

  • Repeated employment difficulties, frequent job changes, difficulty with coworkers.

What qualifications should I look for in a Marriage and Family Therapist?

Some things you may want to consider when selecting an MFT include, but are not limited to:

  • Is the therapist licensed in the state in which s/he is practicing?
  • Is the therapist a Clinical Member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT)?
  • What is the therapist's educational and training background?
  • Does the therapist have experience treating the kind of problem I am experiencing, for example, marital stress, intimacy, sexual problems, depression, child's behavior, and alcohol or drug abuse?
  • How much do they charge?  Are the fees negotiable?
  • Are the therapist's services covered by health insurance?
  • Where are Marriage and Family Therapy sessions held and what are the office hours?
  • How long do sessions last?
  • How often are sessions scheduled?
  • What is the average length of therapy when working with an MFT?
  • What is the appointment cancellation policy?
  • Will the therapist be available by phone in times of crisis?