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family counseling Archives - Suzanne Wallach

What Does A Marriage And Family Therapist Do?

Family-Therapist

Marriage and family therapists (MFTs), as explained by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), “are mental health professionals trained in psychotherapy and family systems, and licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couples, and family systems.” MFTs must have graduate-level training, hold a master’s or doctoral degree in marriage and family therapy, and have completed at least two years of clinical experience. MFTs may provide premarital counseling, relationship counseling, child counseling, individual counseling, and separation and divorce counseling. Marriage and family therapists regularly practice short-term therapy with an average number of 12 sessions. The AAMFT assert that nearly 65.6% of the cases are completed within 20 sessions, and 87.9% within 50 sessions. Marriage/ couples therapy (11.5 sessions) and family therapy (9 sessions) both require less time than the average individuated treatment (13 sessions). Approximately half of the treatment provided by marriage and family therapists is divided between marriage/ couples therapy and family therapy, or a combination of treatments, and the other half is primarily made up of individual therapy. Marriage and family therapists treat a wide range of issues, helping couples or family members overcome difficult situations, reconcile differences, and cope with mental or emotional problems.

MFTs and Couples Therapy

The work that occurs during marriage counseling sessions is guided by the needs of the couple. By nature of participating in marriage counseling both partners engage in shared emotional experiences via the therapy sessions, which can help to foster aligned relationship goals. The work that occurs during marriage counseling can be emotionally charged, elicit difficult to face feelings and seem arduously trying. However, the skills, tools and emotional awareness that can come from actively participating in marriage counseling can be both empowering and insightful. The AAMFT reported the findings of a study that indicate, “of couples who try marriage counseling, 90% feel that their emotional health improves, and two-thirds report improvements in their physical health.” The reason behind why a couple elects to participate in marriage counseling will affect its outcome and success.

MFTs and Family Therapy

Family therapy is a type of psychological counseling that is designed to help improve the interactions of individuals within the family unit, improve the overall wellness of the family, and change patterns of dysfunction. Family therapy is based on family systems theory, which is a theory of human behavior. Family systems theory views the family as a living, complex social system, rather than the sum of its individual members. Family therapy uses systems theory to evaluate family members in terms of their position or role within the family system. Instead of attributing a problem to a single family member, in family therapy, problems are treated by addressing and shifting the way the entire family system functions. A marriage and family therapist facilitating family therapy acts as mediator to ensure every member is heard and creates a safe environment to address specific issues that may be affecting the functioning, cohesiveness, and health of the family unit.

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.

How Does Family Counseling Work?

a family in family counseling

Family therapy can help reduce distress and conflict by improving the systems of interactions between family members. The dynamics established in each family unit are distinct and exclusive to each family. The initial rolls assumed by the respective family members that make up a family unit often remain unchanged regardless of the age at which they were assumed. Long-time non-kin relationships are generally forced to develop, as the members’ grow older so as to accommodate the evolving relationship needs that accompany maturation. However, when left untended, family dynamics stagnate and thrive on the consistency of its members continuing to assume (often outdated) rolls. This can lead to developing unhealthy relationship habits, communication issues, and ineffective conflict resolution patterns, which can manifest both within the family unit as well as with members outside of the family unit. 

As Medical News Today explains, family counseling, synonymous with family therapy, “aims to address psychological, behavioral, and emotional issues that cause family problems.” Family therapy can help a family work through a difficult period (e.g., death of a loved one, major transition, mental health illness of a family member, etc.). The Mayo Clinic defines family therapy as “a type of psychological counseling (psychotherapy) that can help family members improve communication and resolve conflicts.” Through participating in family therapy, family members are provided with an emotionally safe environment to address and work through specific issues that are adversely affecting the functioning and health of the family unit.

Important Details

Family counseling is provided by a qualified mental health professional (e.g., licensed therapist, psychologist, clinical social worker, etc.). According to the Mayo Clinic, the typical duration of a family therapy session lasts about fifty minutes long. It is important to note that the term family holds a broader definition for the purposes of family counseling. As Laney Cline King (LCSW) asserts that family as “defined by the modern family therapist is anyone who plays a long-term supportive role in one’s life, which may not mean blood relations or family members in the same household.” There is a common misconception that family therapy requires the presence of every member of a family of origin. More accurately, family therapy occurs when two or more members of a family unit engage in psychotherapy sessions together. The difference between individual therapy and family therapy is that instead of focusing on an individual’s issues, a family therapy clinician views presenting problems as somewhat of a system malfunction that needs adjusting. The providing mental health professional may employ certain psychotherapeutic techniques and exercises to help the family unit heal as a whole. 

Disclaimer: 

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health.  As such, please do not use any material provided above as a means to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.