What is a “Marriage and Family Therapist?”

A Marriage and Family Therapist seeks to help people by providing treatment for a wide array of concerns. Single or married people seek help from Marriage and Family Therapists for concerns including:

  • persistent difficulty coping with stresses and/or life crises (for example, death, divorce, acute or chronic illness, or unemployment).
  • persistent problems with a child’s behavior, school adjustment or performance.
  • a desire to improve one’s marriage and family life.
  • trouble adapting to life cycle changes such as children moving into adolescence, or adults retiring.
  • sexual concerns.
  • feelings of loneliness, moodiness, depression, failure or anxiety.
  • difficulty in talking with family members, friends, or co-workers.
  • alcohol or drug abuse; eating disorders.
  • unmanageable anger or hostility.
  • repeated financial difficulties.
  • gambling addictions.
  • sexual identity issues.
  • domestic violence.

How a Marriage and Family Therapist treats these concerns may differ from other types of therapists. MFT’s believe that individual problems need to be understood in their context–the nuclear family, extended family, and the community where the family lives. Generally, the most effective and efficient way to help a person is to involve other members of their family so that the family reinforces any program of change. Family patterns may influence the problem, are usually affected by it, and generally need to be part of the solution. However, marriage and family therapists do not work only with whole family units; they frequently treat individuals, couples, and other family sub-units.*

*This section is adapted from Marriage and Family Therapy: Helping Today’s Families (1989). American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, Washington, DC.