What is a Marriage and Family Therapist or MFT?

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT or  MFCC or LMFT)
An MFT is a licensed professional counselor who helps individuals, couples, families and children explore and solve problems. The name can be somewhat misleading because it neglects to mention that a major area of counseling performed by most MFT’s is therapy with individual adults.  MFT's are also relationship specialists who treat persons involved in interpersonal relationships. They are trained to assess, diagnose and treat individuals, couples, families and groups to achieve more adequate, satisfying and productive marriage, family and social adjustment. The practice also includes premarital counseling, child counseling, divorce or separation counseling and other relationship counseling. Marriage and Family Therapists are psychotherapists and healing arts practitioners licensed by the State of California. Requirements for licensure include a related doctoral or two-year master's degree, passage of a comprehensive written and oral examination and at least 3,000 hours of supervised (mostly unpaid) experience.

Other types of Therapists
California recognizes numerous different licenses to practice counseling and therapy.  All of the counselors and therapists in California are registered with a government organization called the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS). This board oversees the ethical and legal providing of psychological services to the citizens of California. 

To read more of my thoughts, check out answers to these other questions:

Why offer a free first meeting?

What is a counselor, a psychiatrist, and a psychologist?

When can a Marriage and Family Therapist help me?


More about MFT's
*Adapted from BBS website, (2007), "Why use a Marriage and Family Therapist?", www.bbs.org.
They work in private practice as well as various other settings with individuals, couples, families, children and adolescents, and the elderly, providing support and perspective as patients struggle with life's challenges.

Marriage and family therapists (MFTs) practice early crisis intervention and brief, focused psychotherapy to resolve problems or reduce symptoms in the shortest time possible. They also have the expertise and skills to work with persons where more intensive, long-term treatment is necessary to cure or relieve mental or emotional conditions.

They work in California's courts and schools as well as its health institutions, child protective services, mental health treatment centers, research centers, organizations and businesses.

Patients who are treated by marriage and family therapists are more productive at work, visit their doctors less often, and have lower average lengths of stay at in-patient facilities.

Marriage and family therapists are licensed by the State of California. They must undergo extensive education, training, clinical fieldwork and pass two rigorous exams to demonstrate professional competency.

In California, record numbers of citizens are seeking treatment for mental disorders that affect their work performance and personal lives. Personal and family stresses are greater, expectations for quality of life are higher, and access to qualified mental healthcare providers has improved as society has come to recognize the impact of mental health on physical well being.

Marriage and family therapists are core mental health practitioners educated and trained to help with relationship difficulties, and diagnose and treat the mental disorders and emotional problems of individuals, couples, families and groups. Marriage and family therapy is highly effective because of the "systemic" orientation that its therapists bring to treatment. In other words, they believe that an individual's mental or emotional problems must be treated within the context of his or her current or prior relationships if the gains are to be meaningful and productive for the patient. This treatment philosophy is consistent with current thinking in the health care field, which increasingly emphasizes inter-agency cooperation, involvement of the family, integration and coordination of services. Our health care system is now moving toward a more systemic approach and is increasingly rejecting individually focused care.

As a result, marriage and family therapists are often able to treat a patient's condition quickly - a cost-effective and practical approach to mental healthcare and a prime reason so many physicians and others refer patients to marriage and family therapists. When it is in the best interest of the patient or outside the scope of the marriage and family therapist's license, therapists collaborate with and refer to other health professionals, such as physicians or psychiatrists in the case of prescribing medication.

Policy-makers, both in business and government, are beginning to understand and support the notion that mental health services play a critical role in prevention. Healthy individuals and families promote socially acceptable behaviors, increased self-esteem, more tolerance for society in general, increased capacity for intimacy, work, maturity and responsible functioning. This ultimately results in less unnecessary utilization of medical services.