I have a personal question to ask that’s really important to me, but before I ask it, I need to know what a marriage and family therapist is! In other words, are you different from a social worker or psychologist, or even a psychiatrist? Can you explain?
More than Curious
Dear More than Curious,
You’re asking a very valid question, and one that lots of people wonder about. I’m glad you asked! And I hope you’ll send me your personal question soon.
Marriage and Family Therapy is one of the five basic mental health disciplines (along with Psychiatry, Psychology, Psychiatric Nurse Specialists, and Clinical Social Workers). It’s based on research, theory, and clinical experience. Typically referred to as “MFTs” or “family therapists,” practitioners are trained and licensed to independently diagnose and treat mental health and substance abuse problems. We do not do testing, nor can we prescribe medication.
Family therapy is a relatively young discipline. It began in the 1970s, with the work of Murray Bowen (sometimes called the ‘father’ of family therapy) and Salvador Minuchen, among others. Because it’s a ‘young’ discipline, some senior clinicians are still developing theory and writing about their work.
For example, four years ago, my colleague Elena Lesser Bru’un and I were asked by WW Norton & Co to write a book about pre-marital counseling. This is a field in which we were both working actively, and yet, many practitioners are very tentative about entering it. As we wrote the book (Marrying Well, published in 2010), I identified and described eight pre-marital stages. This new paradigm is now part of Marriage and Family Therapy theory, available to therapists as they work with couples. That’s just one example of the vitality of this field.
Let me tell you why I think it’s so important: Every one has a family. To greater and lesser degrees, for good or for not so good, we are each influenced by our family. It’s valuable to hold and explore the frame of the family, regardless of whether we are single or married, in individual, couple, group, or straight-out family therapy.
The ultimate bond that links a healthy family is made of respect for, and joy with, one another.