The Family-Friendly Mental Health Professionals and Relationship Educators
Marriage and family therapists (commonly referred to as MFTs or family therapists) are mental health professionals with a minimum of a master’s degree and two years supervised clinical experience, specifically trained to treat couples and families. MFTs are trained and licensed to independently diagnose and treat mental health and substance abuse problems. Marriage and family therapy is one of the core mental health disciplines and is based on the research and theory that mental illness and family problems are best treated in a family context. Trained in psychotherapy and family systems, marriage and family therapists focus on understanding their clients’ symptoms and interaction patterns within their existing environment. MFTs treat individuals, couples, families and groups. Whomever the client, Family Therapists treat from a relationship perspective that incorporates family systems. Some MFTs also trained to provide relationship education and enrichment, parenting skills training and pre-marital education and counseling.
Most mental health professionals and their clients recognize the necessity of treating mental and emotional problems within the context of the family system. Research has shown that these family-based interventions are as effective—and in many cases more effective—than alternative interventions, often at a lower cost. Studies demonstrate that family therapy is a preferred method of treatment for depression, substance abuse, alcoholism, marital problems, child problems, couple enrichment, and schizophrenia, to name a few.
Family therapy for severe mental illness is one of the most well-studied and effective interventions in the mental health literature. Family involvement—including family psychoeducation, multifamily group therapy, and family therapy—have been consistently linked to better individual and family functioning. Research on couples therapy for depression indicates that couples therapy is the treatment of choice for couples in which there is both depression and couple distress. Family therapy outcomes for severe mental illness include improved well being, fewer medical illnesses, decreased medical care utilization, and increased self-efficacy. Family-based interventions are also effective for persons with medical problems. Treatment outcomes show improvement in the identified patient, as well as in other family members. Family therapy is particularly effective with families who are providing care to elders and to a child with a chronic illness (e.g., asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, cancer). There is also some evidence that family involvement facilitates disease prevention, demonstrating improved outcomes for weight reduction for children and cardiovascular risk.