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What Exactly is Marriage and Family Therapy?

Marriage and family therapy

You’ve probably heard of therapy before, but did you know there are many different types or branches? Individual therapy is very well known, but perhaps less known is marriage and family therapy. Simply put, the definition of marriage and family therapy is that it is a type or branch of psychotherapy that works with couples or families to encourage positive change.

Marriage and family therapy has been around a long time, both informally and formally. In the U.S. it got its start in the 1940s. As this type of therapy has proven helpful over the years, it has gained in popularity. According a poll by Psychology Today, more than 27 percent of adults sought help from a therapist of some kind in the previous two years from the poll (a portion of that is marriage and family counseling). Since the 1970s the number of marriage and family therapists has had a 50-fold increase, and they are treating nearly 2 million people.

Is marriage and family therapy right for you? Here are some insights that might help.

Marriage and family therapist v/s Psychologist

First, it may be helpful to know the differences and similarities between a psychologist and a marriage and family therapist.

A psychologist, according to the American Psychological Association, is someone who has gone to school and been certified to practice as a psychologist. Typically they have a master’s or doctoral degree, plus two years of clinical training. There are about 105,000 licensed psychologists in the U.S. Psychologist who help individuals deal with issues that come up in life or mental health problems. They can diagnose and offer treatment. Therapy sessions are where they talk to understand issues and then come up with solutions.

Marriage and family therapists are very similar to psychologists. However, they specifically trained to treat issues within the context of marriage and family. According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, they have a master’s or doctoral degree and two or more years of clinical experience before starting their professional career. They can also diagnose and treat emotional issues and behavior problems. Marriage and family therapists are interested in the long-term health of the couple and family, as well as each person.

So while psychologists and marriage and family therapists have similar amount of schooling and clinical training, what they are taught varies. Marriage and family therapists are more specialized in working with issues in a marriage or family and they are well versed in working with the dynamics of multiple people involved in the issue.

Why should I consider marriage and family therapy?

This is a good question to ask yourself, and the answer will be different for each person. If you are having an issue in your family or marriage that you can’t seem to work out, and it isn’t going away on its own, then a marriage and family therapist might be a good idea.

Possible issues a marriage and family therapist can help with range widely. They can help treat mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or other disorders that are contributing to issues within the family unit or the marriage. Or they could be issues could be related to tragedies the family or couple has endured, such as the loss of a child, or a divorce. Additionally, these types of therapists can help treat those who have endured abuse, or they can help couples who have issues with intimacy.

These are not just regular ups and downs of life. These are major issues that can really affect the overall emotional health of the marriage or family. While we can work a lot on our own to get through these issues, it’s ok to realize that sometimes you may need outside help. One huge positive a marriage and family therapist is that they have experience helping families and married couples just like yours. According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, 90 percent of clients report an improvement in their emotional health after receiving treatment.

Finding a good marriage and family therapist

Not all therapists are the same—some have more or less experience, and some use different methods to achieve certain results. Those are two things to definitely consider when you are searching for a therapist that is right for you. But even more, people are realizing that it’s important to find a therapist who you all mesh with. Therapy is a very personal thing, so the therapist should be someone you all feel comfortable talking to, and someone who you trust so that you will be more likely to follow their advice.

One of the best places to find a good therapist is referrals. The problem with that is others aren’t necessarily broadcasting the fact that they are going to a therapist. But if you do know of anyone who has, discreetly ask them who they can recommend. You may also be able to read reviews of different therapists online.

In the end, you may just need to attend therapy first in order to determine which therapist is right for you. Don’t feel bad if they don’t work out and you need to find someone else. No everyone will be a good fit for every family or couple.

How many sessions can I expect?

The Oklahoma Association for Marriage and Family Therapy says that this kind of therapy is typical short term. Married couples or families come in with a specific issue they want to work out, and there is typically an end goal in mind. So 9-12 sessions is usually the average. But many can take 20 or even 50 session. It just depends on the couple or family and also the issue at hand.

Change is hard and can take time, especially when other people are involved. So don’t expect change overnight, but also know that therapy isn’t always forever. It’s there when you need it, whether for one session or a lifetime of sessions.

Interestingly, marriage and family therapists general spend half of their time treating an individual one-on-one, with the other half with the family or combined with the spouse. It goes to show that talking in a group is helpful, but so is going in alone. If you go this route, generally there may be more sessions involved.

Marriage and family therapy is a way for families or couples to talk to a specially trained therapist about issues in their lives. Over the years as it has been proven to be effective, it has grown in popularity. Is it right for you? If you have been thinking about it, why not try it?


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