Marriage Family TherapyMarriage and family therapy is a type of counseling that uses psychotherapy, marriage counseling and family therapy to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couples and family systems.

Marriage and family therapists (MFT) help people work through problems and rebuild relationships. Couples often seek marriage family therapy because they are trying to avoid divorce. Sometimes families need family therapy to help them through a crisis or stressful time, such as a death in the family, or a chronic illness.

In some instances, there’s substance abuse involved. MFTs help individuals and couples to express their needs appropriately, make compromises and establish boundaries. MFTs go a step further and make assessments and treatment plans to assure that individuals, couples and families receive appropriate services from other health professionals such as psychiatrists or other medical doctors.

What Marriage Family Therapists Do

The work that MFTs do is unique because they are educated in both psychotherapy and family systems. This training enables them to focus on understanding a client’s issues and symptoms in the context of the specific relational interactions that influence human behavior. Because of this, MFTs tend to view issues from a relationship perspective.

MFTs help people with a wide range of clinical problems, including anxiety, depression, addiction, eating disorders, trauma, grief, and relationship problems. MFTs typically use a holistic approach to treatment in that they take in account the spiritual and physical health of their clients while considering the overall, long-term well-being of individuals, couples and families.

Research has shown that marriage family therapy is a powerful model of treatment that leads to lasting change. Numerous studies have indicated that the family-based interventions commonly used by MFTs are at least if not more effective than other therapies, such as medication.

Why Use a Marriage and Family Therapist?

Studies support the long-term effectiveness of marriage and family therapy in treating the full range of psychiatric disorders and relationship problems. From obesity to schizophrenia  — MFTs effectively treat mental health and relational issues. There are many times when an MFT will address an individual’s mental health issues in the context of couples counseling and/or family therapy.

Research has found that the majority of clients are highly satisfied with the treatment they received from an MFT. Individuals, couples and families have reported significant improvement in all types of relationship as well as improved overall health. In one study, participants said that MFTs were the type of mental health professionals they would most likely recommend to friends and family. Additionally, over 98 percent of clients of MFTs deemed the therapy services they received as good or excellent.

What To Expect From Marriage Family Therapy

After receiving marriage family therapy, the great majority of clients say that they feel better. This is true whether the treatment was individual psychotherapy, marriage counseling or family therapy. Studies have shown that around 90 percent of clients experience an improvement in emotional health and about two-thirds also have an improvement in their overall physical health.

The same research has found that the majority of clients see a change for the better in their job performance. In situations where a couple has sought marriage counseling, about 75 percent said that it improved the overall quality of their relationship. It is important to note that in some circumstances, clients do not feel better after marriage family therapy. Research has shown that this happens primarily with minority groups and in marriage counseling when expectations have not been met and clients feel misunderstood.

Overall, marriage and family therapy’s prominence in the mental health field has continually increased due to its solution-focused treatment, family-centered approach and demonstrated effectiveness. This success is a result, in part, of public interest in wellness as well as family values that stress the importance of relationships and healthy communication.

Randi Fredricks, Ph.D.


Becvar, D.S., & Becvar, R.J. (2008). Family therapy: A systemic integration. 7th ed. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Booth, Therese J.; Cottone, R. Rocco (2000). Measurement, Classification, and Prediction of Paradigm Adherence of Marriage and Family Therapists. The American Journal of Family Therapy. 28 (4): 329–346.

Gehart, D. R., & Tuttle, A. R. (2003). Theory-based treatment planning for marriage and family therapists: Integrating theory and practice. Pacific Grove, CA: Thompson Brooks/Cole.

Goldenberg, I., & Goldenberg, H. (2008). Family therapy: An overview. Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.[page needed]

Gurman, A. S. (2008). Clinical handbook of couple therapy. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Sexton, T. L., Weeks, G. R., & Robbins, M. S. (2003). Handbook of family therapy: The science and practice of working with families and couples. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.

Sholevar, G.P. (2003). Family Theory and Therapy. In Sholevar, G.P. & Schwoeri, L.D. Textbook of Family and Couples Therapy: Clinical Applications (pp. 3-25). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Tags: , ,