Marital and family therapists
A marriage and family therapist is a person who has received advanced, specialized training and has practiced therapy for an extended period, typically a minimum of 3,000 hours, under the close supervision of a competent, licensed professional. A marital and family counselor must be licensed by passing both written and oral examinations as well as completing continuing education requirements. Licenses to practice are issued by individual states.
A marital and family counselor concentrates on these two aspects of human behavior. While individuals may seek and receive individual counseling, complete families or marital pairs are more commonly seen together during counseling sessions.
Different theoretical models exist for marital and family therapy. However, these share a common thread of concentrating on interactions between and among members of a dysfunctional unit.
The goal of marital and family therapists is to improve relationships between marital partners or family members, or to help with the dissolution of a difficult relationship with minimum harm to all. Various techniques are employed. These include active listening, roleplaying, behavior modification, and changing expectations concerning the behaviors of others. Persons receiving therapy are helped to understand the motivations and actions of others. They are taught techniques to modify their own behaviors, or how to accept more readily the behaviors of others.
Success in marital and family counseling requires patience, time, and a commitment to succeed. As dysfunctional behaviors are acquired over long periods of time, long periods are required to first unlearn troublesome habits and then replace them with more appropriate patterns of behavior. Patience and understanding facilitate this process. A commitment to succeed is mandatory for success. Therapists must be able to identify persons who enter therapy without a commitment to succeed.
Individual states regulate the activities in which marriage and family therapists may legally engage. This is done to protect consumers from incompetence and negligence of service providers who may potentially exploit them. Most state regulations closely delineate the minimum training and education requirements for marital and family therapists. Thus, the possession of a license to practice marital and family therapy certifies minimum competency and ensures that consumers receive safe and fair treatment. As of 2002, there are 42 states that license practitioners of marital and family therapy.
Marital and family therapists receive training in the following three areas to qualify for a license to practice the profession.
- Academic program. A person must earn a master's degree with an emphasis in marital and family therapy from an accredited academic institution. Most programs of study are 48 semester credit hours in length. The curriculum must include theoretical as well as practical training. Specific areas of competency such as human sexuality, assessing victims of child abuseand substance abuse must be embedded in the curriculum. Students must receive 30 hours of directly supervised counseling and an additional 150 hours of directed counseling practice.
- Supervised clinical experience. Prior to becoming eligible to sit for a licensure exam, candidates must complete a total of approximately 3,000 hours of supervised counseling experiences. The 3,000 hours may include activities related to personal psychotherapy, supervision, direct counseling experience, professional enrichment experiences, and maintaining records. Some (approximately one-quarter) of these hours may be included in the graduate degree training curriculum. All of the clinical experiences are closely supervised.
- Licensure examination. The examination has written and oral components. A license to practice is granted with the successful passage of both parts of the exam. A minimum of 36 hours of continuing education training must be completed every two years as a requirement for re-licensure.
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American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. 1133 15th Street, NW Suite 300, Washington, DC 20005. Telephone: (202) 452-0109. Fax: (202) 223-2329. Web site: <http://www.aamft.org/index_nm.asp>.
American Family Therapy Academy. 2020 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, #273, Washington, DC 20006. Telephone:(202) 333-3690. Fax: (202) 333-3692. Web site: <www.afta.org>.
American Psychiatric Association. 1400 K Street NW, Washington, DC 20005. Telephone: (888) 357-7924. Fax:(202) 682-6850. Web site: <http://www.psych.org/>.
American Psychological Association. 750 First Street NW, Washington, DC, 20002-4242. Telephone: (800) 374-2721 or (202) 336-5500. Web site: <http://www.apa.org/>.
National Mental Health Association. 1021 Prince Street, Alexandria, VA 22314-2971. Telephone: (800) 969-6942 or (703) 684-7722. Fax: (703) 684-5968. Web site: <http://www.nmha.org/>.
L. Fleming Fallon, Jr., M.D., Dr.P.H.