Marriage and Family Therapy is a specific practice
in mental health
. Marriage and family therapists work in the same general way as psychologists
or psychiatric social workers
, but they differentiate themselves by the model they use
, and their emphasis on including members of a person's support network
. (Sometimes family treatment is not possible or even advisable, and in these cases a more person-centered approach is taken.)
The model marriage and family therapists follow is the Biological-Psychological-Social-Spiritual model. A good marriage and family therapist does not discriminate while using this model. Even if a patient has one major problem (neuro-chemical imbalance, past history of abuse, etc.) that fits neatly into one category, the wholeness of the person still needs to be looked at. The inclusion of the spiritual component makes some people nervous. However the spiritual dimension, effects how each of the other components are understood and processed by the patient and should be taken into account. As Viktor Frankl aptly put it, “I would not be willing to live merely for the sake of my 'defense mechanisms,' nor would I be willing to die merely for the sake of my 'reaction formations'."
This wholeness mandate also affects whom marriage and family therapists see. For example, if an individual comes in seeking treatment for depression, in some cases (but not always) the therapist will want to talk to at least part of the family or support network. The reason for this, in a nutshell, is often (and particularly with kids) the individual is not the sole cause of their problem. Often times people act out, or feel a certain way in response to the stimuli in their environment. If this is the case, treating only the person displaying a response would not be effective. This approach is one of the main differences between marriage and family therapy and traditional psychology.
While this model is important, and should frame the way the therapist first approaches treatment with a patient, it is not the, be all, end all. In fact most marriage and family therapists specialize in a particular population (for example I have a friend specializing in borderline personality disorder in females) and use all of the techniques and therapies useful to any given client.
Finally, as the name implies, marriage and family therapists have specific training in offering marriage or couples therapy, as well as whole family therapy.