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What exactly do Marriage and Family Therapists do?

I was looking into pursuing this field of study for grad school as well. But can anyone who's already in the program/or beginning their graduate studies in the program share their thoughts? #family-therapy #individual-and-family-services #counseling-psychology #therapist #psychology

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Lillian’s Answer

Hello! After I got my BA in Psychology, I was also conflicted on what to do for graduate school, so I am going to tell you everything I wish someone had told me. Since you seem to be interested in counseling, here are the main options for you:

LMFT (licensed marriage and family therapist)

LPC (licensed professional counselor)

LCSW (licensed clinical social worker) are all very similar things in that you

Pursuing a PsyD or PhD

The first 3 require only a Masters degree (2 year program) and then you'll work in the field while being supervised. After a certain number of supervised hours, you get to become "licensed" and can practice on your own. The last one requires 4-7 years of school (PsyD programs are typically shorter than PhD programs) along with a certain number of supervised hours before you can qualify as being "licensed."

I will only speak about the first 3 since I don't know as much about PsyD and PhD programs. But based on my research when I was making this decision, an LMFT and LPC are very similar in terms of what they do--they both can provide therapy to individuals, couples, and families. However, an LPC education/training is more of a broader, catch-all type that teaches you to provide therapy to everyone, while an LMFT education/training is more specifically focused on couples and families to make sure you become an expert in these fields. For example, the number of supervised hours you need after schooling differs between the two--while the LPC licensing board will count individual, couples, or family therapy for hours, LMFT is more specific in that you need a certain number of couples therapy hours and a certain number of family therapy hours.

An LCSW is also a therapist license and you can essentially do anything an LPC and LMFT can as well. The licensing requirements for an LCSW are a little more strict in terms of what they count as supervised hours--for example, you typically need more supervised hours compared to what's required for an LPC/LMFT and the counted hours of therapy must involve assessment, diagnosis, and treatment whereas the LPC requirements are a little more vague and relaxed. However, some places will ONLY take an LCSW (e.g. the VA, certain hospitals, institutions, etc.) and not take an LPC/LMFT. An LCSW also has better coverage in terms of insurance due to the stronger lobbying efforts of the National Association of Social Workers. For example, "Medicare currently recognizes psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers and psychiatric nurses for outpatient mental health services. However, Medicare does not reimburse professional counselors for behavioral health services." This limits your clientele a little, which was a significant factor in my decision-making.


The LCSW is also little more flexible in that your job doesn't necessarily have to be focused on therapy. You can do many other things with social work, such as program management, advocacy, case management, research, etc. Additionally, after you finish your Masters degree in social work, you become an LMSW, while opens up more avenues for you. Whereas after you finish your counseling degree, you are at best an LPC-intern, which is not quite as sought out by employers.

Lastly, if you are interested in what couples counseling looks like, I would suggest for you to look up "Where Should We Begin?", a free podcast by a well-known couples counselor who records real-life sessions with her clients (with their permission of course). It was incredibly helpful for me to witness what couples counseling looked like and to see her implement some of the tools and strategies I'd learned in class. https://www.estherperel.com/podcast

Hope this helps! :)

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Madilynn’s Answer

Clifford, uh-mazing question, which bears a myriad of potential answers. So, I'll try my best and be succinct.

TITLE IDENTIFICATION: Depending on the state that you live in will determine the title and associated parameters of your position. For instance, my state (CA) still offers the legal title "Therapist", but requires specific courses of study and certification in order to do so. Counselors, Social Workers, Psychologists and Psychiatrists are just a few of the various fields that deal with children, couples and families. If time in school and therefore money is of importance to you I would look into your state requirements surrounding this and the title you seek.

TITLE DESCRIPTION: The selected Title will determine what the career entails; ie, Social Workers (SW) on (often working in the public sector) deal with individuals and families experiencing neglect, abuse, substance dependency and mental health. Clinical Social Workers (CSW) do the aforementioned as well as the training and ability to diagnose. All titles are qualified to serve individuals, couples and families in some capacity, but rare varied by the extent of specialization in a certain demographic.

MFTs: Marriage and Family Therapists, focus on the systems (relationships) of couples, families and the individuals that comprise them. Additionally they are compound certifications that an MFT can acquire that increases their area of expertise. For instance, I am an AMFT (Associate Marriage Family and Therapist) and AST (Assoc. Sex Therapist). Which means that my target audience are couples and individuals who seek an understanding or resolution to their issues in sex and sexuality.

Many websites have handy charts that breakdown the titles and descriptions in this field and some go as far as providing you the academic and certification requirements to attain licensure.

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Jil’s Answer

Marriage and Family Therapists  specialize in couple and family therapy. While exploring the different types of licenses a professional counselor can obtain, I decided to go with a general license to practice counseling (LPC).

School counselor is another license you can look into, the course work is the same but additional course are required for this licensure.

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Wendy’s Answer

Marriage and family therapists assess, diagnose and treat mental illness and psychological distress within the context of the marriage and family

systems, ... conducting psychotherapy with individuals, couples, and families. Developing treatment plans. Helping clients develop new

interpersonal communication skills.