Alumni, Community and Student Engagement Initiatives

Archive for April, 2009

What is Marriage and Family Therapy?

Marriage and Family Therapy is a way of thinking about a person and whatever challenge or concern they present within the context of the family, community or system in which they live. Traditional therapies are predicated on cause and effect…Parents have strict rules for their son because he misbehaves. This is a linear way of thinking about a person and their symptom A + B = C. Linear causality asks Why?

Marriage and Family therapy or systemic therapy is predicated on circular causality… A and B exist in the context of a relationship in which each influences the other and both are equally cause and effect of each other’s behavior. “I am with you as you are with me as I am with you.” Over time, A and B establish patterns characteristic to their specific relationship. Circular causality asks What?

Marriage and Family therapy is a holistic perspective with an emphasis on reciprocity, recursion and shared responsibility. Its focus is on process (context) not content and it examines here-and–now interactions and does not look to history for antecedent causes. Therefore, we are all simultaneously subject and objects. Reality is not external but is constructed by us as we understand ourselves and the world around us based on our own individual perceptions which give specific meaning and order to it. The mind and body are inseparable, subjectivity is inevitable (qualitative scientific methodology), value-free science is not possible

In marriage and family therapy, the unit of treatment isn’t just the person – even if only a single person is interviewed – it is the set of relationships in which the person is imbedded” ( Therefore Marriage and family therapy does not see individuals or families as sick and pathologize them; instead individuals and families are understood to be stuck or to have dysfunctional patterns of behavior that are maintaining their symptoms. As a result alleviating the symptoms is a matter of interrupting the dysfunctional patterns of behavior and helping the client become “un-stuck” rather than finding out what is “wrong” with them to alleviate the symptom.

Marriage and family therapy is a brief therapy model that has a solution focus and uses specific and attainable therapeutic goals to assist clients. Marriage and family therapists treat a wide range of serious clinical problems including: depression, marital problems, anxiety, individual psychological problems, child-parent problems, eating disorders, substance abuse, etc.

“MFT’s broaden the traditional emphasis on the individual to attend to the nature and role of individuals in primary relationship networks such as marriage and the family.  MFTs take a holistic perspective to health care and are concerned with the overall, long-term well-being of individuals and their families” (