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5 Characteristics of Marriage and Family Therapists

Whether you are looking to become a marriage and family therapist (MFT) or are considering seeking treatment from a professional marriage and family therapist, but don’t know exactly what to look for, this blog introduces some basic characteristics of marriage and family therapists so you know what to expect.

1. Effective Relationship Builders
Marriage and family therapists work directly with people on a regular basis and have to quickly build trusting relationships in order to work effectively with their clients. "It is in the context of these relationships that therapeutic work actually occurs," notes Dr. Darren Adamson, director of curriculum development for Northcentral University's School of Marriage and Family Sciences. As a result, it is important that MFTs not only enjoy working and interacting with people, but are also effective relationship builders in order to diagnose and treat individuals, couples and families.

2. Problem Solvers
MFTs are committed to identifying symptoms and helping clients solve problems related to behavior, emotional, cognitive and relational processes.  Dr. Yulia Watters, MFT foundations faculty for NCU, compares the role of the MFT to a navigator, exploring and emphasizing solutions, while the client serves as the captain of the ship. Solving problems as a marriage and family therapist requires thorough knowledge of family systems theory and MFT-related research, and highly developed critical thinking and clinical skills.

3. Culturally Sensitive
In our diverse society, MFTs can expect to work with people from all walks of life. For this reason, they must be able to appreciate issues related to diversity, including culture, ethnicity, gender, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation and spirituality. "Respect for culture and curiosity that prompts efforts to understand clients' unique cultural experiences are critical to success as an MFT," says Adamson.

4. Ethical
"Ethics are the foundations for every therapeutic practice," notes Watters. The AAMFT Code of Ethics helps set the standard for ethical practice for American marriage and family therapists. For example, professional MFTs must be able to establish trusting and reliable relationships with their clients, which requires awareness of confidentiality issues and the legal responsibilities and liabilities of clinical practice and research. "While relieving suffering is not always achievable, there is an absolute that we can always achieve as an MFT," adds Adamson. "And that is to do no harm."

5. Licensed
"Licensure is an important achievement for an MFT clinician," explains Watters. "It is a gauge of credibility, responsibility and high ethical standards while providing clinical services." According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), all licensed MFTs must have a minimum of a master's degree and at least two years of post-graduate supervised clinical experience. If you're not familiar with the MFT licensure process, you need to be aware that it is a distinct process that involves meeting the requirements of the state licensing board in the state in which you wish to work.