Who Are Family Therapists?

It's easy to think that family therapists are therapists who work with families and couples, while clinical social workers (LCSWs and LICSWs) and mental health counselors (LMHCs) work with individuals. After all, many family therapists, particularly licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs), will ask clients to bring in multiple family members to the intake session.

While family therapists are trained to diagnose individuals according to DSM criteria, the diagnosis itself takes a back seat to the way that a family talks about a problem and other family and relational dynamics. A session with a family therapist generally involves the following: 

  • A positive, strengths-based approach, based on the assumption that all behavior functions to either promote change or maintain the status quo.
  • A focus on present experiences, with a process for understanding how past experiences and messages impact the here-and-now.
  • A curiosity about context, with an assumption that our experiences, relationships, and social constructs are all interconnected.
  • An evaluation of process--"how" an interaction is playing out, as opposed to what's actually being said (content).
  • A goal-oriented approach, centered on how clients can make the best decisions for their particular context.

Family therapists work with families, couples, individuals, and groups. Family therapists are employed in a variety of settings--private practice, agencies, hospitals, schools, and the criminal justice system, to name a few. Family therapists have a diversity of licenses and qualifications, including sex therapists and certified emotionally focused therapists.

Mental health practice is driven by one of many counseling theories; the unifying thread for family therapists is systems theory. NEAFAST participates in the accessibility and improvement of systems-informed therapy in two ways:

  1. Education. NEAFAST oversees the training of family and systemic therapists by advertising and supporting quality continuing education that is informed by systems theory.
  2. Relationships. NEAFAST connects family therapists and learners of family therapy in a variety of ways. Our friendships, supervisory relationships, and collaborative partnerships allow us to sharpen our understanding of systems theory, and thus, our effectiveness as therapists.

For more information about how NEAFAST can be your professional home, check out our Membership page or our Membership Application.