Mark Phelps, M.A., L.M.F.T. , Executive Director
Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) are mental health professionals trained in psychotherapy and family systems theory. They consider how a person’s relationships -especially their family and/or marriage- are influencing their day-to-day functioning. Hence the label “Marriage and Family Therapist”.
Many MFTs will talk a lot about “the system”, by which they mean “your relationship system”. MFTs view your family (and other relationship systems) not as a collection of individuals, but as a single organism. The system has the instinctive needs for balance and survival. Because those needs are instinctive, the system gets anxious at the appearance of a threat – be it a something or somebody. Thus, all members of the organism are expected to follow certain rules and fulfill certain functions.
Sometimes the rules don’t fit a member of the system. Sometimes a role is too burdensome for somebody. If the members don’t follow the rules and play the roles, then the system gets anxious. It senses a threat. Its instincts kick in, and processes are triggered to get everybody back in line.
Life can improve for a person with the recognition that it is possible to belong with one’s family system, and yet be able to choose how to function no matter how anxious the family system might become. This is one place where the training and experience of MFTs is very helpful. Remarkably -because of a process called “isomorphism”- improved individual functioning in the primary relationship system (the family) almost automatically leads to improved functioning in other systems, such as work and friendships.
All 50 states license and regulate the MFT profession. There are more than 50,000 MFTs nationwide. The Federal government has designated Marriage and Family Therapist as a core mental health discipline. MFTs are licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couples and family systems.