“In this therapy, the therapist takes responsibility for the outcome of the therapy. This has nothing to do with good or bad, guilt or innocence, right or wrong. It is the simple acknowledgement that you make a difference.” – Eileen Bobrow
As the different types of therapy described above show, a family therapist may be called upon to take on many different roles. These many roles require a family therapist to undergo a great deal of training, formal education, and testing to ensure that the therapist is up to the task.
While therapists may have different methods and preferred treatment techniques, they must all have at least a minimum level of experience with the treatment of:
- Child and adolescent behavioral problems
- Depression and anxiety
- LGBTQ issues
- Domestic violence
- Marital conflicts
- Substance abuse (All Psychology Schools, 2017)
In order to treat these and other family issues, therapists must:
- Observe how people interact within units
- Evaluate and resolve relationship problems
- Diagnose and treat psychological disorders within a family context
- Guide clients through transitional crises such as divorce or death
- Highlight problematic relational or behavioral patterns
- Help replace dysfunctional behaviors with healthy alternatives
- Take a holistic (mind-body) approach to wellness (All Psychology Schools, 2017)
In order to gain the skills necessary to perform these functions, a family therapist usually obtains a bachelor’s degree in counseling, psychology, sociology, or social work, followed by a master’s degree in counseling or marriage and family therapy.
Next, the therapist will most likely need to complete two years of supervised work after graduation, for a total of 2,000 to 4,000 hours of clinical experience. When these requirements are met, the therapist will also likely need to pass a state-sanctioned exam, as well as completing annual continuing education courses.
This education and training will allow a therapist to help the clients who come to the therapist for guidance with a wide range of problems, including:
- Personal conflicts within couples or families
- Unexpected illness, death, or unemployment
- Developing or maintaining a healthy romantic relationship at any stage
- Behavioral problems in children
- Divorce or separation
- Substance abuse or addiction
- Mental health problems like depression and anxiety
This wide range of problems makes it clear that the answer to “What is a family therapist NOT trained to do?” may be shorter than the question of what they ARE trained to do!