A Dive into Marriage and Family Therapy
written by: Katherine Scott, M.Ed/Ed.S, LMFT
Close your eyes and imagine the first thing that comes to mind when I say “therapist.”
Does your mind wander to the media portrayal of someone dressed in business casual, doting a cardigan and wide framed glasses? They usher you into a darkly lit room, and you find yourself laying down onto a cold leather couch as the therapist perches on their oversized chair across from you. Perhaps you think of these somber therapists holding up ink blots, asking which images you see buried within them.
Contrast to the popular portrayal by the media, there are numerous facets mental health professionals can identify with. Psychologist, psychiatrist, licensed clinical social work, licensed mental health counselors, crisis counselors, substance abuse counselors, you name it. The niche of therapy I will dive into today is the Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) world. This is a world I am particularly fond of.
The predominate distinction that separates us LMFT’s from the rest of our colleagues is the framework of which we approach clients and their healing. In layman terms, we view healing from a systems perspective, verses an individual perspective. This means for people to achieve authentic growth, there must be attention paid to the systems of interaction individuals exist in that could be contributing to their dysfunction.
For example, when looking through the systemic lens, there is typically an Identified Patient who expresses the dysfunction that exists within a system. A system could be identified as any number of things: a couple, a single family, multigenerational families, blended families, etc. I have found that family systems first introduce their identified patient who exhibits the most predominate distress first. The identified patients I run across the most are kiddos. As the identified patient begins to find their healing as they shift their interaction patterns within their systems, the dysfunction typically passes its baton throughout the family until each member is on board to engage in family therapy.
Here is a fun fact! Whenever we engage in family or couple’s therapy, the relational dynamics present in the room are actually our “client”. For instance, when working with the couple, we recognize the existence of three entities; partner 1, partner 2, and the relationship that exists between them. Most of the work is focused on the relationship between the duo. The more the interactional patterns shift within this relationship, the more healing partner 1 and partner 2 can experience. Same goes for the family. When a family is present within the therapy room, the therapist is focusing on the systems and subsystems existing within the family. Examples of subsystems include a parent/child subsystem, partner subsystem, sibling subsystem, etc. Healing predominantly is focused on the healing within the systems present so the individuals can reap the benefits.
Think of this work as a dance that follows our own secret tempos. These tempos are orchestrated by our theoretical orientations of which encompass our treatment plans. I most closely identify with the Experiential Family Therapy. In essence, this orientation embraces active, multi-sensory approaches to healing. Healing is most honestly prompted by the act of “being and doing” with one another to uncover honest feelings, new information, and expression of affect. You can catch me unlocking these acts of authenticity through encouraging the couple, family, or individual engagement of art, creation, writing, or other unique acts of experiencing.
So, my wonderfully authentic humans, if you are experiencing cold feet in regard to working with a Marriage and Family Therapist, I want to encourage you to first ask questions. Know that an experienced and well-trained LMFT will focus on the relational entity within the room, and siding with one partner vs the other is a major no-no. There are many other theoretical orientations we can approach treatment plans with, so feel free to ask us to explore and explain how we bare witness to healing. Know we are very well-equipped to work with all walks of life, and even on an individual basis. Just because we may work one-on-one with someone does not negate from the fact healing within the current systems you are immersed in can happen and you can find flourishment.
Katherine Scott is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at Puzzle Peace Counseling located in NE Florida. While working with those in all walks of life, she has her niche in working with kiddos on the Autism Spectrum and their families. She also has a blog lovingly known as Kat the Counselor, capturing tidbits and tangents from both sides of the therapist chair.
She enjoys her down time in the outdoors adventuring with her husband, competing with her horses, and looking for beauty in all the unusual places!