Deer In Headlights
Apr 19 · 4 min read

Why are marriage and family therapists useful? And for whom?

No, I’m not pathologizing you. I value other forms of therapy. I value therapy. I see my own therapist who’s a licensed social worker. So what’s so special about marriage and family therapists?

Simply that we study relationships. We study systems. Unless you live in the woods and are truly off grid (meaning you didn’t read this and don’t go on the internet either), this applies to you.

I’m completely saddened when I hear stories of friends that are going to therapists for issues with their partner and I ask what license their therapist has. I hear a lot of social workers or independent counselors with training in family therapy. Yet in graduate school, that’s all we study. To me this is like the equivalent of going to see your general practitioner who took extra training in dental practices vs seeing the dentist.

You want a marriage and family therapist. You want their point of view. People don’t like to feel like it’s their fault in family or couple relationships. It’s not your fault you’re in therapy.

People that have been to therapy and use insurance realize they have to have a diagnosis for their insurance to reimburse. That’s how the therapist gets paid. That’s how they keep their relationship with the insurance providers. Most therapists hate this. I’ve known people to leave the field when finding this out early on in graduate school.

They don’t want to be responsible for diagnosing people when it can hurt people. Some labels follow people around forever. There are stigmas in society. When they see it’s a “game” by insurance companies, the want not part of it.

Then there’s the dilemma of helping those that can afford paying out of pocket, meaning no diagnosis is needed. Those that can’t afford it, get diagnosed. So the cycle of privilege and oppression with barriers is even within this helping field.

Now that I’ve gone off track why don’t I try to circle back. See a marriage and family therapist. They will diagnose a member of your family, relationship, etc. and hopefully, they’ll explain that they need to for insurance and that the person they’re diagnosing is not the “problem.”

Aside from that don’t be afraid to go if you’re single. As I said before, we live in relationship. A single person can gain just as much because a marriage and family therapist is more likely to be curious of asking questions and helping folks consider factors in their life that may be affecting their lives not fully connected.

It’s worth directly naming that there’s important work all types of therapists, psychologists, counselors, and mental health workers do. They all hold value. They simply have different areas of study. Please use your own judgement and if you have a great connection with your own therapist, there’s no need to break up with them simply because they’re not a marriage and family therapist.

A final note on types of therapy. This matter too. Ask questions. Find out basic information in the models your therapist is trained in. Here are some basic models of therapy a marriage and family therapist may study below. Some therapists are “purests” and only follow one model. Others mix and match. Some of these models are not exclusive to family therapy. Google and YouTube can be your friends for basic information. From there you may want to explore some of the books if a model speaks to you. I’m a believer a client can benefit just as much from reading a book that a therapist may study in graduate school. After all, hopefully your therapist is seeing their own therapist. That’s a fair question to ask them too. In my mind, if they’re not it’s a red flag to find out more.

1) Structural Family Therapy

2) Strategic Therapy

3) Milan Family Therapy

4) Solution Focused Family Therapy

5) Narrative Therapy

6) Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

7) Contextual Family Therapy

8) Bowen Family Therapy

9) Psychodynamic Family Therapy (object relationship)

10) Emotionally Focused Therapy

11) Gottman Method Couple Therapy

12) Internal Family Systems

13) Transgenerational Couple Therapy

14) Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy

15) Affective-Reconstruction Couple Therapy

16) Integrative Couple Therapy: A Depth Based Approach

17) Sensorimotor Psychotherapy

18) Somatic Experiencing Therapy

By no means is this an exhaustive list. In my first year of graduate school, we spent more time on some of these then others. My favorites are solution focused family therapy, narrative therapy, emotionally focused therapy, Gottman method couples therapy, internal family systems, transgenerational couple therapy and sensorimotor psychotherapy. There are aspects that are useful for me from others like genograms from Bowen.

From my perspective as a brown person that has had the privilege of studying and being a graduate assistant in courses that have lenses of power privilege and difference, I think having a therapist that’s racially literate matters. Of course we’re all learning and I think if you’re a BIPOC (black, indigenous, person of color), identify as LGBTQIAP+, GSERD (gender, sexual, erotic, relational diversity), are living with a disability, or have other areas of subjugation with class, immigration, culture, or something else I’ve missed, it’s important that you’re not fully teaching your therapist. You should get paid if you are. Books like What Does It Mean to be White? by Robin DiAngelo and My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem have been life changing for me. They’ve provided an introduction into racial literacy which I also didn’t see growing up.

Okay, it’s late. This is my first blog post on Medium. Sorry if it’s disorganized. I just want to get these ideas out here. I think in the future I could explore so many areas here deserving their own blog post. My style of writing may also perhaps be seen as an example of systems thinking. These topics are related and it’s important your therapist see and experience the world in a sincere way that can then acknowledge the impact of all factors in your life.

Deer In Headlights

Written by

2nd year graduate student in marriage & family therapy. My focus areas include sex therapy, race, culture, power, privilege, oppression, & areas of difference.