Crash Course: Marriage & Family Therapy
By: Jordan Smith, MA, LMFT
Individual, Couple and Family Therapist
I am a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), but the fact is I do not exclusively work with married couples and families. I work with individual male teens, LGBTQ and unmarried partners, and other relational systems. The marriage and family therapy (MFT) field assumes that therapy is much more than diagnosing an individual client and using steps 1, 2, and 3 to fix the problem or symptom. For the sake of this blog, I want to be known as a individual, couple and family therapist, and this is what I believe based on the MFT field:
Clients are NOT Symptoms
Rip off the psychobabble labels and stereotypes in order to look deeper.
Diagnoses can help describe and manage symptoms an individual is experiencing, BUT no one person can be wholly described by a symptom or problem.
Clients should be able define the problem, because everyone has a unique experience and should be able to articulate that experience without the intrusion of a professional categorizing the ‘problem’.
Clients are the Real Experts
Individual experience is so deep and rich that no one else can fully understand us as a whole person, but therapy gives an empathic space for people to find greater understanding for themselves. The therapist, therefore, should:
Form a collaborative therapeutic-relationship.
Empower the client to ‘lead’ the session.
Be fully present and authentic with the client, because he or she is truly the expert on their own life.
We All Need Separation & Connection
As humans we attempt to find a razor’s edge balance between depending on others for survival and striving for our own autonomy or individuality.
Connection: Therapists should understand that every person is a part of a unique and greater social system with diverse sociopolitical perspectives (sex, gender, ethnicity, roles, statuses etc.), and that system is constantly changing and impacting clients. Life is not static, and we as humans are not static either.
Individual: Our mind and body are in constant interaction, which influence our individual thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Therapists must be aware of the interplay between this triad. What we see, hear, smell, touch, taste, and overall perceive bodily, symbiotically impacts our thoughts and emotions.
People Change through Storytelling
Therapists must listen with compassion as clients tell and retell stories, rediscovering remnants of favored experience in his or her life. Thus, growing dynamically as an individual through self-discovery at their own pace. Our stories are very complex, with many plot twists, characters, sets, and types of drama. Ultimately, clients are at the typewriter and should have the time and space to develop an insightful and life changing narrative.
Therapists are NOT Books
Kick the books! The therapy room is not a lecture hall and there is no single theory or model that can move someone toward true transformation. I favor a holistic and integrative approach. I believe skilled therapists should find a rhythm with their clients, by embodying the theories, and genuinely joining in with their clients in a change-oriented conversation.
Sitting on the Couch
Everyone should have the privilege of sitting on the therapy ‘couch’, regardless of background, social dynamic or individual identity. A therapist should be inclusive of all people and remember that he or she, as the therapist is sitting in the ‘chair’. A good therapist respects and honors the client’s story, recognizing that the person on the ‘couch’ and the person in the ‘chair’ are two different people. A healthy therapeutic-relationship can open space for a healing dialogue, fostering insight and ultimately offering holistic transformation.
As a licensed marriage and family therapist or an individual, couple and family therapist, I am always grateful for and humbled by clients that I get the honor to talk with, and the courage they have to change. I invite those looking to sit on the ‘couch’ that want to honestly tell their story and are seeking transformation to at least take this one step:
Contact a skilled therapist and request to have a 10-15 minute conversation with the therapist about his or her approach and how that therapist views the therapeutic-relationship.