In Seattle, Washington sits one of the most original laboratories you can find in the world. The Gottman Insitute’s Love Lab is a research laboratory used to examine relationships between romantic couples. Through close observation and heart monitor technology, the Institute shows couples the rights and wrongs of their relationships, laid out in a 36-page report. This form of extreme marriage counseling may be attractive for some, but many families seeking help opt to speak with a marriage and family therapist instead.
Marriage and family therapists (or MFTs) are mental health professionals trained in psychotherapy. They’re licensed to evaluate, diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders that affect couples and families. They observe how the behavior of a member of the family or relationship affects the unit as a whole. Marriage and family therapy is an effective way to discuss problems with an unbiased third party.
MFTs are recognized as a “core” mental health profession, along with psychiatry, psychology, social work and psychiatric nursing. Unlike the previously mentioned health care careers, they practice short-term therapy. About 65.6% of the cases they take on are completed within 20 sessions. Sessions are intended to help couples discover whether or not their differences truly are irreconcilable or if it’s a matter of learning better conflict resolution with one another.
According to AAMFT (American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy), half of the treatment is one-on-one, with the other half divided between marital/couple and family therapy, or a combination of treatments. Currently, just in the US, there are about 48,000 marriage and family therapists and at any given time they’re treating 2 million people.
In the media, there are plenty of radio therapists or relationship experts who became “experts” by observing those around them — but this profession takes more than just having a knack for giving good advice. It takes time, years of study and licensing to be an MFT. In order to obtain their license, they must have a master’s or doctoral degree in marriage and family therapy and supervised clinical experience, as well as a passing score on the MFT exam. And there’s no shortage of opportunities and programs available for those interested in this health care career. In the United States, there are over 100 COAMFTE (Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education)-accredited graduate programs available.
If you’re interested in joining this field, you have different options for assisting couples. You may be interested in the Love Lab approach, hooking people up to wires and seeing biological feedback to their relationship. Or you may be better at witnessing the body language and communication that they can’t understand in their relationship. No matter which method you choose, all that matters is having the ability, knowledge and empathy to help families live successful and healthy lives.