Too often, the profession of marriage and family therapy is overlooked or not accurately categorized. Ask any MFT how many times they have been referenced as a different behavioral health care professional and the answer is typically, "often." We see it frequently, on a local news channel when our member MFTs are interviewed and the attributed credentials indicate the person is a “mental health counselor.” Even when the MFT specifically provides accurate credentials to the news agency, inaccuracies continue. On a more macro level, we see this occuring with agencies who are familiar with our profession, however errors of categorization are still made.
Marriage and family therapy is frequently tucked neatly behind such phrases as “family based interventions,” “parenting intervention education,” “family therapeutic support.” Certainly, there are differences between educational programs and therapy, but when therapy is being provided, rarely are marriage and family therapists identified by profession. I understand why another behavioral health profession may not want to identify that a segment of research was conducted by marriage and family therapists or that MFT type services were provided by researchers not trained in marriage and family therapy.
In a recent Twitter Chat, I emphasized that it is vital that is recognized that marriage and family therapy is more than a skill set – as it is often referred to- but rather the vibrant and distinct profession that it is. As a reminder, marriage and family therapy is recognized by many groups:
- The United States federal government has designated marriage and family therapy as a core mental health profession.
- Currently all 50 states and the District of Columbia support and regulate the profession by licensing marriage and family therapists.
- There is an International Family Therapy Association, European Family Therapy Association, Australian Family Therapy Association and a Canadian Association for Marriage and Family Therapy just to name a few associations.
- The Department of Education, in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, designates marriage and family therapists as qualified providers of early intervention services to infants and toddlers with a disability.
- The Department of Transportation has opened up eligibility for the Substance Abuse Program to all licensed or certified Marriage and Family Therapists.
- In 2011 the profession of marriage and family therapy was invited to participate in field trials for the DSM-5 by the American Psychiatric Association.
I may sound a bit defensive in this blog about the profession that I am part and proud of– because frankly, defending our profession is something I am extremely proud of and think is vital that we all engage in. Despite this partial list of impressive credentials and recognition of our work, our profession is often still overlooked. And this is why establishing a strong professional identity is so important. When marriage and family therapy is dismissed or overlooked the impact is profound:
- MFTs can experience loss of income opportunities in the form of employment and occupational eligibility;
- MFTs can experience diminishment of professional opportunities in the form of grant applications (privately and publicly)
- Continued misidentification of the profession, especially in mass media, hurts each and every MFT in private practice.
These are just a few examples of the harm that the profession experiences when our identity is not nurtured and protected. Disregarding the profession, at any level, is simply unacceptable to me, and should be to each of us. Please join me in my quest to clarify inaccuracies when encountered, advance the profession through constant promotion of marriage and family therapy (similes are not acceptable), and the accurate portrayal of MFT credentials when necessary. Even an act as simply as clarifying an introduction when you are not accurately introduced in a professional environment or educating an employer who identifies other behavioral healthcare professions without including marriage and family therapy is a wonderful step. Sharing our MFT identity video to expand knowledge and understanding is another simple way to take action. Speaking up to advocate every time you see a phrase similar to “other mental health professional,” or “ancillary healthcare professional” you can help to distinguish and educate everyone about our great profession and helps protect us for the future.
AAMFT, through the work of so many of our past and current members, has worked exceptionally hard to establish this profession. We must all remain diligent and mindful that while we have come a long way, there are challenges and barriers that can swiftly relegate our profession to the sidelines of behavioral health care.
Tracy Todd, PhD is Executive Director of AAMFT. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, receiving his PhD from Iowa State University and his masters from Texas Tech University. Prior to joining the staff of AAMFT, Tracy was the Director/Owner of the Brief Therapy Institute of Denver, Inc.