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Who are LMFTs

Who are LMFT?

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs) are psychotherapists and healing arts practitioners licensed by the State of California. They are trained to assess, diagnose and treat individuals, couples, families and groups to help those who are struggling achieve more adequate, satisfying and productive lives. LMFTs work in many different settings including private practice, treatment clinics, probation centers and schools, and they can specialize in working with depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, child and adolescent issues, marital and relationship issues, existential issues, eating disorders, severe mental illness and more. Requirements for licensure include a related doctoral or two-year master's degree, passage of two comprehensive written examinations and at least 3,000 hours of supervised experience.

Psychotherapy services of licensed marriage and family therapists are, in many instances, eligible for insurance reimbursement. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists are providers under the TRICARE program, and many are participating providers with Blue Shield of California as well as many other preferred provider organizations.

If you would like to read more about how the qualifications of Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists compare to other mental health practitioners, such as Clinical Social Workers and Psychologists, read:

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists are Professional Relationship Counselors! They work in private practice as well as various other settings with individuals, couples, families, children and adolescents, and the elderly, providing support and perspective as patients struggle with life's challenges.

Marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) practice early crisis intervention and brief, focused psychotherapy to resolve problems or reduce symptoms in the shortest time possible. They also have the expertise and skills to work with persons where more intensive, long-term treatment is necessary to cure or relieve mental or emotional conditions. They work in California's courts and schools as well as its health institutions, child protective services, mental health treatment centers, research centers, organizations and businesses. Patients who are treated by marriage and family therapists are more productive at work, visit their doctors less often, and have lower average lengths of stay at in-patient facilities.

Marriage and family therapists are licensed by the State of California. They must undergo extensive education, training, clinical fieldwork and pass two rigorous exams to demonstrate professional competency. In California, record numbers of citizens are seeking treatment for mental disorders that affect their work performance and personal lives. Personal and family stresses are greater, expectations for quality of life are higher, and access to qualified mental healthcare providers has improved as society has come to recognize the impact of mental health on physical well being.

Marriage and family therapists are core mental health practitioners educated and trained to help with relationship difficulties, and diagnose and treat the mental disorders and emotional problems of individuals, couples, families and groups. Marriage and family therapy is highly effective because of the "systemic" orientation that its therapists bring to treatment. In other words, they believe that an individual's mental or emotional problems must be treated within the context of his or her current or prior relationships if the gains are to be meaningful and productive for the patient. This treatment philosophy is consistent with current thinking in the health care field, which increasingly emphasizes inter-agency cooperation, involvement of the family, integration and coordination of services. Our health care system is now moving toward a more systemic approach and is increasingly rejecting individually focused care.

As a result, marriage and family therapists are often able to treat a patient's condition quickly - a cost-effective and practical approach to mental healthcare and a prime reason so many physicians and others refer patients to marriage and family therapists. When it is in the best interest of the patient or outside the scope of the marriage and family therapist's license, therapists collaborate with and refer to other health professionals, such as physicians or psychiatrists in the case of prescribing medication.

Policy-makers, both in business and government, are beginning to understand and support the notion that mental health services play a critical role in prevention. Healthy individuals and families promote socially acceptable behaviors, increased self-esteem, more tolerance for society in general, increased capacity for intimacy, work, maturity and responsible functioning. This ultimately results in less unnecessary utilization of medical services.

A competent Marriage and Family Therapist in California will:

  1. Be licensed by the Board of Behavioral Science
  2. Be bound by a professional code of ethics
  3. Abide by the laws and regulations affecting the profession
  4. Participate in a professional association such as the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT)
  5. Engage in activities to keep up-to-date in a changing professional environment
  6. Treat patients only within the scope of their license and competence
  7. Refer patients to other qualified practitioners when appropriate or necessary
  8. Welcome inquiries about methods, background, experience and fees

Competent therapists do not offer solutions or take sides. They help clients work out solutions according to individual values and lifestyles. Seeking professional assistance is a sign of courage and a willingness to deal with life's many changes.

Distress signals where Marriage and Family Therapists can help:

  1. Emotional stress or anxiety
  2. Child behavior problems
  3. Feelings of loneliness, isolation
  4. Depression
  5. Moodiness
  6. Sexual disturbances
  7. Unexplained fatigue
  8. Unusual eating patterns
  9. Unexplained injuries to family members
  10. Excessive alcohol or drug use
  11. Family conflict or tension
  12. Divorce or separating lifestyles
  13. Fear, anger, or guilt
  14. Grief or emotional pain

A Marriage and Family Therapist helps individuals, couples, families and children explore and solve problems.

Clients can expect that discussions will be kept confidential, except as otherwise required or permitted by law. Examples of times when confidentiality must be broken are when child abuse has occurred or where the patient threatens violence against another person.

Before obtaining the MFT license, Marriage and Family Therapists must first complete a two-year masters or doctoral degree program accredited by a regionally accepted body such as the Western Association of Schools and Colleges or approved by the California Bureau on Private Post-Secondary and Vocational Education. The law specifies an integrated course of study that includes "marital and family systems approaches to treatment," "developmental issues and life events from infancy to old age," and "a variety of approaches to the treatment of children." 

Marriage and family therapists earn their license through a rigorous education, training and licensing process similar to other mental health professionals.

Applicants for the license must also complete 3,000 hours of supervised experience. Many often choose to complete a portion of the hours during the degree program to integrate their coursework with insights born of practical experience and apply the coursework while it is being learned. Post-degree registered interns may train with a qualified supervisor in governmental entities, schools, colleges, or universities as well as licensed health facilities, non-profit and charitable corporations and private practices.; 

An emphasis of the marriage and family therapist's training is diagnosis and treatment of psychopathology from a family system and relationship perspective. The MFT's integrated course of study also trains generally in a variety of other theoretical frameworks and in the use of various psychotherapeutic techniques. Students also have specific training, amongest other things in alcoholism and chemical dependency issues, human sexuality, psychopharmacology and child abuse detection and treatment. They may also obtain experience in administering and evaluating psychological tests.

Marriage and Family Therapists are licensed by the State of California pursuant to the Healing Arts Division of the California Business and Professions Code (beginning with Section 4980). The Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) is the licensing and regulatory body for LMFTs as well as for clinical social workers and educational psychologists. The MFT licensing exams, which are occupationally-oriented competency-based tests, are a challenging undertaking. Among other key competencies, applicants are tested for their ability to assess, diagnose and treat a range of presenting problems.; 

If you would like to read more about how the qualifications of  Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists compare to other mental health practitioners, such as Clinical Social Workers and Psychologists, read Education.

CAMFT Members have met the stringent education and training requirements that qualify them for Marriage and Family Therapist licensure. Membership in CAMFT indicates a Marriage and Family Therapist's dedication to their professional development. Members of CAMFT are expected to be familiar with and abide by the CAMFT Ethical Standards for Marriage and Family Therapists and by applicable California laws and regulations governing the conduct of Marriage and Family Therapists, Associate MFTs and trainees.

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