5 Common Misconceptions About Marriage and Family Therapists

family therapy

I have noticed over the years that there are many common misconceptions people have about marriage and family therapists.   I am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Arkansas, so some of what I am saying may be influenced by my specific experiences.  Here are a few of the things I wish people would understand.  Can you think of any I have missed?

#1 We Only Work With Marriages and Families

This is not true. Marriage and family therapists have unique training and conceptualize problems in a relational context or, in other words, they consider your significant relationships. Marriage and family therapists are qualified to treat individuals, couples, families, children, groups, etc. We just treat them from a family systems perspective.

#2 MFTs Only Work in Private Practices

marriage and family therapy professionalFalse! Marriage and family therapists work in many different settings including:

  • Business consulting
  • Churches
  • Community mental health centers
  • Courts
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Hospitals
  • Inpatient facilities
  • Prisons
  • Private practice
  • Research centers
  • Schools
  • Social service agencies
  • Universities

I am sure there are even more out there. Marriage and family therapists practice in a wide range of environments.

#3 Marriage and Family Therapy is Just a Specialization

This one is not true either. According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, the US Federal government considers marriage and family therapy to be one of the five core mental health professions. The others are psychiatry, psychology, social work, and psychiatric nursing. Each is considered to be a separate field with a unique treatment approach.

#4 Anyone Who Works with Couples or Families is a MFT

Wrong again. There are many different approaches to working with families and other mental health professions treat families, too. A social worker may do a wonderful job with a family in counseling, but this does not make them a marriage and family therapist.

#5 MFTs Cannot Treat Mental Illness

Not even close. Research suggests that marriage and family therapists are effective in treating a full range of mental and emotional disorders and health problems (Sprenkle, 2003). Addiction, drug abuse, anxiety, depression, alcoholism, eating disorders, and marital problems are only a few examples of problems treated by marriage and family therapists.

I am not offended when people have these misconceptions about marriage and family therapy.  However, I do feel that it is a significant part of my professional identity.  I am very proud of the life changing training that I have received and I want it to be acknowledged correctly as a part of who I am.

To my fellow MFTs, have you ever had a client or family member have one of these misconceptions? Did I miss any? I hope this helps and feel free to share!


  1.  Sprenkle, D. H. (2003), effectiveness research in marriage and family therapy: introduction. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 29, 85–96.

Check out Summit Family Therapy in Peoria, IL to learn more about Dr. Courtney Stivers’ professional work. 

About Courtney Stivers, PhD (25 Articles)
Courtney Stivers, PhD, LMFT, is a subject matter expert in Marriage and Family Therapy. Her professional experience includes residential addiction, school-based therapy, community mental health, teaching, research, public speaking, professional consultation, and several administrative roles. She is currently the Executive Director of Summit Family Therapy in Peoria, IL. Please learn more on her practice website, https://summitfamilytherapy.com.

2 Comments on 5 Common Misconceptions About Marriage and Family Therapists

  1. I shared this article. Beacuse it is very useful

  2. I didn’t know that marriage and family therapists have unique training and conceptualize problems in a relational context. My sister and her husband are on the brink of breaking up and they have children. My mom suggested going to a marriage and family therapist and shared this article with them.

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