Who are we?

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT) are mental health professionals and relationship specialists.

Marriage and Family Therapy is a specialized mental health profession that is an evidence-based discipline1  and is one of the five core mental health professions:  family therapy, psychiatry, clinical psychology, clinical social work and psychiatric nursing.

Family therapists are:

    • Educated with a Master’s or Doctoral degree
    • Trained with a minimum of 2 years and 1000 hours of therapy that is supervised by qualified supervisors
    • Relationship-focused and family-friendly psychotherapists
    • Mental health professionals who work in private practice, community mental health centres,hospitals, schools, employee assistance programs, family counselling agencies, children’s health centres, universities and research centres.

Some interesting facts about couple and family therapists in Canada: 2

      • 70% of us are females, 30% are male
      • 80% of us are over 40 years old
      • 80% of us have Masters degrees, 17 % have Doctoral degrees, and 2% have Medical degrees
      • We have practiced an average of 14 years

What do we do?

MFTs are relationship specialists who work mostly with individuals, but also with couples and families. They work collaboratively to resolve mental health, behavioural and relationship concerns and consider each person’s unique family, cultural, and social context.

In Canada, the most common reasons that people seek out the help of a family therapist are:2

    • Couple / marital concerns
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Parent -child concerns
    • Parent – adolescent concerns
    • Trauma
    • Self-esteem
    • Communication concerns
    • Separation / Divorce

MFTs use models of therapy that help people use their strengths to support growth and create effective changes in their lives.   Family therapy is generally brief, results oriented, and cost-effective.   Family therapy addresses the mental, behavioural and emotional aspects from a family-based or relationship perspective.

In Canada, the five most common models used by family therapists are:  2

    • Cognitive Behavioral
    • Solution Focused
    • Narrative
    • Emotionally Focused
    • Intergenerational

MFTs are trained in psychotherapy and family systems, psychological and developmental theories.  Therapy is based on a biopsychosocial model of mental health that includes assessment of cognitive, affective and behavioural functioning.   Therapy also addresses relationship dynamics in families and couples and their influence on the mental and physical health of individuals.  Relationship problems often co-occur with significant emotional, behavioural, and physical health problems.3

MFTs work collaboratively and liaise with physicians, social workers and other health and mental health professionals.  Although therapeutic methods and interventions used by clinical psychologists and social workers may overlap at times with those used by RMFTs, these mental health professionals have their own specialties and may not have the specialized MFT training required to effectively address family system dynamics and their impact on mental and physical health.

MFTs are relationship specialists who work mostly with individuals, but also with couples and families. They are trained to work collaboratively to explore ways to resolve mental health, behavioural and relationship concerns and consider each person’s unique cultural and social context.


What does research say about couple and family therapy?

Substantial research has demonstrated that family therapy is an effective treatment in addressing a wide range of mental health symptoms and relationship concerns. 4   Clients report high satisfaction with couple and family therapy and improvement in emotional and physical health and in relationships.

Research indicates that those who received marital and family therapy significantly reduced their use of health care services by 21.5 percent. 5

“Some experts in the field have concluded that the health effect of social relationships may be as important as established risk factors such as smoking, physical activity, obesity and high blood pressure.” 6

Research demonstrates that family therapy is a preferred method of treatment for depression, substance abuse, alcoholism, couple problems, child problems, and schizophrenia, to name a few. 7

Marriage and Family Therapy has a preventative impact.  Therapeutic interventions at the family level are designed to enhance family functioning and thus disrupt potential intergenerational transmission of problems such as family violence or substance abuse.


 1 Sprenkle, D.H. 2003.  Effectiveness research in marriage and family therapy: Introduction.  Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 29: 85-96.

2 Beaton, J., Dienhart, A., Turner, J., & Schmidt, J. (2009). Canadian Clinical Practice Patterns. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 35(2) 193-203. 

Snyder and Whisman,   2004.  Treating distressed couples with co-existing mental and physical disorders: Directions for clinical training and practice.  Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 30: 1-12 .

4 Pinsof, W.M., & Wynne, L.C.  1995.  The efficacy of marital and family therapy: An empirical overview, conclusions and recommendations.  Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 21: 585-614.

5 Law, D. D.,  & Crane, D. R. 2000.  The influence of marital and family therapy on health care utilization in a health-maintenance organization.  Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 26: 281-291.

6 Strategies for Population Health: Investing in the Health of Canadians  1994.  Ottawa: Health Canada Communications Directorate Publications,  page 16.  Reference: Mustard, Fraser J. and Frank, John. 1991.  The Determinants of Health. Toronto: Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Publication #5.

7  Marriage and Family Therapists: The family-friendly mental health professionals.  Brochure published by AAMFT.