What is an LMFT?

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Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist?


What is a LMFT?

         Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs) are recognized by both the United States, federal government, and also by the state of Kentucky.  They are recognized professionals - qualified, and skilled providers of mental/emotional health services and counseling.  In Kentucky, Marriage and Family Therapists are regulated by and licensed by state authority (through specific state laws and statutes).  These laws establish educational standards, supervision requirements, best practice reqirements, and ethical requirements.

         Before a MFT can be granted a license to practice, they must have completed a specialized, graduate level training; and must have completed a minimum of 2,000 hours of supervised counseling; even before they can sit for Kentucky's state, licensing examination. In order to qualify to sit for the licensing examination, MFTs in training are also required to have extensive, clinical experience working with individuals, couples, and families.  Their specialized training includes education about individual, couple, and family dynamics. They are also required to master specific practical skills which are designed to help clients attain their goals.  MFTs in training are required to demonstrate these skills to a committee of master therapists before they can even be considered for licensing.  Finally, after meeting these requirements, they are permitted to sit for the state, licensing examination.  Of course, before being granted their licenses, the MFTs must pass their licensing examinations.  The Kentucky licensing exam for MFTs is based upon a national model established by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists.


Why are LMFTs different from other counselors?

       The training which an LMFT receives is significantly different than the typical training of a Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Social Worker, or other types of counselors.   Most importantly, the training of an LMFT focuses on how to work with social systems, such as couples, and families.   Their specialized training helps them to consider the importance of social factors even when working with individual clients (which they are also qulified and licensed to do). 

         For this reason LMFTs work a bit differently than than other counselors to help their clients, and they also think a bit differently about their clients' situations.   This difference in approach is not always true, because some psychologists, social workers, and pastoral counselors have also chosen to obtain the specialized training and credentials of an LMFT.   It's a good idea to ask for, and to examine the credentials of any counselor you are considering working with.

       Typically, an LMFT is less focused than other mental health professionals on with what is wrong with a client.   Instead, LMFTs look for what is important to a client, and what are the client's strengths which might help them towards their own goals. After helping the client to identify personal strengths and resources, the LMFT will next help the client to create new, and more successful strategies for attaining their goals, and they help clients to learn better ways to use their own strengths (once they have found them). 

       In other words, LMFTs tend to be less focused on the client's problems, and more interested finding the best solutions.

         Also, LMFTs will emphasize the client/counselor partnership.  LMFTs typically do not assume that they are the authority on who the client is, what the client has experienced, what the client really thinks, believes, or perceives.  LMFTs tend to avoid making assumptions (or clinical interpretations) about what the client must do to be cured.  In fact, LMFTs don't really think in terms of curing their clients at all

         Instead, LMFTs see themselves as the client's partner - helping each client to find his/her own best path; to their own goals.   This is one reason why LMFTs do not have patients, but instead LMFTs serve their clients.  LMFTs generally see themselves as agents of the client, working for the client, and helping them to accomplish that work which they chose for themselves - and LMFTs do this in ways that feel both respectful and appropriate for the client.

The expertise which each client brings into counseling is every bit as important as any expertise which the counselor brings.

         Most LMFTs believe that the counseling process must be customized to fit each unique client. They generally do not believe that it is the client's job to learn how to fit into an already established counseling process.  Most client's are relieved to experience counseling which is designed to fit their own unique experiences and personality. (This is another reason why insurance companies will sometimes not reimburse for LMFT services.  They are simply not  flexible enough to reimburse for truly customized counseling.  Instead, insurance companies prescribe and specify counseling methods and durations, even without knowing (or caring about) who the client really is, or what will be most helpful for them.  Insurance companies expect therapists and counselors to provide pre-packaged, one-size-fits-all therapy plans for the insurance company to buy, at the price which they decide on.)

         LMFTs understand that each client brings vital and important expertise with them into counseling. That is because each client is the best authority about their own thoughts, perceptions, reactions, feelings, experiences, sensitivities, and their own history

         It is this knowledge, which each client brings with them to counsleing, which is every bit as essential to successful outcomes as any knowledge which is brought by the counselor.  Of course, part of the LMFT's task is to help the client make the best use of the knowledge and skills which they already possess (but which they may not yet be aware of).  


  Is Marriage and Family Therapy helpful?

(The following information is reproduced from the AAMFT website)

         Research studies repeatedly demonstrate the effectiveness of marriage and family therapy in treating the full range of mental and emotional disorders and health problems. Adolescent drug abuse, depression, alcoholism, obesity and dementia in the elderly -- as well as marital distress and conflict -- are just some of the conditions Marriage and Family Therapists effectively treat.

         Studies also show that clients are highly satisfied with services of Marriage and Family Therapists. Clients report marked improvement in work productivity, co-worker relationships, family relationships, partner relationships, emotional health, overall health, social life, and community involvement

       In a recent study, consumers report that marriage and family therapists are the mental health professionals they would most likely recommend to friends. Over 98 percent of clients of marriage and family therapists report therapy services as good or excellent.

         After receiving treatment, almost 90% of clients report an improvement in their emotional health, and nearly two-thirds report an improvement in their overall physical health. A majority of clients report an improvement in their functioning at work, and over three-fourths of those receiving marital/couples or family therapy report an improvement in the couple relationship. When a child is the identified patient, parents report that their child's behavior improved in 73.7% of the cases, their ability to get along with other children significantly improved and there was improved performance in school.

         Marriage and family therapy's prominence in the mental health field has increased due to its brief, solution-focused treatment, its family-centered approach, and its demonstrated effectiveness. Marriage and family therapists are licensed or certified in 40 states and are recognized by the federal government as members of a distinct mental health discipline.

         Today more than 50,000 marriage and family therapists treat individuals, couples, and families nationwide. Membership in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) has grown from 237 members in 1960 to more than 23,000 in 1996. This growth is a result, in part, of renewed public awareness of the value of family life and concern about the increased stresses on families in a rapidly changing world.



         If you are considering working with a therapist, and you would like to get a taste of what that experience might be like, you are welcome to make an appointment for a low-cost, initial consultation with Marc Leibson, M.Ed., LMFT, at the Human process and Development Group.  To schedule an appointment, you may reach Marc at

(502) 479-1500