5 Key Skills of Marriage and Family Therapists

5 Important Characteristics of Marriage and Family Therapists

  • Empathy
  • Boundaries
  • Critical Thinking
  • Neutrality
  • Self-Care

As a society, we are beginning to break down the barriers that previously deterred people from seeking counseling, such as social stigma, affordability, and lack of access. Marriage and family therapy is, therefore, an excellent career field to enter at this point in history. If this is a path you are thinking of heading down, check-in with yourself to see if you possess these five key skills of successful marriage and family therapists.

Related resource: Ranking Top 30 Graduate Degree Programs in Marriage and Family Therapy

1. Empathy

People often confuse empathy with sympathy. Sympathy is the easier of the two. This refers to connecting with and finding compassion for other humans on the basis of a shared experience. You know first hand what they are going through and how it feels. Empathy is the art of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, of connecting to what they feel even though you have never shared their experiences. The best marriage and family therapists approach every session with empathy to make their clients feel heard and validated, no matter what they reveal.

2. Boundaries

On the other side of the coin from empathy is the ability to maintain solid therapist-client boundaries. A therapist might be the first person in a long time to display empathy in a person’s life, the first person to truly care about and understand them. Clients often become too attached to their therapists, invite them into their lives as friends or family, or even form romantic attachments to them. It is the job of the therapist to create an environment which clarifies their therapeutic and temporary role in clients’ lives. Psychology Today offers a helpful guide to maintaining both empathy and boundaries.

3. Critical Thinking

The only thing predictable about a therapist’s daily work is its unpredictability. Even your schedule might be derailed by last-minute cancellations and clients in need of emergency sessions. You never know what clients are going to say, what they have gone through since their last sessions, or how their emotional and mental states will lead them to behave. You must be able to analyze on the spot and respond quickly. Forbes offers a seven-step approach to developing strong critical thinking skills.

4. Neutrality

A systemic approach marks the principal distinction between marriage and family therapy and other forms of therapy. Your clients are not just the people presenting with symptoms. Your clients are also their family and friends, their social circles, and their greater communities. People, no matter how much they love each other, tend to place blame on each other for the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors wreaking havoc on their relationships. The therapist must discern which individuals should be present at each session, remain neutral to all of them, uniting them together against the problem.

5. Self-Care

At the end of the day, you are only as good to your clients as you are to yourself. Marriage and family therapists spend their days entangled in difficult emotions, trauma, and crises. This heavy burden to bear must be released in healthy ways. Like all other skills, you must commit to practicing self-care. It is important to maintain a work-life balance by spending every possible moment engaging in pleasurable activities, exercising regularly, and eating a well-balanced diet.

If you find yourself naturally exhibiting these five skills, marriage and family therapy might be your ideal career path. Honing these skills will set you up for a successful career path. It will also help you maintain positive relationships and personal fulfillment.