Making Sure the MFT Specialty is Right for You

MFT Specialty

One of the greatest things about a career in psychology is the enormous spectrum of employment options from which to choose. You can be a researcher, a clinician, an administrator, a social worker, counselor, MFT or psychologist--just to name a few. Whether or not the MFT specialty is the best career for you is determined by various factors such as:

  • Are you a people person?
  • Do others seek you out to discuss problems?
  • Do you enjoy interacting with people?
  • Are you a good listener?
  • Do you have an inviting presence?
  • Are you a patient person?
  • Do you have a relaxed temperament?

Studies have shown that the happiest and most successful professionals are ones who perform jobs well-suited to their personalities, lifestyles and attributes. Personality traits which are not typically considered conducive to specializing in marriage and family therapy include being:

  • Hard-driving
  • Goal-oriented
  • Competitive
  • Moody
  • Impatient
  • Satisfied only with quantifiable measures of success

If the latter list describes you, it does not mean you would not excel in an alternative career in psychology; it just means that you might not be a match for the MFT specialty. Robert Billings M.S., LMFT who has lived and practiced in New York most of his life, is a self-proclaimed Type B personality. When asked about what sort of temperament and personality is best suited for an MFT he responded:

Well let me put it this way; my wife is the CFO of a multi-million dollar corporation. She is very successful in her career, as am I. However, I couldn’t do her job if my life depended on it and I’m pretty sure the reverse is true. Our personalities are polar opposites, and while it works well in our marriage, we would be doing ourselves, our employers and our clients/customers a great disservice trying to fit into opposite careers.

Interested in an MFT degree?

How well do you handle negativity?

Let’s face it, MFTs never see anyone at their best. While actualization and growth are the goals, much of the work done in marriage and family therapy consists of identifying negative perceptions and beliefs and subsequently transforming them into healthy and positive states of mind. The therapist must not only be a sounding board for the specifics of issues; he or she must also be the light in the dark, the one that provides hope for the future. Ideally speaking, an MFT is a tough-minded optimist who can work with clients who are depressed, confused, angry and despairing; all the while maintaining an uplifting perspective.

How do you determine success?

Many professionals can look at what they have done and feel a sense of pride regarding a finished product. Doctors deliver miracle babies, architects design and witness their creations; even teachers can experience the thrill of students graduating to the next level of education. Are you the type of person who must see a job from start to finish before feeling accomplished? Will you be able to consider yourself valuable to the client in spite of the fact that their family unit fell apart?

MFT’s do not have the luxury of an external or tangible measure of success. Since growth takes place internally, MFT’s may never hear the words, “You are really helping!” “This therapy is so good for me!” “You’ve saved my marriage!” etc. Sometimes the client isn’t even aware of positive changes taking place. If you need to see things resolved in a certain way; or if you need situations to be resolved at all, you may not be suited for a career as an MFT.

Donny Phelan M.A., MFT, has been in practice for over 25 years. Although he currently resides in Chicago, his career began in Alaska. His opinion regarding what makes for success is valuable for anyone considering the field:

It is important to remember that real change is an inside job. The client must first be willing to work with you and to do what it takes to transform whatever it is about them that is troublesome. Some clients come to therapy for the wrong reasons; their husband or wife threatens to leave if they don’t, or maybe they are there because of a child. No matter what, you are not in control of how or if they improve their situations. All you can do is show up and do your very best using the tools you have been given. Your success must come from you approving of you; not you approving of them.

A Word of Encouragement

If you feel suited for a career as an MFT, approach the road ahead with a positive attitude. Look forward to the challenges and remember the journey is as important as the destination. Not every hero gets a parade, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t successful in bringing more peace and harmony into the world.