Though used interchangeably at times, marriage and family therapy and counseling are actually two separated, though related, fields. The focus on counseling is primarily on the individual. Counselors seek to understand what is happening inside and within an individual. This could relate to an individual’s mental health, cognitive processing, emotional processing, behaviors, and much more. However, most of the goals of counseling center around an individual and their intrapersonal (within the person) processes.
In contrast, marriage and family therapy centers around interpersonal (between persons) processes. In marriage and family therapy, there are generally multiple individuals in the therapy room. This may include a marriage couple, parent-child dyad, or even a whole family. Marriage and family therapists not only seek to understand what is happening inside each individual, but further, what is happening between each individual. Marriage and family therapists are trained in systemic theory, which understands the world as full of interconnected systems all interacting with each other. A married couple, their children, the school and church they attend, and the community in which they all live are all examples of systems. A marriage and family therapist will focus on how all of these systems interact and affect one another and seek to improve relationships between these systems.
While counseling seeks to improve an individual’s mental and emotional well-being, marriage and family therapy seeks to improve relationships, enhance communication, and increase intimacy between individuals.