As marriage and family therapists, we have a vast body of knowledge supporting our work with families and communities. Many of the pinciples and interventions from this body of knowledge could be utilized in public policy, to great positive effect. As two examples, family breakdown could be reduced, and juvenile crime recidivism decreased, both in ways that actually save taxpayers money. Politicians of all parties should be chomping at the bit for such policies.
Except that they don’t. And the April 2009 Family Relations journal helps us to understand why not.
There are at least six major professional associations that cater to marriage and family therapists. Each of the organizations has great value, and each focuses its energy a bit differently, so it is useful to know about them to determine where you want to make professional connections and what activities you want your member dues to support. Of course, for each organization, there is not room here to cover all of their member benefits; I would strongly suggest following the links to each organization’s web site to learn more about what they have to offer.
Note: The logos here are, of course, the trademarks of their respective owners. Like the rest of this post, they’re there to be informational, and to connect you to the organizations’ sites; they are not meant to indicate that the organization endorses this blog, or vice versa.
The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy is the national professional association for MFTs. It has led the successful push to get MFT licensure in all 50 states, and now is working in support of legislation that would add MFTs to Medicare and improve employability in schools. Strengths: AAMFT is particularly known for its successes in advancing the field through research, education, and training. These efforts include publishing the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy; publishing Family Therapy Magazine, which focuses each issue on a particular clinical or advocacy topic; putting on a large annual conference; supporting the AAMFT Approved Supervisor designation and related training; and accrediting graduate programs in MFT through its accrediting arm, COAMFTE. AAMFT also has divisions dedicated to more localized efforts in US states and Canadian provinces. (Full disclosure: I’m on a consulting contract with AAMFT, focused on California educational and policy issues.)
The American Family Therapy Academy is a smaller, invitation-only organization dedicated to advancing systemic thinking and systemically-oriented services for families. AFTA produces an Annual Conference and publishes a special-topics journal, the AFTA Monograph Series. Strengths: The depth and quality of discourse within the organization is strengthened by the invitation-only membership model. The organization’s strong commitment to systemic work is evident.
The International Family Therapy Association is dedicated to supporting the work of MFTs overseas and training practitioners around the world to deliver culturally-appropriate family-based services. IFTA publishes the Journal of Family Psychotherapy and sponsors the World Family Therapy Congress, an international conference of family therapy researchers and practitioners. Strengths: The Congress is well-renowned for its ability to bring together international leaders in the field who otherwise may never make personal contact. The organization’s focus on culturally-appropriate care is also important when applying treatments to different populations than those for whom the treatment was initially developed.
The California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists is an independent organization (that is, separate from AAMFT and its California Division) dedicated to supporting MFTs in the state. That by itself makes the organization one that is important to the profession overall, since about half the MFTs in the country, by licensure, live in California. CAMFT produces its own magazine, The Therapist, which focuses largely on legislation, employment, and compliance issues. CAMFT also puts on an annual conference. Strengths: CAMFT has historically focused its energy effectively on state-level legislation and advocacy, and on local connections through its 29 local CAMFT chapters throughout the state.
The International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors is a division of the American Counseling Association. ACA considers marriage and family therapy to be simply one of many forms of counseling, and accredits MFT programs as specialty counseling programs. IAMFC publishes its own journal, which CAMFT has recently begun distributing to its members as the two organizations seek additional ways to collaborate. Strengths: IAMFC is seeking to grow in scope and influence through collaborative efforts, including its collaboration with CAMFT and with the National Credentialing Academy.
The National Council on Family Relations is an interdisciplinary organization focused on research and policy as they relate to family life. NCFR administers the Certified Family Life Educator credential, publishes a number of journals including family-studies leader Family Relations, and puts on its own annual conference. Strengths: The CFLE credential crosses state lines, and the organization’s focus on applied research and public policy have made it a go-to source for practitioners and policymakers alike.
Each of these organizations has a lot to offer. Students in particular can benefit from them, as they each have remarkably low membership costs for those currently in school. Professional associations advance the field on many levels, improving the quality of our training, the effectiveness of our clinical practices, the employability of MFTs, reimbursement practices, and public policy. I encourage you to find the ones that will be most valuable to you, join them, and then invest your time and energy in them. Being just a number in an organization is fine and has benefits; being an active voice and an advocate for your profession is even better.