What is an LMFT? Why should I want to become one? PGI Associate Professor Kathy Wexler, LMFT, Explains.
Kathy Wexler, Associate Professor Emeritus, has been with Phillips Graduate Institute’s Master of Marriage and Family Therapy program for decades. As a beloved instructor, supervisor, academic resource and professional mentor, she has helped thousands of Phillips’ students through the transformative experience of the MFT program. Alumni will also know her for her work in preparing candidates for the dreaded BBS licensing exams. Kathy is a longtime clinical member of both the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT) and the American Association for Marital and Family Therapy. (AAMFT) She is an AAMFT-Approved Supervisor.
I’ve been a California-licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) since 1978—back when it was called MFCC (Marriage, Family and Child Counselor.) I sometimes get questions about my professional identity—Are you a psychotherapist? Are you a psychologist? Can you work with individuals, or do you only see couples and families? Can you do group therapy? What about working in agencies, schools, or hospitals?
Here’s a quick outline of what I say in response. It’s information any prospective MFT student should know.
Yes, I am a psychotherapist. And yes, I can work with individuals, couples, families, or groups. In California, MFTs are one of several professions licensed as psychotherapists: clinical psychologists, clinical social workers (LCSWs), and professional clinical counselors (LPCCs). Of course, physicians who specialize in psychiatry also do psychotherapy. So, what’s unique about MFTs? We are experts in helping people with their relationships. We think systemically, considering how symptoms and problems exist in families, communities, and larger social systems, not just in one “mentally ill” individual. However, we often see just one client, and we plan treatment from a variety of theoretical orientations, including those that are traditionally used only with individuals.
No, LMFTs are not clinical psychologists, even though they may have a master’s or even a doctoral degree in clinical psychology. We have much of the same training as psychologists, but our supervised experience is different, and we take different licensing exams. Our scope of competence usually does not include psychological testing and neuropsychological assessment.
Yes, my license opens the door to many career options in addition to private practice. The MFT license was originally developed to enable private practice, but now MFTs work everywhere that other professions operate. Even the federal Veterans’ Administration system now hires MFTs, when these jobs were previously only open to social workers.
I’m proud of my professional identity. I happily explain what LMFT stands for, and never feel apologetic that I’m not “Dr. Wexler,” and that I’m not a clinical psychologist. I’ve worked primarily with individuals, and my primary theoretical approach is person-centered. However, as a systems thinker, I’m very aware of the positive “ripple effect” of my therapy sessions. As my individual client experiences empathy, warmth, and genuineness in her relationship with me, there’s an outward flow to her partner, her children, her friends, and family. It’s very gratifying work, and I’m so pleased I will continue to teach future professionals in the Phillips Graduate Institute’s MFT program at the Los Angeles Education Center of Campbellsville University.
Have questions or want to share ideas? Please feel free to email me at Kathy@kathywexler.com.