Marriage and Family Counseling
This program option is designed to prepare counselors to address a variety of mental health and relationship issues from a family systems framework. Students in this program are trained to work with individuals, families, or couples from a systems perspective. In addition, this program option prepares students to work with both children and adolescents. The Marriage and Family Counseling program meets educational licensure requirements for a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in the State of Montana. Up to 1500 hours of the supervised counseling experience obtained during the program can be applied to the 3000 hours of supervised counseling experience needed prior to licensure in the state of Montana.
After licensure, graduates of the Marriage and Family Counseling option work in a variety of counseling contexts where they see children, adolescents, individuals, couples, and families. In this program, you are prepared to work with individuals, as well as with couples and families. This extended focus beyond individual counseling provides a well-rounded training experience.
The goal of the MFC option is to develop competent professionals in the practice of marriage and family counseling. This is accomplished through:
- Mastery of a body of knowledge which emphasizes human development and the family in context of the multiple systems in which it is embedded.
- Development of clinical skills for treating mental health and relationship problems by intervening in the multiple systems interacting within the family and between the family and outer environmental systems.
- Supervised clinical practice, including practicum and internship experiences working with individuals, couples, and families, and weekly individual and group supervision. A minimum of 280 direct client contact hours are required (the majority with couples and families).
Marriage and family counseling students will develop knowledge and competency concerning the counseling and human development needs of a multicultural society in the following core areas:
- Human and family growth and development
- Social and cultural foundations
- Helping relationships
- Lifestyle and career development
- Research and evaluation
- Professional orientation
Upon completing the program, MFC students will demonstrate basic knowledge and competency in the practice of marriage and family counseling based on national standards. This includes knowledge of the history of systems theory and its application in marriage and family counseling; changes in the family including blended families, single-parent, dual-career, and nuclear; methods of assessing families and general systems; theories of family systems therapy; terminology used in family counseling and its use in conceptualization and treatment; research and current trends in theory and practice; and ethical and professional standards. In addition, students learn to recognize the characteristics of healthy relationships and optimal family functioning and to identify the interacting systems affecting and influencing marriages, families, and interpersonal relationships. Intervention methods for specific marital and family counseling problems are emphasized, as are basic interviewing and case management skills for relationship counseling.
Graduate students in MFC will engage in personal and professional development opportunities. Because the practice of marital and family counseling requires personal maturity and interpersonal skills, the curriculum offers opportunities for self-exploration, interpersonal skill development, and professional orientation. These include examining one's own culture, background, and family of origin, small group dynamics lab, and exploration of personal values, beliefs, and experiences which may impact the therapeutic process. Training as a marital and family counselor emphasizes understanding one's interactive role in the treatment system and how to work collaboratively with clients and other mental health practitioners. Training also includes orientation to the family counseling profession, introduction to professional organizations and journals, and awareness of ethics and other professional issues as they apply to the practice of marital and family counseling. Students are encouraged to think, write, and present themselves as professionals specially trained in family systems therapy. Students are required to develop and implement personal and professional development plans throughout their programs of study.
Graduates of the MFC program will demonstrate clinical skills in the practice of marital and family counseling. These include establishing rapport/relationships with couples and families and conveying respect; conducting interviews with couples and family systems; integrating systemic theories and intervention strategies in work with couples and families; diagnosing family problems and identifying healthy family functioning; developing hypotheses and setting goals in working with couples and families; observing and identifying interactional systems influencing the family; and making appropriate interventions. Trainees must also demonstrate sensitivity in working with couples and families with a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds and present a professional image in working with couples and families.
Graduates of the MFC program will complete 700 hours supervised practice in marriage and family counseling, with at least 280 hours direct client contact, the majority of which are with couples or families. Supervised practice will include one semester of practicum in marriage and family counseling (3 credits) and two semesters of internship in marriage and family counseling in a community agency or setting (6 credits). Intensive weekly individual and group supervision is provided. Students are expected to effectively receive and use feedback in supervision with couples and families, demonstrate ethical practices in working with family systems, make appropriate consultations and referrals, and apply research findings and readings appropriately in working with couples and families.
Graduates of the MFC program will meet national standards for counselors with an emphasis on marriage and family work. In addition, graduates will be uniquely qualified to meet the integrated, comprehensive needs of Montana's rural population. Students will be trained according to a bio-psycho-social model that integrates treatment approaches across multiple levels of understanding and intervention. Studies in this area include understanding mental health and disorders; becoming competent in appraisal methods including mental status exams, testing, DSM-IV diagnosis, family and larger systems assessment, and developing skills appropriate to psychoeducation, crisis intervention, prevention, and consultation. Use of psychotropic medication disorder specific interventions are integrated within a multiple systems perspective.
Because marriage and family counseling requires high levels of professional maturity and interpersonal skills, the curriculum offers a number of experiential learning courses which are designed to foster students' personal development, relationship skills and professional orientation. The courses include self-exploration and skill acquisition regarding personal values, professional issues, personal and professional relationships, and group dynamics. The courses offer opportunities for development of cohesive relations between students through self-disclosure, empathic listening, feedback, and role play.
Competent counseling practice is informed and guided by theory. The program track emphasizes thorough knowledge of individual and family development within social contexts. Theory-based approaches to individual, family and group counseling are covered in-depth. During counseling practica, students are closely supervised in their use of knowledge about families and family counseling theories. Supervised practice continues and is expanded during internship. Students may complete a thesis where they develop competence at independent research or a professional paper/project if they desire in-depth focus in an area of special interest.
Anna Elliott, PhD
Asst Professor and Program Leader, Mental Health Counseling