What is an MFT, or Marriage and Family Therapist? What is Psychotherapy? Top and most frequent reasons why people seek therapy
Dino Ruffoni, mental health professional in Sonoma County, California

Dino Ruffoni, MFT


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Signs and reasons why my child may need counseling Different counseling methods and theories Therapist or counselot and patient confidentiality agreements

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is a "MFT"?

A: Marriage and Family Therapists are relationship specialists who treat persons involved in interpersonal relationships. They are trained to assess, diagnose and treat individuals, couples, families and groups to achieve more adequate, satisfying and productive marriage, family and social adjustment. The practice also includes premarital counseling, child counseling, divorce or separation counseling and other relationship counseling. Marriage and Family Therapists are psychotherapists and healing arts practitioners licensed by the State of California (information from The California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists).

Q: What is a MFT's Scope of Practice, what issues are they qualified to work with clients on?

A: The treatment focus with clients needs to be on some aspect of resolving relationship issues.

Q: What is Psychotherapy?

A: Psychotherapy has been defined as the treatment of psychological disorders. It is generally acknowledged that it is a process whereby psychological problems are treated through communication and relationship factors between a client and a therapist. It is about talking through your problems and relational healing.

Psychotherapy is also known as talk therapy, the talking cure, the care of the psyche, soul, spirit, or mind and soul healing. The New York Times Couch column information described psychotherapy as "curative talk between people behind closed doors".

Q: I know there are many reasons for seeking out a therapist, but can you tell me what most brings people into therapy?

A: Yes, there are many different reasons that people seek out a psychotherapist. The primary reason is emotional pain due to childhood neglect, abuse and trauma.

Q: How will I know when my child or adolescent needs therapy?

A: Sometimes we have a sense that something is not quite right with our child or adolescent, sometimes concerns about our child or adolescent are brought to our attention by a teacher or a daycare provider.

You know your child or adolescent better than anyone else does and if your child or adolescent seems to be acting much differently than usual this may be a red flag.

If you notice such things as a big drop in grades, excessive worry or increased anger, isolating or regressive behaviors, more physical complaints, more difficulty sleeping, big changes in their peer group or more secretive behavior it may be time to consult a therapist.

Maybe just a few meetings between you and a therapist is all that is necessary to help your child. It might be possible that the best course of action is for your adolescent to enter into therapy.

Children and adolescents can suffer from many of the same issues that adults do. By identifying these problems early and getting your child or adolescent the appropriate support you will be helping to secure their healthy development and growth.

Q: What are the differences between brief or short-term and more open-ended or long-term psychotherapy?

A: Brief therapy: It focuses on the main presenting problem and more immediate and specific behavioral changes. The therapist is more active and directive throughout. No significant time is taken to build the relationship, no detailed history is taken and there is more homework between sessions.

Short-term therapy works best when things are more stable in your life and you really want to focus in on one specific area of difficulty. It helps motivated people resolve transitional crises that arise. It usually lasts a number of months.

Long-term therapy: It goes beyond presenting problems and symptoms towards the root of problems. It allows for the exploration of more areas and multiple themes and for a deeper level of focus. More time is spent on the relationship between the therapist and the client, there is more history taking and there is more journaling between sessions. It helps motivated people resolve deeper issues that have arisen. It usually lasts a number of years.

Clients often consider therapy an important resource and the need for additional treatment could emerge down the line regardless of whether a therapist was originally sought out for brief or long-term psychotherapy.

Q: It sounds like there are many different counseling theories. What are the main theories that you are interested in and that your practice is based on? What does an eclectic approach mean?

A: Yes, the last I heard there were over two hundred different counseling theories.

The therapeutic relationship is often the most important factor for successful therapy. Consequently, I am much more interested in fostering a sense of safety and trust, and in building an authentic and collaborative relationship, than I am with any particular counseling theories that may be used. I am especially fascinated with what clients say is the most helpful things for them in therapy and in their pursuit of personal growth and healing.

The theories that I seem to return to the most for subsequent study are the Existential and Humanistic theories, with their focus on experiential and relationship-oriented approaches that stress feeling and subjective experiencing, and the importance of awareness, and the Psychodynamic approach, with its focus on early childhood experiences, early attachment figures, unconscious conflicts and patterns, and the importance of insight. I have studied many different counseling theories over the years and I am actively involved in professional development.

An eclectic approach usually means that the therapist uses techniques from various counseling theories or that the therapist tries to tailor their approach to the client's specific style and issues.

Q: Do clients ever see more than one therapist at a time?

A: Usually a client will see just one therapist. Occasionally a client will see one therapist for individual counseling, and another therapist for couple's counseling. A client may see their regular therapist and also another therapist for more short-term, issue-specific therapy that is outside of the regular therapist's scope of training and experience.

Q: How frequently do clients usually go to therapy?

A: Clients will most often attend weekly or twice-monthly therapy sessions. In a more acute or crisis situation, a client may attend therapy twice a week until the crisis subsides.

Q: Will the information I share with you remain private?

A: Yes, absent a few legal and ethical exceptions, everything disclosed to the therapist is considered confidential and is not to be disclosed by the therapist to anyone else. This includes the therapist's thoughts based on the information that the client shares with him or her and even the fact that the client is in therapy.

Q: What are the legal exceptions to confidentiality?

A: Legal exceptions where the therapist is required to breach confidentiality and disclose the information to the appropriate parties are: threats of violence towards another person and reporting child, dependent adult, and elder abuse, court ordered due to a client's mental competency and if a client is under sixteen and the victim of a crime and the disclosure is in the best interest of the minor.

Q: What are the ethical exceptions to confidentiality?

A: Ethical exceptions where the therapist may, but is not required to by law, breach confidentiality and disclose the information to the appropriate parties are: threats of suicide, disclosures to other helping professionals, when the client is gravely disabled, serious threats of harm to another person's property and spouse or lover abuse.

Do you have some more questions? Are you considering therapy for yourself or a family member?

It is important that you feel comfortable with your therapist, as the therapeutic relationship is often the most important factor for successful therapy. If you, or a family member, are ready to take this important step in your life and seek outside support, contact me about a complimentary initial phone consultation.