Should I choose a Family Therapist or Psychologist?


You are stuck and decided (or someone suggested) to talk to a therapist.  Then you started to wonder if you should choose a Family Therapist or if you should go with the familiar route of seeing a Psychologist.  You could be intrigued if there is a difference.

In this post, I will give you 3 practical differences to help you choose.

Growing up you probably heard that therapy is mostly provided by Psychologists.  Now the term “therapist” may offer alternatives, but you are not sure if there’s a hierarchy (is one profession more knowledgeable or competent than the other?). You may have heard that there are other professions that provide psychological services, one of them Family Therapists.

What is the difference between Family Therapists and Psychologists?

After reading, you should know if a Family Therapist could help you or if you should seek the services of a Psychologist.  After all, most people don’t really pay attention to theoretical orientation since they are so overwhelmed by their symptoms.

1. The field of Psychology


Psychology was born in America in the mid to late 1800s.  In simple terms, it started by understanding problems as residing within individuals.  It places emphasis on insight or a deep understanding of a person or a thing.  The public looks for Psychologists to explain why people behave in ways that they do, or how they think.  The relationship between patient and professional is long-term and can be analytical in nature, meaning that much is spent on analyzing aspects of your personality or behavior.

A traditional Psychologist might work on changing emotions before you can change behavior.  You might turn towards yourself and reflect, increasing insight.  They might focus on the past to understand the present.  This is why clients can sometimes be in therapy for years (or decades).

The field is rich in research and has received contributions from around the world.  It has been offering the public many explanations as to why things are (or should be) or as to why people do what they do.

Students of Psychology can go into so many different areas, such as forensic, education, research, or industries, among other fields.  Students can also decide to take the clinical route and end up working directly with individuals providing therapy or by providing testing, such as ADHD testing, personality testing, and so on.

2. The field of Family Therapy


Family Therapy was also born in America in the 1950s and coincided with divorce rates increasing to the 50th percentile.  Family Therapy is different than traditional Psychology in the way that it does not consider that the problem lies within the individual. Instead, it tries to find solutions within relationships developed in the individual’s system.

Another word associated with Family Therapy is “systemic therapy”.   When a therapist is systemic, they will explore with you the impact of looking outwards instead of being introspective.  In other words, a systemic therapist will look at relationships, such as the ones you develop with your family, loved ones, your school, your job, your community, your identity, and any other system you have a relationship with.

The first time I heard about Family Therapy, I thought it was a sub-category of Psychology, and that was incorrect.  Family Therapy arrived to question certain orientations of Psychologists or even to contribute to the existing orientation about how problems or symptoms emerge and can be treated.

Many people think that Family Therapists can only treat couples and families, but this is because the name of the field “Family Therapy” can be confusing (I think that if the field would change its name, perhaps a better name would be “Systemic Therapist”).

I frequently say “Family Therapy is not the same as therapy with the family”.  Family Therapy is a modality of treatment, while therapy with the family can be interpreted as individual work done with multiple individuals of the same family.

3. The Juice


Family Therapists can not only treat couples and families, but we can treat individuals the same way Psychologists can.  Instead of focusing on the credentials of the therapist, look at the specialties the therapist claims to have.  If you are suffering from substance abuse, or depression, or anxiety, look for a professional who claims to have a specialty in that field.

A Family Therapist might ask you to bring a member of your family or your whole family into a session.  Would you be uncomfortable with this concept?  No problem, you don’t have to bring anyone other than yourself.  For couples therapy, we highly encourage that both of you attend. It is a different concept because for so long, we have believed that the problem can be fixed if only one person gets the treatment.

Although many counseling professionals can see families, only licensed Family Therapists are heavily trained in systemic work.  There is no hierarchy with mental health professions, only a genuine desire to do the best to help you and your loved ones.  We frequently collaborate with each other and learn from our theoretical orientations.

Whether you decide to see a Family Therapist or a Psychologist, most importantly is that you work with a licensed professional who abides by a code of ethics and board regulations that protect you.  There’s a lot of unlicensed activity that is harmful to the community.  Beware!

Give therapy a try


Family Therapy is (relatively) new and different.  It is one of the most innovative modalities of therapy lately.  We might work on your behavior first and turn towards others, increasing action and direction.  Clients can sometimes come for one session or stay for a little longer, but it is generally brief.  We focus on the present because that’s what needs to change.  Action must be taken for changes to occur.

For more understanding of how Family Therapy can help you, read this explanation from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

I would be happy to explore if therapy can work for you and if we are a fit for one another.  If we are not, I will provide you with referrals to either a Family Therapist, a Psychologist, or another professional designation that is more equipped to handle your case.

Let’s schedule a 15-minute free call.  I hope I have an opportunity to work with you.