The Ultimate Collective
Everyone has their own idea of what a family is. Some assert that families are tight-knit groups of blood relatives while others favor found families of friends. There are sprawling families, sparse families, families that function as refuges, and families that feel lonely even when they’re together. Kith or kin, blood or bond, it’s clear that family— or community— is a significant fixture of the human experience. Therefore, we need Marriage and Family Therapy.
What is Marriage and Family Therapy?
Marriage and Family Therapy is a specific branch of psychotherapy that examines the ways in which a family’s behaviors and dynamics impact its members. Sometimes it requires that an entire immediate family be involved in the treatment. Other times, treatment is focused on sets of siblings, parents and their children, couples, or singular patients.
For example, if a woman diagnosed with an eating disorder decided to seek help for herself from a Marriage and Family Therapist, or an MTF, the MFT would sit with her and study her eating disorder in relation to her family experiences. What behaviors did this patient witness from her mom or dad that contributed to the development of this disorder? What unintended messages were communicated when granddad said she couldn’t leave the table until her dinner plate was clean? What did her aunt’s extensive makeup collection or her brother’s workout regime teach her about her body?
The MFT’s job is to decipher the explicit and implicit messages communicated by a family up until the present moment. Knowing the homebrewed origin story of a person’s mental illness or disordered thinking and the relationships that have influenced it is key to being able to get at the heart of their distress.
In essence, the premise of Marriage and Family Therapy is that a person’s mental health has ties to their family. The family is the primary teacher by which a person learns about the world and how to function in it, for better or for worse.
Why should Medicare and Medicaid cover Marriage and Family Therapy?
As it stands, Marriage and Family Therapy is largely unrecognized by the federal government, making the services of MFTs unavailable to the low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled who lack the ability to pay for treatment out of pocket.
“There’s been little flexibility in the past,” says Catherine Rowe, a Utah-based Marriage and Family Therapist in-training. “To be covered would be huge. We’d be able to serve so many under-served and under-privileged populations. We’re all writing our representatives now to get the ball rolling…”
And the ball has rolled! On January 21, 2021, the Mental Health Access Improvement Act of 2021, otherwise known as H.R. 432, was introduced to the House of Representatives. If passed, the bill will officially recognize and cover the essential services of mental health counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists under Medicare. This will allow seniors with Medicare the opportunity to seek help from qualified mental health professionals, including MFTs.
While this counts as a victory for the profession, more traction is required to push the bill further. Additionally, Medicaid coverage of Marriage and Family Therapy is piecemeal and continues to hamper the proper treatment of the nation’s most vulnerable populations.
Will Medicaid cover Marriage and Family Therapy? It’s largely up to you!
What can I do to help?
If you’d like to see mental health counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy covered by Medicare and Medicaid, the topic is currently up for debate and in need of support. AAMFT, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, has put together an intuitive webpage to help you add your voice to the cause here.
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