How do I Know which MFT is Right for my Family and I?

Therapist discussing the patients functional assessment with the husband and wife.

Contributor: Leigh Bell, BA, writer for Eating Disorder Hope

Looking for a therapist may seem intimidating, especially when it’s not just you but your whole family needing the “right fit.” Yes, it takes effort and a little time to find the right marriage-and-family therapist for you and your loved ones, but it could prove beneficial to your relationships and your recovery.

No set criteria exist for choosing the right marriage-and-family therapist because it’s such a personal decision, depending on your needs, where you are in recovery, and familial relationships.

The therapeutic relationship is vital in recovery and should be something on which you can depend and with someone you can trust. It will likely come down to visiting a few therapists who fit criteria you and your loved ones deem important. Then you’ll have to decide who is best for your family and/or spouse.

So where do you start?

Happy doctorAsk for referrals from friends, family members, or other members of your treatment team. If you have insurance, most of them offer on their websites searches for therapists within your plan. Also the American Association for Marriage-and-family therapists provides a search mechanism on their website

Begin to gather a list of potential therapists with these considerations, and if you don’t know the answer to these questions, it’s perfectly acceptable to call the therapist’s office:

  • Does the therapist specialize in eating disorders? Realizing some of the unique qualities of eating disorders, this may be important to your therapy. It will be especially important if your family is playing a role in your recovery, such as meal support. While many therapists list eating disorders as something they treat, this doesn’t mean they specialize in eating disorders, so ask specifically.
  • Do you or your family have strong preferences about a therapist’s gender? Some people connect more easily or feel more comfortable with one or the other.
  • Does your family want a religious-based therapist? Religion could be something that either bonds or divides your family, so it’s important to have a consensus.
  • Do you have insurance, and if so, what therapists are included on your plan? If you don’t have insurance or won’t be using insurance for family therapy, consider how you will pay for it and how the therapist accepts payment. Some simply don’t accept insurance. Others offer sliding scales or payment plans for those paying out of pocket.
  • How far away is the therapy office from your home, and if you’re living independent of family, from the home of family members who will be participating? You’ll be surprised how important distance is when attending therapy regularly. There’s nothing better than a long drive to talk you or a family member out of attending.
  • Has the therapist been in therapy? It’s surprising how this is listed as important how-to-pick-a-therapist websites (and there’s a ton of them out there with many different opinions). There is value in working with someone who has done internal work.

When the List is Made

relaxed young couple working on laptop computer at homeStart by calling your eligible therapists, if you haven’t already in an attempt to answer any of the aforementioned questions. Many offer brief but free over-the-phone consultations, during which you can get a sense of their demeanor and personality. Have all of your questions before the phone call.

You may want to have this phone conversation on speaker with family members who will be involved. Now, it’s time to make an appointment. When you and family members meet with a potential therapist, note how you feel in his or her presence and in the office. Is this someone you could trust? How is your family responding? Is he or she effectively communicating with all family members and/or your spouse?

It may take more than one session with a therapist to decide if she or he is the right one. Be patient with yourself and with your family, and don’t be afraid to meet with a few therapists until you find one who connects to all or most family members.

Families Can Be Part of Treatment Team

couple-498484_640Research shows significant support for family therapy among people with eating disorders. It was a generally accepted families exacerbated, if not caused, eating disorders and, therefore, weren’t included in a loved one’s treatment. The paradigm started shifting in the late 1970s by researchers at the Maudsley Hospital in London, and as we learned about the true causes of eating disorders, slowly fingers stopped pointing, and treatment more often included families.

Today, family therapy is an integral part of eating disorder treatment. Family therapy, where the entire immediate family participates as an adjunct to the treatment, can provide family, and loved one who’s struggling, education, support, communication skills, and conflict resolution.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What positive impact has family based therapy had on your treatment and recovery?

Leigh BellAbout the Author: Leigh Bell holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in Creative Writing and French from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She is a published author, journalist with 15 years of experience, and a recipient of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism. Leigh is recovered from a near-fatal, decade-long battle with anorexia and the mother of three young, rambunctious children.


[1]: Lemmon C., Josephson, A. (2001). Family therapy for eating disorders. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 10(3), 519-542.
[2]: Engel, B., Staats Reis, N., & Dombeck, M. (2007, February 2). Eating Disorder Professional Treatment – Family Therapy. Retrieved November 18, 2015, from

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on January 3, 2015
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About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.