History of MedFT


Pioneers in MedFT

The practice of what is now known as Medical Family Therapy (MedFT) emerged in the late 1970s/early 1980s to address the gap in the healthcare system between biological and psychosocial health. Clinical, academic, and administrative professionals in the healthcare field began to recognize the importance of collaboration between medicine and behavioral health, which resulted in a growing relationship between family medicine and marriage and family therapy (MFT) practitioners.1 Across the country, different family therapists worked together with family physicians and began publishing on family oriented care and collaboration.

Medical Family Therapy (MedFT) emerged from the discipline of Family Therapy. Pioneers in family therapy succeeded in applying general systems theory, cybernetics, and the idea that relationships are central to human health and well-being. Medical Family Therapy was underwritten by the early pioneers from family therapy. Dan Marlowe (2011) argued that medical family therapy is “the extension of relational understanding and practice into a specific venue (i.e., medicine).”


Seeking the Family: Emergence of MedFT

The notion of including the family system and focusing on the interconnectedness of individuals within the system was a radical shift in the world of mental health practice in the 1950s. Around the same time, medicine was searching for a more comprehensive approach. In one sense, medicine was also searching for family around the same time. John Geyman (1977), a pioneer in the field of family medicine, wrote the following: 

"It is axiomatic that the specialty of family practices is involved in the comprehensive, ongoing care of individual patients and their families, and that the knowledge and skills required by the family physician include a broad range of clinical competencies. It is likewise axiomatic that the family is the basic unit of care in family practice, but involved herein is a profound conceptual shift extending well beyond the care of the “whole patient” to the care of the family, not just the individual as the patient. Although this point is part of everyday language of developing discipline of family medicine, a gap usually exists between this conceptual goal and actual practice, including teaching practices with intended commitment to this goal." 


Early Medical Family Therapist

Early medical family therapists include: William Doherty, Ph.D., Macaran A. Baird, MD, Susan McDaniel, Ph.D., Jeri Hepworth, Ph.D., Alan Lorenz, MD, John Rolland, MD,  Barbara Gawinski, Ph.D., Wiliam Gunn, Ph.D., Jennifer Hodgson, Ph.D., Angela Lamson, Ph.D., Tai Mendenhall, Ph.D., Russell Crane, Ph.D.,  & Lisa Tyndall, Ph.D.