Core Competencies in Family Psychology

Family Psychologists have core competencies in:

Natural Systems Theory

Using a systemic perspective means that the family psychologist must understand how natural systems work: how systems regulate themselves, change and resist change. Understanding the family as a unit requires a familiarity with other naturally occurring supraorganisms.

Family Strengths

Acquiring the history of a relationship or family, its problems, strengths and goals is essential to understanding systems and how to intervene. The interviewing technique is used in theory building, research and treatment.

Family Evaluation/Research 

Competence is needed in family assessment that goes beyond individual measures and test batteries. A family psychologist should be able to construct new tests or use current instruments to measure family functioning, carry out validation studies, and administer and interpret test results. Evaluating how a family functions requires the ability to assess relationship patterns in both current functioning and in prior generations. The ways in which a family manages emotional closeness, distance, and conflict are central to the work of a family psychologist. Understanding how relationship patterns are transmitted across generations also is essential.

Marital/Couples Therapy and Parenting Issues 

A family psychologist should know theories of marital interaction, marital evaluation, and marital therapy and their relationship to parenting. The  family psychologist should have the skills to use this knowledge to help couples change.

Family Therapy

A family psychologist would have a knowledge of theories of family interaction, family evaluation and family therapy. The skill to use this knowledge to effect change in families would be essential.

Sex Therapy

A  family psychologist would have knowledge of normal and abnormal sexual functioning, be able to evaluate sexual functioning, and the principles and programs used in treating sexual problems.

Family Diversity

Family psychologists must recognize ethnic and cultural differences between families, as well as similarities among families of all backgrounds. Developing multicultural sensitivity is a long-term process that requires an awareness of one’s own racial, ethnic, and class identity, as well as one’s unconscious biases. It also is essential for family psychologists to be aware of the way in which gender and the unequal power relations between men and women construct family structures and family relationships. An understanding of gender politics and heterocentrism avoids mother-blaming, considering fathers peripheral to family life, and prejudice against single mothers and gay/lesbian parents.

Family Law 

Family psychologists must be familiar with law and regulations regarding such issues as custody and visitation; child, spouse, and elderly abuse; and ethical relationships with attorneys. If planning to engage in active courtroom work, the family psychologist must be trained in forensic family psychology.

Outcome & Process Research

Family psychologists must be familiar with systems-based process and outcome research and relevant statistical analyses. Paradigms that analyze family and/or group interactions are necessary. Sociological research also may be relevant to family and larger systems research.

Family Violence

Family psychologists must be skilled in assessing and treating all types of abuse and violence and its impact on individuals, families and larger systems.