Family Therapist: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for family therapists. Get the facts about job duties, education and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Marriage & Family Therapy degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Family Therapist?

Family therapists are therapists that are trained to help families, couples, and individuals learn better ways to communicate, understand and work with each other. They typically take a family-centered approach, focusing on family development and roles within the family. They talk through issues with clients and help them to change problematic behavior. Cognitive and goal-oriented methods of therapy are common.

The following chart provides an overview about becoming a family therapist.

Degree Required Master's degree
Training Required 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical therapy experience
Education Field of Study Psychology, counseling, marriage and family therapy, social work, or a related mental health field
Licensure or Certification Licensure is required in all states
Key Responsibilities Work with individuals, families and couples to treat mental health, depression, addiction and other issues that affect relationships
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 15% (for all marriage and family therapists)
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $48,600 (for all marriage and family therapists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Kind of Work Do Family Therapists Do?

Family therapists, also known as marriage and family therapists (MFTs), use counseling techniques to identify and treat emotional problems and resolve personal issues between family members. In a nurturing, positive environment, family therapists promote healthy relationships, encourage communication and reduce conflicts.

According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT), in addition to working with families and couples who have general communication issues, MFTs also work to resolve more severe issues affecting family members and couples, such as substance abuse, depression, eating disorders and mental illness (

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that, unlike more traditional therapies, family therapy is focused on obtaining short-term, attainable results with a specific end-goal in mind ( Marriage and family therapy differs from traditional therapies because it places emphasis on the client's external social environment rather than on internal psychological issues. MFTs may also teach, engage in research and provide psychiatric referrals.

What Training Do I Need?

While individual states specific requirements for family therapists, most states require marriage and family therapists to hold master's degrees. The Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) accredits marriage and family training programs at the master's and doctoral degree levels.

Before you can begin a master's degree program, you'll need to complete a 4-year bachelor's degree program. You don't necessarily need to major in counseling or psychology, but it could give you a competitive edge when applying to master's degree programs. A Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy is typically a 2-3 year program that includes about 60 credits of coursework and up to 500 hours of clinical training. During your clinical training, you'll gain experience working with families and couples in a health care setting, typically a mental health center or hospital. After you earn your degree, you can begin the process of obtaining your state license.

What Salary Could I Earn?

According to the BLS, marriage and family therapists earned a median salary of $48,600 as of 2015. The majority of marriage and family therapists worked in individual and family services, and those employed by state governments and religious organizations were among the highest earners in the U.S.

Jobs for marriage and family therapists were projected to increase 15% between 2014 and 2024. This is due to the fact that more people are seeking treatment for mental health problems and more insurance companies are willing to pay for mental health treatment. Because the number of openings is expected to exceed the number of qualified graduates, the job outlook should be favorable.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Two other types of counselors that require master's degrees are school/career counselors and rehabilitation counselors. School and career counselors work with students or adults to help them make school or job decisions and develop the appropriate study or professional skills. Rehabilitation counselors work with people with disabilities or impairments, assisting them with independent living and employment.

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