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Have a Career As a Relationship Therapist

Are you interested in helping couples and families strengthen their bonds and build healthier relationships with each other? A career in marriage and family therapy may be the right choice for you. Read on to discover the requirements for becoming a marriage and family therapist (MFT).

Job Overview

Relationship therapy is more commonly known as couples counseling or marriage and family therapy. If you become an MFT, you'll work with people to improve the quality of their marriages and family lives. You may provide counseling to families and couples individually or in pairs and groups. Your duties may include providing pre-marital therapy, child counseling, or divorce mediation.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) reported that many marriage and family therapists have their own private practices, but they can also work for mental health agencies, hospitals, or the government.

Important Facts About Relationship Therapists

On-the-Job Training Internship/residency
Key Skills Empathy, interpersonal, astute listening, organized, clear verbal communication
Work Environment Mental health centers, substance abuse treatment centers, hospitals, private offices, and colleges
Similar Occupations Psychologists, rehabilitation counselors, social workers, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, social and community service managers
Median Salary (2018) $50,090 (for marriage and family therapist)
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 23% (for marriage and family therapist)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education and Training

The BLS reported that you'll need at least a master's degree to work as an MFT, and you may choose to enroll in a doctoral program after you finish your master's degree program. You can find many schools that offer full-time and part-time MFT master's degree programs. Although the length of your program will depend on your school's academic and clinical requirements, if you enroll as a full-time student, you should expect to earn your degree in two to three years. Your courses might include classes on:

  • Preventing domestic violence
  • Professional, legal, and ethical issues for therapists
  • Counseling couples and families through divorce
  • Treating alcohol and drug addiction
  • Psychopharmacology

You'll also be required to devote a certain number of hours to clinical practice, where you'll develop skills as an MFT under the supervision of a licensed therapist. Your school may have an on-site clinic where you can complete your clinical training, or you may have to spend part or all of your training at off-campus clinics. Your program might also videotape your clinical hours so that you can later observe yourself at work.

Licensure

According to the BLS, all states and the District of Columbia require that you earn your license before you're allowed to work as an MFT. Although licensure requirements vary from state to state, the BLS noted that to earn your marriage and family therapy license, you'll usually need to earn your master's degree and complete two years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical training after finishing your MFT program. You'll also need to pass your state's licensure exams.

To complete your supervised clinical hours after graduation, you'll need to apply to become a registered MFT intern in your state. Depending on your state's requirements, you may also need to complete additional coursework in your field. Once you've completed your required clinical hours, you can apply to take your state's MFT licensing exams. The California Board of Behavioral Sciences reported that it may take you up to six years to complete the process, although you'll need to check with your specific state to determine your appropriate internship and examination timeline (www.bbs.ca.gov).

Advancing in Your Field

Once you've received your MFT license, you'll also need to earn a specific number of continuing education credits every year in order to maintain it. You may choose to enroll in an MFT doctoral program to expand your career opportunities. If you do pursue a doctoral degree, you'll typically take courses in contemporary relationship issues and current research. You'll also complete more clinical hours. The BLS reported that MFTs with doctoral degrees often find positions as researchers, consultants, professors, or master clinicians.