How Can I Become a Family Therapist?

Explore the career requirements for family therapists. Get the facts about education, licensure, job outlook 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 work with families to help them address issues that are affecting their relationships. For example, they may work with a family to help them cope with a family member's illness, or they may work with a family that is struggling with a child who has behavioral issues. In some cases, the issue that the family is addressing may affect them all directly; in others, the problems may stem from issues that one specific family member is having. The focus of the family therapist remains the same, no matter what the root issue.

Family therapists meet with the family to identify the issue(s), then develop strategies to resolve or manage those issues. They must maintain client confidentiality, and they may see members of the family individually as well as together as a group. They document their assessments and the progress of their clients. See more about what it takes to become a family therapist below:

Degree Required Master's degree
Training Required 2 years post-degree supervised practice in a clinical setting
Education Field of Study Marriage and family therapy, psychology, counseling, social work, or a related mental health field
Key Responsibilities Evaluate individuals; work with individuals, couples and families on relationships, substance abuse and other issues that affect the family unit; evaluate family roles
Licensure or Certification Licensure is required; professional certification is available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 15%*
Median Salary (2015) $48,600*

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

What Would I Do as a Family Therapist?

Family therapy is a specialization in the field of mental health counseling. As a family therapist, you would observe interactions among family members and use approaches to help families work through a variety of issues. You would help families to better communicate and to understand each others' viewpoints so they can resolve crises or other stressful situations.

What Degree Do I Need?

While each state may have different educational requirements for family therapists, you should plan to earn at least a master's degree to be eligible to practice. You can often find counseling programs through universities' education or psychology departments, although family therapy training programs may be grouped with marriage or couples' therapy programs. An appropriate program in counseling should focus on topics such as human development, social interaction and cultural diversity. You will also study key principles and techniques of counseling and practice them with patients while being supervised.

Choosing a degree program that is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) can prepare you for licensure and certification. These programs met set standards to ensure that you're able to counsel all types of family structures, understand potential difficulties in family dynamics and treat emotional illnesses.

Do I Need a License?

To practice as a family therapist, you must be licensed by the state in which you work. Requirements vary by state, but, at minimum, you'll need to complete a master's program in counseling, work with patients in a supervised clinical setting for an additional two years beyond your education and pass an exam. Maintaining your license usually involves completing continuing education, as well as following a code of ethics.

You also might seek voluntary certification through the National Board for Certified Counselors (nbcc.org). Available designations include National Certified Counselor (NCC) and Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CCMHC).

Where Can I Work?

As a family therapist, you might establish a private practice in your home or office, or you might join an existing group practice. Some family therapists partner with other health care providers to offer patients a range of services. You can also seek opportunities in hospitals and social services.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expected positions for marriage and family counselors to grow by 15% between 2014 and 2024 as the practice becomes more recognized (www.bls.org). Holding voluntary certification might boost your career options since it verifies that you meet national standards.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

The work that social workers and substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors do is very similar to what family therapists do. They meet with their patients and help assess the issues that are adversely affecting them, and then help them develop strategies to resolve or cope with those issues so that they can lead a more fulfilling life. They all need to maintain patient confidentiality, and at times may meet with individuals or groups depending on the specific needs of their client or clients.

The main difference between these professionals is their typical client focus. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors work with individuals coping with addictions to drugs or alcohol or those with issues like eating disorders or self-harm. Social workers see a variety of clients rather than focusing specifically on families. Social workers need a bachelor's or master's degree in social work. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors need a bachelor's degree.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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  • Saybrook University

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  • Capella University

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  • Florida Tech

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