How Can I Become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist?

Research what it takes to become a licensed marriage and family therapist. Learn about job duties, licensure requirements and job growth to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Marriage & Family Therapy degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist?

Marriage and family therapists work with couples or families to help them address issues that are negatively affecting them. For example, if a family member is struggling with a mental or emotional disorder or has an addiction, the family may seek counseling services to help family members understand how that is affecting them. Marriage and family therapists develop treatment plans for the issues that are affecting the members of the family or couple. They need to maintain patient confidentiality and at times may see family members alone, and at other times they may see the family together.

Degree Required Master's degree
Training Required 2,000 to 4,000 hours of post-degree supervised clinical experience
Education Field of Study Marriage and family therapy or similar field
Key Responsibilities Provide relationship-centered therapy to couples and families; treat family members for emotional issues, mental health issues or substance abuse
Licensure or Certification State licensure is required in most cases
Job Growth (2014-2024) 15%*
Median Salary (2015) $48,600*

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

What Do Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists Do?

As an LMFT, you'll diagnose and treat emotional and psychiatric disorders in a holistic way, considering not only the individual but also the social system they exist in. You may treat individuals, couples, families or groups. You can recognize the role that relationships play in a client's life and, even if you work only with the individual, view the client's needs and development within the context of his or her broader relationships. Through your work, you may help enhance communication between individuals and increase their understandings of one another's problems or situations.

You could work as a self-employed, private practitioner or you may work for an agency. Along with providing individual and group therapy, you may teach or conduct research at a postsecondary institution.

What Education and Career Preparation Will I Need?

You'll need to earn a minimum of a master's degree in marriage and family therapy or a related area to become an LMFT. These programs generally require at least two years of full-time study to complete which may include coursework in research methodology, psychotherapy, interventions and psychological assessment. If you're interested in teaching at a college or university, conducting research or becoming an agency supervisor, you may wish to pursue a doctoral degree.

How Do I Become Licensed?

In addition to earning a graduate degree, you'll have to obtain a license to practice. According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), all states administer licensure to marriage and family therapists (www.aamft.org). Licensure requirements vary by state, but they typically include accumulating at least two years of supervised clinical experience after graduating from a master's degree program and passing an examination. Many states require licensure applicants to pass the AAMFT-administered national exam.

What Is the Job Growth Outlook for LMFTs?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicated in 2014 that there were 33,700 marriage and family therapists employed in the U.S. The BLS projected that employment opportunities for marriage and family therapists would grow 15% over the 2014-2024 decade, which was faster than average for all occupations. This projected growth may be attributed to increased acceptance of seeking help for family and marital problems, as well as to the fact that counselors are now eligible to receive insurance payments for their professional services.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Marriage and family therapists work in the same professional field as social workers and mental health counselors. All of these professionals see people who are coping with issues that negatively affect their quality of life. They may meet with individuals alone, or meet with groups of people with similar issues or from the same family. They must maintain patient confidentiality, assess the patient's condition and develop a plan to help the patient address their issues. The specific types of challenges that these professionals address may vary slightly; for example, marriage and family therapists are more likely to work with a couple addressing infidelity in the marriage, while mental health counselors may be more likely to work with the family members of an individual with suicidal impulses. Social workers need a bachelor's or master's degree in social work. Mental health counselors need a master's degree in psychology, mental health counseling or a related discipline.

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