How to Become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for licensed marriage and family therapists. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary, and potential job growth 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 Does A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Do?

When couples are struggling with problems in their marriage, or there are family issues that need to be addressed, they may opt to see a licensed marriage and family therapist. Marriage and family therapists may have sessions with the couple or family or meet with each person individually. They focus on getting the people they're seeing to express how they feel and communicate effectively about issues so that the couple or family can begin to work through those issues. Sometimes they may address specific issues, such as divorce or financial problems or the illness of a loved one. They may also need to address issues like depression or anxiety that are affecting an individual's behavior and causing conflict within the family. Marriage and family therapists focus on helping their clients develop effective coping strategies and may also refer them to other resources in the community, such as support groups.

Degree Required Master's degree or doctoral degree
Training Required 2,000 to 4,000 hours supervised clinical experience
Education Field of Study Marriage and family therapy, psychology, social work, counseling or a related mental health field.
Licensure and/or Certification All states require marriage and family therapists to be licensed
Job Growth (2014-2024) 15%*
Median Salary (2015) $48,600*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist?

As a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) you'll work with couples, families and children to identify and treat familial issues, by encouraging communication and facilitating openness between family members. You may conduct individual counseling sessions or lead group therapy and address issues including miscommunication, abuse and juvenile delinquency. If medical or more intensive psychiatric treatment is called for, you may help refer clients to doctors or facilities.

Step 1: Research the Career

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in May 2015 the median salary for LMFTs was $48,600 (www.bls.gov). However, those working in state government roles earned more, with a mean salary of $73,110. The BLS predicted employment in the field would rise 15% between 2014-2024, spurred by increasing awareness and acceptance of counseling options.

Step 2: Earn a 4-Year Degree

The educational path to becoming a family therapist starts with a bachelor's degree. A bachelor's degree in psychology, counseling or social work lays the groundwork to understand how to assess and treat psychological disorders and interpersonal conflicts. This also provides the background in human development, psychology and communication skills necessary to pursue a master's degree and clinical work.

Step 3: Go to Graduate School

The BLS reports that most licensed counseling jobs require at least a master's degree, but doctoral programs are also available. For both types, you should find a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education, which is part of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (www.aamft.org). In a master's degree program, you'll study common family issues such as depression, death, illness, sexuality, substance abuse and domestic abuse. Your coursework will also address family structures, couples therapy, religious views in therapy, counseling ethics and multicultural counseling.

Continuing to a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program in marriage and family therapy will prepare you to teach others family therapy methods and give you the opportunity to research counseling techniques and issues. Ph.D. programs also allow you to complete essential clinical hours for licensure.

Step 4: Complete Supervised Clinical Hours

According to the BLS, to earn state licensure you'll need at least 3,000 hours of clinical experience. Many master's degree and Ph.D. programs include a clinical as part of your education; however, some states may require post-graduate clinical experience to qualify. These clinicals are generally completed in hospitals or clinics with real patients.

Step 5: Become Licensed

Every state requires licensure for marriage and family therapists through a state-approved agency. State requirements vary, but, after recognizing your education and clinical experience as satisfactory for licensing eligibility, many state licensing boards use the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Board's exam, (www.amftrb.org). Multiple-choice questions cover assessment, treatment, ethics and practice.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Mental health counselors, substance abuse counselors, rehabilitation counselors, and school and career counselors all perform some tasks that are similar to the work that marriage and family therapists do. Substance abuse counselors need a bachelor's degree, while mental health counselors, rehabilitation counselors and school and career counselors need a master's degree. They provide counseling services and supports to people with a range of personal issues, such as illness, physical limitations from injury or divorce. Social workers need a bachelor's or master's degree. Some social workers, clinical social workers, focus on counseling and work with individuals with behavioral, mental and emotional issues.

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:

  • 1. Degree Options:
The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

Popular Schools

  • George Mason University

    George Mason University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at George Mason University:

    • Master

    Online Programs Available

  • Strayer University

    Strayer University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Strayer University:

    • Master
    • Bachelor Degrees

    Online Programs Available

  • Grand Canyon University

    Grand Canyon University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Grand Canyon University:

    • Doctoral
    • Master
    • Bachelor Degrees
    • Certificates

    Online Programs Available

  • Northcentral University

    Northcentral University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Northcentral University:

    • Doctoral
    • Master
      • Master - Marriage & Family Therapy

    Online Programs Available

  • University of Delaware

    University of Delaware responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at University of Delaware:

    • Master

    Online Programs Available

  • Herzing University

    Herzing University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

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  • Keiser University

    Keiser University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Keiser University:

    • Associate Programs

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  • Capella University

    Capella University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Capella University:

    • Doctoral
    • Master
    • Bachelor Degrees

    Online Programs Available

  • Colorado State University Global

    Colorado State University Global responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Colorado State University Global:

    • Master

    Online Programs Available

  • The University of Scranton

    The University of Scranton responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at The University of Scranton:

    • Master
    • Certificates

    Online Programs Available

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