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.
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 (2018-2028)||22%*|
|Median Salary (2018)||$50,090*|
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 2018 the median salary for LMFTs was $50,090 (www.bls.gov). However, those working in state government roles earned more, with a mean salary of $69,080. The BLS predicted employment in the field would rise 22% between 2018-2028, 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.