Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage, family, parenting, and couple dynamics can be incredibly challenging. While many problems can be navigated alone, there are marriage and family therapists whose training and education have given them the skills to help clients problem-solve quickly and efficiently. Unlike traditional mental health counseling, marriage and family therapy approaches care from a relationship standpoint. 

According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the pattern of a family’s behavior needs to be considered in order to craft an effective treatment plan. Treatment plans are typically brief, solution-focused, specific, and designed with the end in mind. Clients will have attainable objectives that will help them meet their mental health goals. Most marriage and family therapy counselors can resolve their clients’ issues in 12 sessions or less.

In order to become a marriage and family therapist, aspiring professionals must complete at least a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. These programs vary in length but are typically at least two years or longer. These programs take as long as they do because learning how to counsel clients takes hands-on learning. Students must complete a set number of practicums and internship hours in order to graduate. These hours can vary from just 500 to more than 1,000. 

The job outlook for marriage and family therapists is quite good. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021) estimates a 16 percent increase in jobs in their field between 2020 and 2030, which translates into 12,000 new jobs. This is higher than the projected 14 percent of all other counseling jobs or 8 percent national average for all jobs. This increase is primarily due to the large number of professionals slated to retire in the coming years, as well as an increase in integrative care that focuses on all aspects of patient care, not just physical. The 73,200 marriage and family therapists in the US earn a median annual salary of $51,340. 

If a career working with families, parents, couples, and kids sounds interesting, continue reading to learn exactly what it takes to become a marriage and family therapist. 

Marriage and Family Therapist Specializations & Degree Types

To embark on a marriage and family therapy career, students must complete at least a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. Programs offer either a master’s of science, which is more research-based, or a master’s of arts which is interdisciplinary and humanities-focused. 

Students should ensure the program they complete includes practicum and internship hours, as these are required for licensing.

Admissions Requirements for Marriage and Family Therapist Programs

Admissions requirements to a marriage and family therapist program vary by school. Programs can be competitive, so it is imperative that students put forward the best application they possibly can. Typical requirements for admission to a master’s in marriage and family therapy program includes:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
  • Letters of recommendation
  • A statement of purpose
  • Application fees
  • A completed application

Some programs may require applicants to have completed their bachelor’s in a specific field such as psychology, education, or counseling. Other programs may have prerequisite coursework requirements, so applicants should ensure they have taken all the necessary classes prior to applying. 

Marriage and Family Therapist Program Accreditation

The primary accrediting agency for marriage and family therapy programs is the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). Not only does COAMFTE accreditation assure students and employers that the program meets high-quality standards, but it is also necessary in many states for licensure. COAMFTE accredits online and on-campus programs, as well as master’s and doctorate degrees. 

On-Campus Marriage and Family Therapist Degree Programs

Colorado State University – College of Health and Human Sciences

The master’s of science in human and family development at Colorado State University College of Health and Human Sciences has a marriage and family concentration for aspiring LMFTs. While this program can lead to licensure and a career working directly with clients, the research emphasis also prepares students to pursue a PhD. In fact, in order to complete this program, students must take two courses in research methodology and write and defend a thesis. 

This program takes two years to complete and includes two full summers of coursework. As part of this program, students will complete the 500 hours of client contact and 100 hours of supervision required in order to be licensed in Colorado. Also, this program has an outstanding pass rate on the national licensing exam, with 100 percent of students passing for the past ten years. 

  • Location: Fort Collins, CO
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)
  • Tuition: $1,475.80 per credit 

University of Nebraska-Lincoln – College of Education and Human Sciences

One of the highlights of the master’s of science in marriage and family therapy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Education and Human Sciences is that all students are trained in how to provide counseling utilizing distance technology. Since delivering therapy online has become much more common and can be vastly different, this program provides graduates with the tools to enter the workplace with the skill to counsel clients no matter where they may be. 

The primary types of counseling this program focused on are trauma-informed care as well as attachment therapy, Gottman institute, and cognitive behavioral therapy. In total, students must complete 53 credits as well as a 12-month internship to earn their degree. Students will also graduate with more than the required number of supervision and client contact hours for licensure in Nebraska. 

  • Location: Lincoln, NE
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)
  • Tuition: $996 per credit 

University of Oregon – College of Education

The master’s of science in couples and family therapy at the University of Oregon College of Education is a research-based program that prepares graduates to either work directly with clients or embark on additional research in the field. This is a two-year master’s, and students must complete a total of 90 credits, including four in research practices, 28 in clinical practice, and 25 in individual and family development. 

A unique aspect of this program is that students have the option of completing a Spanish language specialization as part of this degree. This specialization trains students in culturally competent ways to deliver mental health services in Spanish to Latinx populations. Students completing this specialization will perform some of their clinical practice with Spanish-speaking clients.  

  • Location: Eugene, OR
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)
  • Tuition: $30,567 per year

California State University, Northridge – Michael D. Eisner College of Education

California State University, Northridge Michael D. Eisner College of Education’s master’s of science in counseling has a marriage and family therapy option for aspiring marriage and family therapists. Graduates of this program are eligible to be licensed as either marriage and family therapists or as licensed professional counselors, as the program meets the requirements for both. The curriculum emphasizes social justice, community mental health, evidence-based practices, and a strength-based approach. 

To be eligible for admission, candidates must first complete a prerequisite course in the fundamentals of counseling and guidance. Other admission requirements include a statement of purpose, a bachelor’s degree, GRE test scores, and two personal references. If candidates put forward a compelling application, they must then complete a group interview. 

  • Location: Northridge, CA
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)
  • Tuition: $17,955 per year  

University of Rochester Medical Center

The University of Rochester Medical Center’s master’s of science in marriage and family therapy provides students with a unique education because it is based in a hospital versus a college campus. From moment one, students are steeped in conceptual family therapy models and clinical theories. Students must complete 60 semester-hours of coursework, including 500 hours of clinical practice. 

Clinical practice at the University of Rochester is a diverse and collaborative experience. Clients from a variety of backgrounds with a full range of family, couple, and individual problems meet with students and their supervisors to receive mental health therapy services. While most of the clinical experiences happen at the university, students can also intern at local mental healthcare settings. 

  • Location: Rochester, NY
  • Duration: 24 months
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)
  • Tuition: $1818 per credit 

Online or Hybrid Marriage and Family Therapist Degree Program

Loma Linda University – School of Behavioral Health

The online doctor of marriage and family therapy program at Loma Linda University School of Behavioral Health is the only COAMFTE accredited distance learning program of its kind. This program combines both synchronous and asynchronous learning with in-person practicums local to the student. There are several areas of focus students can choose from, including program development, clinical practice, and implementation and evaluation. 

This is a 78-credit program that takes three years of full-time study to complete. In order to be eligible for admission, applicants must already have completed a master’s in marriage and family therapy or clinical counseling. The master’s must be a qualifying degree for licensure in the student’s home state. Other requirements include letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and a background check. 

  • Location: Loma Linda, CA 
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)
  • Tuition: $862 per credit 

Antioch University – Couple and Family Therapy Institute 

The couples and family therapy master’s of arts at Antioch University Couple and Family Therapy Institute is a low residency program with online classes and in-person residencies. The in-person residencies happen six times over the course of the program and include workshops, seminars, guest lectures, and more. If students are close to Antioch University, they can complete their required 500 hours of client contact and 100 hours of supervision on campus. Otherwise, they can complete it at a site near their home. 

Since this is a COAMFTE accredited program, graduates are eligible to sit for the MFT exam. The first two years of this program are primarily coursework, while the third is a full-time clinical internship. Should students choose to complete additional education after completing their master’s, Antioch offers a 20 percent discount on the first two years of a doctorate degree. 

  • Location: Keene, NH
  • Duration: Three years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)
  • Tuition: $1,046 per credit 

Syracuse University – Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics

The master’s of arts in marriage and family therapy at the Syracuse University Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics trains clinicians, researchers, and scholars alike. Earning this degree can help launch a career in several directions, including academia or towards an eventual private clinical practice. The required 60 credits for this program can be completed online or on-campus. 

Coursework is divided into core courses and electives. Students must earn 51 hours in core courses such as applied research in social work, introduction to family systems, psychopathology, and system dynamics in group settings. In addition, students must complete nine credits of electives. Electives are where students can pursue their own interests, such as LGBTQ counseling, equine therapy, and play therapy. 

  • Location: Syracuse, NY
  • Duration: Two to three years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)
  • Tuition: $1,084 per credit 

Indiana Wesleyan University

Evidence-based practices are a priority for the online master’s of arts in marriage and family therapy at Indiana Wesleyan University. The goal of this program is to produce graduates who are both leaders and servants in their community. Issues students will be able to tackle after earning this degree include troubled marriages, parenting, divorce, blended families, and more. This is a religious school, and a Christian worldview is considered in most courses and therapy modalities. 

With a required 100 practicum hours and 900 internship hours, graduates will have extensive experience providing quality therapeutic care to clients. In total, students must earn 60 credits in order to earn this degree. Up to 30 percent of the credits needed for this degree can be transferred in from a previous program. 

  • Location: Marion, IN 
  • Duration: Two to three years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)
  • Tuition: $590 per credit 

Capella University

Capella University has an online master’s of science in marriage and family therapy for students with a strong desire to help others. All of the core faculty in this program have direct experience in this field, so they can provide guidance from both a professional and academic perspective. There is a strong emphasis on compassionate care, cultural and ethnic sensitivity, and social justice, ensuring students can care for clients from diverse backgrounds. 

There are only 16 courses required for this program and two residencies. Some of the required classes include diversity and social justice in systemic family therapy, psychopathology: diagnosis and treatment of behavior disorders, addictive behavior on family systems. There are also four credits of internships required to ensure students meet the standards to sit for the MFT exam as well as have enough hands-on experience to expertly care for clients. 

  • Location: Minneapolis, MN
  • Duration: Two to three years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)
  • Tuition: $487 per credit 

How Long Does it Take to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist?

The time it takes to become a marriage and family therapist can depend on several factors, including education completed and how much supervised practice is required. On the short end, it takes at least eight years of education post-high school to begin a career as a fully licensed marriage and family therapist.

How To Become a Marriage and Family Therapist – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Obtain a GED (Four Years)

Graduating from high school or earning a GED is the first step in a career as a marriage and family therapist. Focusing on psychology, math, statistics, and English classes can help prepare students for this field. In addition, advanced placement classes can help students earn college credits prior to completing high school, reducing the number of credits necessary to earn a bachelor’s degree. 

Step 2: Complete a Bachelors’ Degree (Four Years)

The next education step for a career as a marriage and family therapist is to earn a bachelor’s degree. This degree can be in almost any field, but the most common ones include psychology, counseling, education, and sociology. Some master’s programs may have prerequisite coursework requirements, so students should ensure they complete the necessary courses to continue their studies. 

Step 3: Obtain an Advanced Degree (Two to Five Years)

There are a couple of advanced degrees students can earn to work as a marriage and family therapist. The first is a master’s of science or arts in marriage and family therapy. Once a master’s degree is complete, students can complete a doctorate in marriage and family therapy. Both the master’s and doctorate programs must include internship and practicum hours in order for students to be eligible for licensure. 

Step 4: Complete Supervised Practice (Two to Four Years)

In order to earn a license to practice independently as a marriage and family therapist, candidates must complete a required number of supervised practice hours. These hours vary by state but typically take at least two years to complete. Hours must be divided between client contact and supervision.  

Step 5: Pass State Licensing Exam (Timeline Varies)

All states require aspiring marriage and family therapists to pass a licensing exam. The most common exam is the Marriage and Family Therapy exam through the Association of Marriage and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB). More details about this exam can be found below. 

Step 6: Apply for a State License (Timeline Varies)

Once candidates have passed the state licensing exam and accumulated the required number of supervised practice hours, they can apply for licensing from their state regulatory board. There may be additional requirements, so candidates should contact their board to ensure they have the necessary qualifications. 

What Do Marriage and Family Therapists Do?

Marriage and family therapists primarily work in mental health clinics. However, they are also employed in other healthcare offices, outpatient care centers, and government agencies. Many are self-employed. Day-to-day duties for this field include:

  • Meeting with families, parents, and couples either one-on-one or in a group to discuss issues they are facing
  • Teaching clients how to talk about feelings and emotions
  • Helping clients process their reactions 
  • Providing tools to help clients to adjust to life changes
  • Referring clients to other community resources as necessary
  • Maintaining confidential client records

Marriage and Family Therapist Certifications & Licensure

In order to practice, marriage and family therapists must be licensed in the state where they provide services. Requirements vary by state, but most include the following qualifications:

  • Complete a COAMFTE-accredited master’s in marriage and family therapy
  • Earn 2,000 to 4,000 hours of post-graduate supervised work experience
  • Pass a background check
  • Pass a licensing exam. Many states use the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Board’s (AMFTRB) examination in Marital and Family Therapy (MFT)
  • Submit a complete application
  • Pay a licensing fee

The Marital and Family Therapy (MFT) exam from the Association of Marriage and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) is a comprehensive test that judges a candidate’s proficiency in this field. The exam costs $365 and consists of 180 questions that must be answered in four hours. Topics covered in this exam include:

  • The practice of systemic therapy
  • Assessing, hypothesizing, and diagnosing
  • Designing and conducting treatment
  • Evaluating ongoing process and terminating treatment 
  • Managing crisis situations 
  • Maintaining ethical, legal, and professional standards 

How Much Do Marriage and Family Therapists Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2020), the 60,850 marriage and family therapists in the US earn $56,890 per year on average. Here are the percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $33,140
  • 25th percentile: $39,130
  • 50th percentile (median): $51,340
  • 75th percentile: $68,020
  • 90th percentile: $92,930

Marriage and Family Therapists Career Alternatives

Here are a few alternatives to a career as a marriage and family therapist. 

Become an Addiction Specialist

Addiction specialists provide mental health services to clients to suffer from addiction. Addiction can be to a number of things, including food, alcohol, drugs, gambling, and even shopping. However, addiction specialists primarily care for clients who suffer from substance abuse issues. 

  • Typical Education: Master’s degree 
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC)

Become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor

While marriage and family therapists and mental health counselors may seem like the same profession, there are some key differences. Licensed mental health counselors work with anyone, while marriage and family therapists work primarily with families, parents, and couples. 

  • Typical Education: Master’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)

Become a Social Worker

Social workers are the ultimate problem solvers. While providing mental health services is in their job description, they also help their clients connect to social services, including healthcare, housing, nutrition, and more. 

  • Typical Education: Master’s 
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB)
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

Kimmy is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.

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