What are Marriage and Family Counselors?
Marriage and family counselors help people work through problems and rebuild relationships. Sometimes couples seek them because they're trying to avoid divorce. Sometimes families need help working through a crisis or stressful time: a death in the family, an illness, a lay off. Sometimes there's substance abuse involved. Marriage and family therapists help individuals express needs appropriately, make compromises, and establish boundaries. They also make assessments as needed to assure that individuals and family units receive appropriate services.
Interested in the field? There’s a need for qualified professionals! The marriage and family therapy field should grow an impressive 41% between 2010 to 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More people are expected to seek treatment, and marriage and family therapists (along with counselors) will often be favored over psychologists and psychiatrists for cost reasons.
The most career growth will be in practitioner's offices; there will also be a significant increase in marriage and family therapists employed with individual and family services, residential care, and mental health and substance abuse centers. The mean wage is $48,710, but salaries vary quite a bit by work setting.
Becoming a Marital and Family Therapist
To work as a marriage and family therapist, you will need to complete a master's degree. Your program may be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) or the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Some programs hold duel accreditation. Whether the program is called marriage and family therapy or marriage and family counseling isn’t necessarily significant; titles reflect the school where the program is housed and the agency doing the accrediting. What is important is that the program meets the specific requirements of your state board. The title you later use will depend on the statutes of your state.
Capella University offers three online CACREP - accredited master's programs: Clinical Mental Health Counseling and School Counseling as well as a CACREP/COAMFTE - accredited master's degree in Marriage and Family Counseling/Therapy. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their programs.
Programs are competitive and will consider various indicators of academic and professional success: grades, experience, references, and personal statement. It can be an advantage to have an undergraduate degree in a field related to human services or family studies. However, it's not usually a requirement. If your degree is not in a related field, you may need to take a few prerequisites prior to entering a master's program. Learn about undergraduate psychology degrees and undergraduate human services degrees and how they can help prepare you for a marriage and family therapy graduate education path.
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Your program will give you a solid background in concepts like marriage and family systems, psychopathology, therapy techniques, and professional ethics. You may be able to specialize in a treatment area like addictions. Your program will also include an internship. You will conduct therapy with real patients under supervision. You can expect to put in about 500 direct service hours before you graduate; the number will vary somewhat from program to program.
Licensing and Certification
After you have fulfilled your educational requirements, you will need to take a licensing exam. In most states, this is the Examination in Marital and Family Therapy. It is administered by the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards, but you will need to go through your own state board to get permission to test. The exam includes questions in five domains. You should be aware that California has its own licensing exam.
You will need to work under supervision for about two years after graduation. Generally, this means that a mental health professional reviews your therapy practice and meets with you regularly to offer feedback and support. Your state board will provide guidelines about what constitutes an appropriate supervisor and how your experience and supervision should be documented.
When you have met all requirements, you will be licensed. At this point, you can opt to work in virtually any setting, including private practice. In most states, you will be called a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, or LMFT. Some states have other titles like Licensed Marital and Family Therapist or Licensed Independent Marriage and Family Therapist.