Marriage and family therapy counselors specialize in building strong interpersonal relationships and healthy communication habits. Many use cognitive behavioral therapy to help clients identify and minimize negative thoughts and beliefs. Most hold a master's degree in marriage and family therapy or a related field, along with state licensure. Read on to learn about educational requirements and salary expectations for marriage and family therapists.
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Why Get a Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy?
All 50 states require marriage and family therapists to hold a master's degree before obtaining licensure. Below are some additional benefits to earning a master's.
Prepares You to Become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
A master's in marriage and family counseling degree explores the relationship between family dynamics and mental health. Many programs include internships, practicums, and other hands-on components that allow students to hone their skills in supervised professional settings.
Allows You to Help Others Through Your Career
When properly administered, marriage and family therapy enables adults and children to confront and resolve personal issues. Therapy also helps loved ones transition during major changes, such as divorce or the death of a family member.
Enables You to Help Treat a Wide Variety of Relationship and Mental Health Issues
The best marriage and family therapy programs prepare students to effectively counsel couples and families. Graduates leave school qualified to help individuals overcome stress, addiction, and related issues.
Example Courses in a Marriage and Family Therapy Master's Program
A master's degree in marriage and family therapy typically requires around 60 credits. While courses and curricula vary by institution, most programs present advanced counseling techniques and therapy models. Students explore the role of factors, such as age and gender, in selecting appropriate therapeutic strategies.
The curriculum may also cover essential steps for running a successful private practice. Other focus areas may include counseling laws and ethics, human sexuality, and cultural considerations in family counseling. Many marriage and family therapy master's programs include one or more of the following core courses.
This course emphasizes age as a contextual marker for marriage and family therapy. Students learn to discuss trauma, abuse, death, and other major issues with clients in age- and developmentally-appropriate terms. Coursework also explores different modes of therapy, such as one-on-one and group therapy.
Counseling Law and Ethics
Beginning with a historical overview of marriage and family therapy, this class delves into legal and ethical guidelines for professional counselors. Students examine real-world case studies and participate in role-playing activities to better understand the field's parameters.
Premarital and Marital Counseling
This course explores different therapeutic approaches for couples who are preparing to marry and married couples at various life stages. Lectures explore sex, financial issues, and other common causes of marital dysfunction, along with strategies couples can use to mitigate them.
Human Sexuality and Sex Therapy
In this class, candidates survey sexual health, the anatomy and physiology of sexual activity, and sexual matters impacting marriages and family dynamics. Students learn to use clients' sexual histories to create individualized therapeutic strategies in sex therapy.
Clinical Diagnosis and Treatment
Using guidelines and recommendations from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, this course covers key steps in clinical diagnosis and treatment. Learners examine cultural and social factors that affect mental health disorder identification and treatment, particularly for juvenile patients.
In order to become licensed, all prospective marriage and family therapists must complete an internship as part of a master's program. While internship requirements vary by school, most programs expect students to complete up to 600 internship hours in a clinical setting, including at least 400 to 500 hours of direct-client contact. In addition to an internship, some schools require students to complete up to 100 clinical practicum hours. Both components allow candidates to build and strengthen crucial assessment, intervention, and documentation skills.
In most states, licensing guidelines also require applicants to complete 2,000-4,000 post-degree supervised clinical hours as part of an internship or residency.
Accreditation is a comprehensive, voluntary evaluation process used to ensure that a college or university upholds academic and ethical standards. Some accrediting organizations provide field-specific programmatic accreditation to curricula or departments within an institution.
Many master's in marriage and family therapy programs hold programmatic accreditation. Top accreditors in this field include the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Education (COAMFTE).
What Can You Do With a Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy?
Many marriage and family therapists work in private practices. While this pathway offers autonomy, private practice therapists must market their services to bring in clients and must also handle insurance billing.
Some marriage and family therapists work in employment assistance programs (EAPs) for larger organizations. Employers offer EAPs to provide workers with support for personal issues, in and out of the workplace. Other marriage and family therapists find jobs in outpatient care centers, schools, and assisted living facilities.
Common Work Environments
- Private Practice
- Community Health Clinics
- Senior/Nursing Home
Career Advancement in Marriage and Family Therapy
Marriage and family therapists must hold state licensure to practice. While specific licensing requirements vary by state, most candidates are expected to hold a master's degree in marriage and family therapy or a closely related field, such as counseling or psychology. The Association of Marriage and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) oversees the licensing process nationwide.
graduates must log between 2,000 and 4,000 hours of supervised training in a clinical setting and pass the national marriage and family therapy exam
After earning a degree and completing all internship and practicum components, graduates must log between 2,000 and 4,000 hours of supervised training in a clinical setting and pass the national marriage and family therapy exam. Before sitting for the exam, candidates must register with the state or jurisdiction in which they plan to work. The AMFTRB website features a full directory of states and jurisdictions, along with a practice exam.
After becoming licensed, marriage and family therapists must periodically meet continuing education benchmarks to renew their credential. Continuing education credit requirements and license renewal costs vary by state.
Pursue a Doctorate Program in Marriage and Family Therapy
Some students choose to pursue a Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy after completing a master's degree. Doctoral programs typically focus on theoretical and applied research. As a result, many doctorate-holders do not become licensed counselors, but instead go on to work as licensed psychologists or professors.
Join A Professional Organization
Professional organizations offer aspiring marriage and family therapists many benefits, including exclusive certifications and continuing education opportunities, networking events, and subscriptions to monthly or quarterly publications. Read about five prominent organizations for marriage and family therapists below.
- American Association For Marriage and Family Therapy AAMFT boasts more than 50,000 members in the U.S., Canada, and abroad. The association offers over 200 online continuing education courses and publishes the Journal of Marriage and Family Therapy.
- American Family Therapy Academy AFTA is an academic organization that studies and develops guidelines for marriage and family therapists. Students and new professionals may join the organization at a discounted membership rate.
- International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors This division of the American Counseling Association emphasizes multicultural approaches to marriage and family therapy. Members and current students receive discounted entry to the association's annual world conference.
- International Family Therapy Association Founded in 1987, IFTA offers certifications for family therapists and systemic supervisors. The association also hosts an annual international conference and partners with other organizations for regional events.
- National Council on Family Relations NCFR administers the certified family life educator credential, which is available to candidates who hold at least a bachelor's degree. The council also publishes the Journal of Marriage and Family.