How do I become a Marriage and Family Therapist?

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In the past, couples and families who had relationship issues kept it to themselves. People were often unwilling to admit to difficulties, or to let professionals in on their private lives. But families and marriages suffer unnecessarily from such attitudes.

Today, people are more willing than ever to find help for their relationship woes. We’re beginning to come around to the idea that seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but hope. Maybe you’ve benefited from marriage and family counseling and would like to pass that goodness on. Or maybe you just want to make relationships healthy and help love grow.

Can’t be Cupid – that job’s taken. But you can be a Marriage and Family Therapist.


To become a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT), you will need a psychology degree at the graduate level specializing in Marriage and Family Therapy. You can choose to get a master’s degree (2-3 years for an MS or MA) or go further and pursue a doctoral degree (3-5 years), or postgraduate clinical training programs (3-4 years). In the past MFT’s have come from a variety of educational backgrounds including psychology, psychiatry, social work, nursing, or counseling.

Because you will be working with families, including adults and children, and all the variety of mental health concerns that cause relationship troubles, you need a wide range of training. You will take courses in:

  • psychopathology
  • personality theory
  • substance abuse counseling
  • human sexuality
  • DSM-IV
  • group counseling
  • ethics

You will normally need 2 years of supervised experience after finishing your degree, whichever degree route you take. Clinical experience is a requirement for official licensure, so you won’t practice without it.


Currently all 50 states require a national license to become a professional Marriage and Family Counselor. Therapists will need a national accreditation from the AAMFT, the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, to prove they have the knowledge necessary to practice. The actual requirement for licensure will vary from state to state, but before you can sit for the exam you will need proof of education and experience.

You will also need to become member of the AMFTRB. The AMFTRB is the regulatory board for MFTs; they are also the source for information about national and state-level licensing.

Job Expectations

In your day to day work as an MFT, you will evaluate, diagnose, and outline treatments for mental and emotional illness. You will not prescribe medication, though; MFTs offer holistic therapy, focusing on long-term relationship health instead of immediate symptom control. That means learning new habits to replace destructive ones, and relieving mental health problems that cause strain on relationships.

MFTs work with individuals, couples, and families on health and behavioral issues, including substance abuse, anger, sexual disfunction, anxiety, depression, child-parents issues, and other problems that can arise within relationships.

The counseling work MFTs perform are usually solution-focused, creating specific, attainable goals, with a definite end point in mind.

MFTs work in a variety of settings. Private practice is the most common, but therapists also work for social service offices, clinics, and community mental health facilities.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of Marriage and Family Counseling, like most medical fields, is expected to rise in the future; the MFT profession may grow as much as 30% by 2022. Families and couples are more willing than ever to consider counseling for their concerns.

As of 2012, a therapist in Marriage and Family counseling could expect to make a median salary of $48,000, though those in private practice could make much more depending on how the build their clientele.

So, if you’re interested in helping couples and families make their relationships happier and healthier, you have a promising future ahead of you – and so do the people you’ll help!

Related Resources:

What Degree Do I Need to Be a Holistic Counselor?