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What Marriage and Family Therapists Do About this section

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists
Marriage and family therapists encourage clients to discuss their emotions and experiences.

Marriage and family therapists help people manage problems with their family and other relationships.

Duties

Marriage and family therapists typically do the following:

  • Encourage clients to discuss their emotions and experiences
  • Help clients process their reactions and adjust to difficult changes in their life, such as divorce and layoffs
  • Guide clients through the process of making decisions about their future
  • Help clients develop strategies and skills to change their behavior and to cope with difficult situations
  • Refer clients to other resources or services in the community, such as support groups or inpatient treatment facilities
  • Complete and maintain confidential files and mandated records

Marriage and family therapists use a variety of techniques and tools to help their clients. Many apply cognitive behavioral therapy, a goal-oriented approach that helps clients understand harmful thoughts, feelings, and beliefs and teaches how to replace them with positive, life-enhancing ones.

Many marriage and family therapists work in private practice. They must market their practice to prospective clients and work with insurance companies and clients to get payment for their services.

Marriage and family therapists work with individuals, couples, and families. They bring a family-centered perspective to treatment, even when treating individuals. They evaluate family roles and development, to understand how clients’ families affect their mental health. They treat the clients’ relationships, not just the clients themselves. They address issues, such as low self-esteem, stress, addiction, and substance abuse.

Marriage and family therapists coordinate patient treatment with other professionals, such as psychologists and social workers.

Work Environment About this section

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists
Many marriage and family therapists work in private practice.

Marriage and family therapists held about 66,200 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of marriage and family therapists were as follows:

Individual and family services 31%
Offices of other health practitioners 21
Outpatient care centers 12
Self-employed workers 8
State government, excluding education and hospitals 8

Marriage and family therapists work in a variety of settings, such as mental health centers, substance abuse treatment centers, and hospitals. They also work in private practice and in Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), which are mental health programs that some employers provide to help employees deal with personal problems.

Work Schedules

Marriage and family therapists generally work full time. Some therapists work evenings and weekends to accommodate their clients’ schedules.

How to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist About this section

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists
Master's programs in marriage and family therapy prepare students to provide counseling to couples, individuals, and groups.

Marriage and family therapists are required to have a master’s degree and a license to practice.

Education

To become a marriage and family therapist, applicants need a master’s degree in psychology, marriage and family therapy, or a related mental health field. A bachelor’s degree in most fields is acceptable to enter one of these master’s degree programs.

Marriage and family therapy programs teach students about how marriages, families, and relationships function and how these relationships can affect mental and emotional disorders.

There are several organizations that accredit counseling programs, including the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP), the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE), and the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC).

Training

Candidates gain hands-on experience through postdegree supervised clinical work, sometimes referred to as an internship or residency. In training, they learn to provide family therapy, group therapy, psychotherapy, and other therapeutic interventions, under the supervision of a licensed counselor.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states require marriage and family therapists to be licensed. Licensure requires a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of postdegree supervised clinical experience, sometimes referred to as an internship or residency. In addition, therapists must pass a state-recognized exam and complete annual continuing education classes.

Contact and licensing information for marriage and family therapists is available through the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Marriage and family therapists often work with people who are dealing with stressful and difficult situations, so they must be compassionate and empathize with their clients.

Interpersonal skills. Marriage and family therapists work with different types of people. They spend most of their time working directly with clients and other professionals and must be able to encourage good relationships.

Listening skills. Marriage and family therapists need to give their full attention to their clients to understand their problems, values, and goals.

Organizational skills. Marriage and family therapists in private practice must keep track of payments and work with insurance companies.

Speaking skills. Marriage and family therapists need to be able to communicate with clients effectively. They must express information in a way that clients can understand easily.

Pay About this section

Marriage and Family Therapists

Median annual wages, May 2019

Marriage and family therapists

$49,610

Counselors, social workers, and other community and social service specialists

$46,060

Total, all occupations

$39,810

 

The median annual wage for marriage and family therapists was $49,610 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,070, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $87,700.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for marriage and family therapists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals $72,230
Outpatient care centers 52,140
Individual and family services 45,660
Offices of other health practitioners 45,150

Marriage and family therapists generally work full time. Some therapists work evenings and weekends to accommodate their clients’ schedules. 

Job Outlook About this section

Marriage and Family Therapists

Percent change in employment, projected 2019-29

Marriage and family therapists

22%

Counselors, social workers, and other community and social service specialists

14%

Total, all occupations

4%

 

Employment of marriage and family therapists is projected to grow 22 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. Growth is expected due to the increasing use of integrated care, which is a treatment of multiple problems at one time by a group of specialists. In providing integrated care, marriage and family therapists are working with counselors such as substance abuse, behavior disorder, or mental health counselors to address patients' issues as a team.

Employment projections data for marriage and family therapists, 2019-29
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2019 Projected Employment, 2029 Change, 2019-29 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Marriage and family therapists

21-1013 66,200 80,900 22 14,800 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about accredited programs, visit

Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education

Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs

Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council

For more information about marriage and family therapists, visit

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy

Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards

For general information about counseling and for information about counseling specialties, visit

American Counseling Association

For information about contacting state regulating boards, visit

National Board for Certified Counselors

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Marriage and Family Therapists

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