Family Therapist: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a family therapist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and certifications to find out if this is the career for you.

Family therapists treat mental disorders. They meet with entire families and individually with family members to assist families in functioning more effectively. Family therapists are required to have a master's degree, complete extensive clinical work, and obtain licensure. Becoming a family therapist requires an ability to handle stressful situations.

Essential Information

A family therapist meets with members of a family as a group or individually to discuss emotional issues and provide treatment for mental disorders and psychological conflicts. A master's degree in family therapy is required, as well as an internship under a licensed therapist. A state licensing examination must be passed to receive a license in family therapy, and annual continuing education courses are required by the state.

Required Education Master's degree in family therapy
Other Requirements 3,000 hours or two years of supervised clinical work and state licensure
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 15% (marriage and family therapists)*
Median Salary (2015) $48,600 (marriage and family therapists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Family Therapist Job Description

Family therapists can work in hospitals, treatment programs, government agencies, health organizations and private practices. The typical work setting is an office where the family therapist meets with different patients and clients throughout the day. Office hours are usually determined by the family therapist, but in some cases, they might need to be flexible with patients. Many appointments are arranged in advance.

Family therapists have to be prepared to handle stress in an efficient manner that doesn't interfere with helping their patients. Emotional and physical tension can occur during therapy, so family therapists have to be confident and trustworthy in order to get the best out of their patients.

Job Duties

A family therapist typically meets with an entire family to discuss and examine the issues that are interfering in their lives. However, a family therapist also performs one-on-one counseling time if necessary with family members. The goal of therapy is to address emotional or mental issues that are harming the family. For example, families may be undergoing some sort of crisis at work or a psychological conflict with them. By talking with patients, a family therapist seeks to address and modify these issues.

Job Requirements

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all 50 states and the District of Columbia have licensure requirements for family therapists (www.bls.gov). The first step towards acquiring licensure for a family therapist is to possess a master's degree in family therapy. These programs are usually 48-60 semester hours over two years with a supervised clinical work internship under a counselor to get firsthand experience of family counseling. Next is meeting the supervised work experience requirement of 3,000 hours or two years. An examination chosen by the state must be completed by the family therapist. Annual continuing education is necessary, along with following the ethical guidelines set by the state.

While certification is not a requirement, family therapists who possess a National Certified Counselors certification from the National Board for Certified Counselors demonstrate additional credentials and skills to clients (www.nbcc.org). A written examination, completion of an internship and graduation from an accredited educational school are necessary, in addition to completing the certification examination. To maintain this certification, 100 credit hours of continuing education or re-examination must be completed every five years.

Career Outlook

The BLS states that marriage and family therapist jobs are predicted to grow 15% between 2014 and 2024, which was much faster than the national average. This growth is due to increasing numbers of people seeking mental health services. About 21% of marriage and family therapists worked in individual and family services in 2014, and another 17% worked in outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers, per the BLS. The median annual wage of marriage and family therapists was $48,600 in May 2015.

Family therapists help entire families and their individual members resolve emotional, mental, and psychological conflicts. They are required to obtain a master's degree and licensure; certification is not required, but may help to demonstrate expertise.

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