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MFT: How Can I Become a Marriage and Family Therapist

Research the requirements to become a marriage and family therapist. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in the social services field.

Should I Become a Marriage and Family Therapist?

Marriage and family therapists (MFTs) provide counseling services to individuals, couples and families struggling with emotional or mental issues or problems in their relationships. These therapists utilize a family-centered therapeutic perspective when assisting patients with making decisions or expressing their emotions. In counseling, marriage and family therapists may address issues like substance abuse or addictions, low self-esteem and stress. Some therapists work evening and weekends to meet clients' scheduling needs.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree
Degree Field Counseling; marriage and family therapy; psychology or other related field
Experience 2,000 to 4,000 hours of post-degree, supervised clinical experience; some positions may require 2 to 3 years of experience
Licensure and Certification Licensure required; voluntary certification available
Key Skills Excellent listening, speaking, interpersonal and organizational skills, compassionate nature
Salary $48,040 per year (2014 median salary for all marriage and family therapists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine, Online Job Postings (July to August 2015)

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Students may choose to complete a bachelor's degree program in psychology, family studies, human services or a related field. The curricula of these programs may include coursework in human and lifespan development, human behavior and marriage relationships. Psychology programs may require students to select courses from a concentration area, some of which could be relevant to working as a marriage and family therapist.

Success Tip:

  • Take communication classes. Marriage and family therapists must possess excellent listening and speaking skills. Undergraduate students can benefit from completing communications classes.

Step 2: Earn a Master's Degree

Marriage and family therapists must possess a master's degree. Master's programs in marriage and family therapy include coursework in case management, intervention therapies, research methods and counseling techniques. These programs require extensive supervised clinical experience. Some schools require that a specific portion of clinical hours be spent directly interacting with patients.

Success Tip:

  • Complete an internship. Students should take advantage of opportunities to gain experience while completing their master's degree program. Internships can be an excellent way to apply skills learned in the classroom.

Step 3: Become Licensed

Marriage and family therapists must meet state licensing standards. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that a master's degree, successful completion of a state exam and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience beyond the master's degree are typical requirements for licensure. The Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards provide information about individual state licensure requirements. Additionally, licensed marriage and family therapists must complete continuing education courses to remain eligible to practice.

Step 4: Gain Experience

Employers may seek candidates who have at least 2 to 3 years of work experience. Although, this is usually the case for MFT positions that also require a license social worker credential, according to some job postings. New graduates can gain experience by taking advantage of paid trainee positions. There are usually several of these positions available in healthcare facilities and at schools. Most positions require no previous experience and provide on-the-job training. Certain positions may require participants to commit to the role for a set period of time. Counselors may find this post-graduate experience valuable for advancing in their careers or establishing a private practice.

Step 5: Consider Certification

While professional certifications are voluntary, they may help with career advancement. Marriage and family therapists may seek the National Certified Counselor (NCC) credential offered by the National Board for Certified Counselors. To be eligible to sit for the exam, individuals must have a master's degree and experience working in the field. Continuing education is required to maintain this credential.

Success Tip:

  • Prepare for the exam. Students planning on taking the NCC exam should obtain the Board's study guide to increase their chances of passing the exam.

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