LMFT: Degree Programs and Training to Be a LMFT

To become a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), individuals usually need at least a master's degree, although some students may decide to continue their education in a doctorate program. Choices in education are typically guided by state laws on licensing and certification.

Essential Information

In a marriage and family therapy master's degree program, students explore family relationships and dynamics as they learn to provide effective counseling and devise therapeutic treatment plans. The master's program includes an internship and a practicum. Students who want to prepare to provide clinical marriage and family counseling through private practices should pursue a doctorate degree in marriage and family therapy. The doctorate program is research-focused and could include various areas of concentration. A bachelor's degree is necessary and master's-level coursework might also be required. Learners should expect to complete a dissertation at this terminal degree level. Following graduation, degree holders need to sit for a licensing examination, which requires a minimum of a master's degree and some years of relevant professional experience.

  • Program Levels: Master's degree, doctorate degree.
  • Prerequisites: Bachelor's degree; some master's level courses may be required for admission to the doctoral program.
  • Online Availability: Occasionally offered as a hybrid program; some in-person training and studies is required.
  • Program Length: Two years for the master's, six years for the doctorate.
  • Other Requirements: An internship or practicum is required for both degree levels; a dissertation is required for doctoral students.

Marriage and Family Therapist Master's Degree

A master's degree in marriage and family therapy prepares students to work with individuals in confronting and handling issues within a marriage or family. Students learn to analyze personal relationships and the mental and emotional effects those relationships have on individuals. Programs help students to develop skills in working with individuals of all ages.

Upon graduation, students can understand client needs, develop therapy plans, improve the relationships of clients and their family members, stay within legal and ethical boundaries and define desired outcomes for clients.

The curriculum of a marriage and family therapy program typically includes a practicum in a counseling setting and/or internships. Topics covered may include:

  • Family origins
  • Marital systems
  • Family violence
  • Addiction in the family

Doctorate Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy

A doctorate degree program in marriage and family therapy allows students to do in-depth research into this area and develop business skills. The focus of a doctorate degree is to prepare students for work in clinical settings, as opposed to a Ph.D. program which prepares students to work in academic settings. Students are able to enhance their clinical skills and also develop skills in clinical research. Some programs offer concentrations in areas within marriage and family therapy such as drug and alcohol counseling, school counseling and child therapy.

Applicants without a master's degree in a relevant field are often required to complete master's level marriage and family therapy coursework before gaining admission into the program. A specified number of supervised clinical experiences are required by some programs.

Programs usually begin with coursework related to counseling and the understanding of family units. Students usually also must complete a research project or dissertation and internship or work study. Topics covered in the classroom portion of the program may include:

  • Family therapy research methods
  • Marriage and family statistics
  • Counseling evaluation methods

Popular Career Options

Students who complete a marriage and family program may work in a variety of careers within the field. Individuals may work in a private practice, group practice or for a medical facility. Some possible job titles include:

  • Marriage counselor
  • Couples therapist
  • Clinical supervisor

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), marriage and family therapists earned an average annual wage of $51,730 in May 2014 (www.bls.gov). In 2014, the BLS reported there were 30,150 jobs held by marriage and family therapists. This number is projected to grow by 31% between 2012 and 2022.

Continuing Education Information

To work as a marriage and family therapist, states require some type of licensing, according to the BLS. Licensure requirements vary in each state, but typically involve holding a master's degree, having supervised clinical experience and completing a licensing examination.

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