Most marriage counselors in the United States are practitioners who have completed at least a master's degree program in counseling and obtained licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) or a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). In order to become an MFT or LPC, students must complete a master's or doctoral program, accrue 2,000-4,000 hours of post-graduate experience, and pass the appropriate exam.
Clinical practice is a focal point of most master's and doctoral programs in marriage counseling or marriage and family therapy, along with independent research. Admission to either program level entails prior completion of a bachelor's program and certain psychology prerequisite coursework. Some counseling experience may be required for master's degree applicants, while doctoral applicants must have professional experience in the field. Both programs may also require acceptable GRE scores for admission.
Master's Degree in Marriage Counseling
A master-level program in marriage and family therapy or counseling can be completed in two years of full-time study. Students learn a variety of content and skills in psychotherapy, education, communication, and system theory. An MFT program is more specific to marriage counseling than the LPC because of its focus on group therapy. Marriage and family therapy coursework includes, but is not limited to the following topics:
- Community psychology
- Parent and child psychology
- Addictive disorders
- Group therapy
- Aging dynamics
- Ethical psychology
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Doctorate in Marriage and Family Psychology
Doctoral candidates are students who have the potential to be experts in relationship psychology and possess a desire to teach, research, or lead. Program options include Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.), Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Marriage & Family Therapy (DMFT). A Ph.D. program focuses heavily on research, and the Psy.D. program is geared toward the implementation of best practices. The DMFT program is also a practice-oriented program. All doctoral programs in marriage and family psychology take at least four years to complete. Advanced coursework includes research and clinical practice in the following areas:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Assessment and treatment
- Advanced system theory
- Experiential models
- Advanced diagnosis
- Quantitative and qualitative research
Salary Information and Career Outlook
The marriage and family counseling field is projected to see a 15% increase in growth from 2014-2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is a much faster than average rate, due to recent reforms requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of mental health services. In 2015, BLS reported that the median annual salary of marriage and family therapists was $48,600. The BLS also projects that employment for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists may grow 20% for the decade 2014-2024. These workers made a median annual salary of $70,580 in 2015, according to the BLS.
Continuing Education Information
Counselors who are interested in specialization, research, or professorial work may decide to pursue doctoral degrees. Graduates of doctoral programs are considered psychologists rather than counselors or therapists.
There are two levels of degrees for students interested in working as marriage counselors - the master's and doctorate. Students who obtain a doctorate are qualified to pursue specialized work or even research positions.