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Marriage Counselor Degree Program Information

Aspiring marriage counselors can pursue master's degrees in marriage counseling or marriage and family therapy. Doctoral degrees in marriage and family therapy are also available.

Essential Information

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 these fields, along with independent research. Admission to both master's and doctoral programs 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.

  • Program Levels in Marriage Counseling: Master's degrees, Doctoral degrees
  • Marriage Counseling Program Fields: Marriage Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy, Marriage and Family Psychology
  • Prerequisites: Bachelor's degree; previous psychology coursework
  • Other Requirements: Clinical practicum; independent research

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

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 29% increase in growth from 2012-2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is a much faster than average rate, due to the rise in popularity of using counselors over the more costly psychiatrist. In 2014, BLS reported that the median annual salary of marriage and family therapists was $48,040. The BLS also projects that employment for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists may grow 12% for the decade 2012-2022. These workers made a median annual salary of $68,900 in 2014, 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.

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