Family Counselor: Job & Career Info

Learn about the type of work a family counselor performs. Explore the educational and licensing requirements, as well as salary and employment outlook, to decide if this is the right career for you.

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Career Definition for a Family Counselor

Family counselors, also known as family therapists or marriage and family therapists, work with families to solve problems, resolve emotional conflicts, promote communication and foster a healthy environment. Specifically, they may help resolve substance abuse, money problems, divorce or general stress. Family counselors apply various approaches and therapies to improve families' perceptions, attitudes and behaviors. Typical duties in family counseling include making patient and family assessments; creating a treatment plan; conducting individual, group and family therapy sessions; and making referrals.

Required Education Master's degree in marriage and family therapy
Job Duties Assessing patient, creating a treatment plan, making referrals
Median Salary (2015)* $48,600 (all marriage and family therapists)
Job Outlook (2014-2024)* 15% growth

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Educational Background

The educational requirement to become a family counselor is a master's degree in all states. A bachelor's degree in a related field, like psychology, could be good preparation, but most majors are acceptable for a marriage and family therapy master's degree program. Coursework in a 2- or 3-year master's program includes individual and group therapy techniques, family therapy techniques, family dynamics, family and systems theory, psychological development and counseling. Clinical training is also required, and a minimum of 2 years of supervised practical experience is necessary to qualify for a state licensing exam.

Necessary Skills

Family counselors must be able to communicate effectively with patients, regardless of their age. Strong analytical skills, a knowledge of family dynamics and an understanding of best practices and ethics for family counseling are also important to succeed as a family counselor.

Career and Economic Outlook

Prospects for family counselors are excellent; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 15% growth in employment for marriage and family therapists from 2014-2024. The median earnings of marriage and family therapists in 2015 were $48,600, per the BLS.

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Alternative Careers

Here are some examples of alternative career options:

Social Worker

Although performing similar counseling duties of a family therapist, social workers also locate and coordinate community resources, respond to issues such as abuse, develop long-term plans to meet needs and make sure help is being effectively provided. Social workers who only help with providing resources could enter the field with a bachelor's degree in a related field, but most need a master's degree, especially those who offer counseling services. States require licensure of clinical social workers, with limited exceptions, and licensing involves passing an exam and completing a set number of clinical work hours. According to the BLS, all types of social workers can expect to see employment growth of 12% between 2014 and 2024. In 2015, the BLS also reported that family, child and school social workers earned a median salary of $42,350.


For those who want to provide more involved mental health treatment, becoming a psychologist should be considered. Basing their knowledge and methods on scientific research and observations, psychologists recognize emotional problems and behavioral issues, plan out a course of treatment, work with individuals and groups to change beliefs and behaviors, study brain function and offer insight during counseling sessions. Generally, a doctorate degree in psychology is required to work in this profession, although some areas like school psychology may only require a master's degree in the field. Independent psychologists who provide private counseling services must be licensed. This includes internship work and receiving a passing score on a state examination. As seen in 2015 data from the BLS, clinical counseling and school psychologists received $70,580 in median yearly wages. Employment growth of 19% is predicted for all psychologists during the 2014-2024 decade, resulting in 32,500 new jobs.

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