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LMFT: Education to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist

Learn how to become a licensed marriage and family therapist. Research the education, licensure information, and experience required for starting a career in marriage and family therapy.

Should I Become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist?

Licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs) help couples and families work through relationship problems. For example, they might teach couples proper communication skills needed to talk through their issues. Some therapists assist clients with family problems resulting from substance abuse, physical abuse, and abandonment.

This career can be emotionally difficult and stressful because of the personal investment in other people's lives and troubles. LMFTs are typically required to hold a graduate degree in marriage and family therapy, mental health, or related areas.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree
Degree Field Marriage and family therapy
Experience Approximately two years of supervised clinical experience is required for licensure
Licensure State license required
Key Skills Strong communication, listening and organizational skills and compassion
Salary (2014) $48,040 per year (Median Salary)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), bachelor's degree programs in most fields prepare aspiring LMFTs for application to graduate programs. However, individuals interested in pursuing a relevant undergraduate degree might consider majoring in a field like psychology, counseling or social work. These undergraduate programs typically offer courses that cover topics such as developmental psychology, cognitive theory, theories of counseling and contemporary social problems. The coursework in a bachelor's program is designed to help students build a strong foundation of understanding in the various concepts of therapy, including theoretical perspectives of counseling, research methods of psychology, critical-thinking and analysis, and professional ethics of counseling and psychology.

Success Tip:

  • Volunteer in related settings. College students looking to become LMFTs can benefit from participating in volunteer opportunities at family crisis centers or similar organizations for families. Crisis centers often need hotline volunteers to speak with callers by phone, as well as volunteer advocates to work with service intakes and walk-ins. Volunteering at a crisis center gives an aspiring LMFT hands-on experience communicating with couples and families. Graduate programs may ask for previous experience in an application, which can include volunteer work.

Step 2: Earn a Master's Degree

Most states require marriage and family therapists to hold a master's degree in order to meet licensure requirements. Students can earn a master's degree specifically in marriage and family therapy, which can introduce them to psychological and therapeutic concepts directly related to working with couples and families. These programs offer coursework in areas such as family systems, human development, group therapy, couples communication, patient assessment, professional ethics and research methodology. Other topics of study might include child abuse, spousal abuse, psychopharmacology, alcoholism and human sexuality. Many programs also consist of courses that cover legal issues related to marriage and family counseling, including divorce law and custody issues. Completion of law courses may be required for licensure.

Step 3: Complete Experience Hours for Licensure

Most states require marriage and family therapists to accrue a set amount of experience hours, which can typically take at least two years to complete. Some states require that recent college graduates register as therapist interns during their time accumulating experience hours, while others only require individuals to work under the supervision of licensed therapists. During these experience hours, many states stipulate that applicants must spend a set portion of time completing certain tasks, such as meeting minimum hour requirements counseling children and families, or counseling clients by phone. The BLS reports that most states require 2,000 to 4,000 total hours of supervised experience to comply with licensing requirements.

Step 4: Obtain Licensure

All 50 states require marriage and family therapists to obtain a state issued license to practice. Before taking the licensing exam, applicant's must have a master's degree, and complete the state's set number of supervised experience hours. Upon meeting all of the requirements, applicants can register to take their state-licensing exam. Some states have more than one exam, which can include standardized theory examinations and clinical practice examinations.

Step 5: Continue Education for Career Advancement

Most states require LMFTs to renew licensure on an annual or biannual basis. For the licensure renewal process, it's required that marriage and family therapists participate in approved continuing education activities to further their education, and stay current on industry trends and legal issues. Continuing education is obtained through on-site courses, online classes, workshops, seminars, and conferences held by professional organizations in the field.

Success Tip:

  • Join a professional organization. Joining a professional organization such as the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) provides a LMFT with access to continuing education resources. Other membership benefits include networking opportunities, ethical advice, discounted web hosting, access to academic publications, liability insurance and legal consultation.

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