Family Therapist Certification Program Information

Master's programs in clinical psychology or marriage and family therapy each combine lecture-based courses and clinical experiences. Doctoral degrees are also available and may require master's degrees for admission.

Essential Information

Family therapists work with family members, in groups or individually, to resolve or cope with conflicts and difficult situations, such as a death or unemployment. Although licensing requirements vary by state, therapists generally must hold at least a master's degree in counseling or psychology. They must also complete a specified number of supervised counseling hours and pass a certification examination. Online courses and programs are available.

Master's Degree in Family Therapy

Master's degrees in family therapy, often referred to as marital and family therapy, are offered through psychology or counseling departments at colleges and universities and typically take two years of full-time study. A bachelor's degree in any field may be required for admittance, and applicants may want to find a program accredited by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Though no specific undergraduate major is required, previous coursework in psychology or other social sciences may be beneficial. Most programs will require an internship or clinical experience.

Students may choose among degree programs, such a Master of Science in Family Therapy, a Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology or a Master of Couples and Family Therapy. Curriculum for each includes core coursework in counseling and theories and practices of family therapy. Other course topics include:

  • Abnormal psychology
  • Ethical standards in counseling
  • Sexuality, gender & ethnicity issues
  • Marital or couples therapy
  • Substance abuse

Doctoral Degree in Family Therapy

Doctoral or Ph.D. programs in family therapy vary in length and are designed for students with a master's in family therapy or a related field who are interested in executive positions or academic and research careers. Doctoral programs can be tailored to suit individual areas of interest, such as psychotherapy or management. Clinical practice, dissertations and/or research projects may be required before graduation. Topics covered might include:

  • Research methods
  • Group counseling
  • Advanced theories in family therapy
  • Child and adolescent therapy
  • Issues in family therapy

Popular Career Options

With a Ph.D. in family therapy, graduates may become a marriage and family therapist (MFT) and work in:

  • Hospitals
  • Social services
  • Community health centers
  • Courts and prisons
  • Universities and research centers
  • Private practice

Licensing, Certification & Continuing Education

Most states require family therapists to be licensed. Requirements vary by state; however, most states require the completion of a master's program, a specified number of client contact hours and passing a board approved or national exam. Students who complete a master's degree program and complete a specified number of counseling hours are eligible for the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards certification exam. This exam serves as the licensing exam for many states.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

The mean annual salary for marriage and family therapists was $53,520 as of May 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Job growth for marriage and family therapists is expected to be a great deal faster than average (15%) during the period between 2014-2024. The BLS ( attributes this growth to increasing insurance coverage for mental issues and a projected influx of military veterans seeking mental health treatment, among other reasons.

In order to become a marriage or family therapist, a master's degree or doctorate is required with doctorate degrees provide greater employment prospects. Additionally, state licensure must be obtained before you can practice and typically required passing an exam.

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