MFT: How Can I Become a Marriage and Family Therapist

Research the requirements to become a marriage and family therapist. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in the social services field.

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Do I Want to Be a Marriage and Family Therapist?

Marriage and family therapists provide counseling services to individuals, couples and families struggling with emotional and mental disorders or problems in their relationships. These therapists diagnose and treat mental disorders, assist patients with making decisions and help them express emotions. In counseling, marriage and family therapists may address issues like having low self-esteem, stress, abusing substances or addiction using a family-centered therapeutic perspective. Some therapists work evening and weekends to meet clients' scheduling needs.

Job Requirements

A master's degree and state licensure requiring clinical experience are required to work as a marriage and family therapist. Below is a chart of the common requirements to become a marriage and family therapist.

Common Requirements
Degree Level Master's degree*
Degree Field Counseling or marriage and family therapy*
Licensure and Certification Must be licensed in the state of practice*
Experience 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised experience are required for licensure*; some employers may request 2 to 3 years of post-licensure work experience**
Key Skills Excellent listening skills, ability to communicate clearly, superior organizational skills*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **job postings found in July 2012.

Step One: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Students may choose to complete a bachelor's degree program in psychology, family studies, human services or a related field. The curricula of these programs may include coursework in human development, lifespan development, human behavior and marriage relationships. Psychology programs may require students to select courses from a concentration area, some of which could be relevant to working as a marriage and family therapist in the future.

Success Tip:

  • Take communication classes. Marriage and family therapists must possess excellent listening and speaking skills. Undergraduate students wishing to improve their communication skills can benefit from completing communications classes.

Step Two: Earn a Master's Degree

Marriage and family therapists must possess a master's degree. Master's programs in marriage and family therapy include coursework in case management, intervention therapies, research methods and counseling techniques. These programs require extensive supervised clinical experience, and some schools require that a specific portion of these experience hours be spent directly interacting with patients.

Success Tip:

  • Complete an internship. Students should take advantage of opportunities to gain experience while completing their master's degree program. Internships can be an excellent way to apply skills learned in the classroom.

Step Three: Become Licensed

Marriage and family therapists must meet state licensing standards. The BLS indicates that a master's degree, successful completion of a state exam and two years of supervised clinical experience beyond the master's degree are typical requirements for licensure. The Association of Marital and Family Therapy Boards provides information about individual state licensure requirements. Additionally, licensed marriage and family therapists must complete continuing education courses to remain eligible to practice.

Step Four: Gain Experience

Employers may seek candidates who have 2 to 3 years of work experience. New graduates can gain experience by taking advantage of paid traineeship positions. There are usually several of these positions available in healthcare facilities and at schools. Most positions require no previous experience and provide on-the-job training. Certain positions may require participants to commit to the role for a set period of time. Counselors may find this post-graduate experience valuable for advancing in their careers or establishing a private practice.

Step Five: Consider Certification

While professional certifications are voluntary, they may help with career advancement. Marriage and family therapists may seek the National Certified Counselor (NCC) credential offered by the National Board for Certified Counselors. To be eligible to sit for the exam, individuals must have a master's degree and have experience working in the field. Continuing education is required to maintain this credential.

Success Tip:

  • Prepare for the exam. Students planning on taking the NCC exam should obtain the Board's study guide to prepare for the exam. Using the study guide prepared by the association administering the exam may make it easier to pass the test.
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