Marriage & Family Therapy

Marriage and Family Therapy

Marriage and family therapists often are referred to by those in the industry as the “friendly mental health professionals.” Earning a marriage and family therapy degree qualifies them to offer guidance to those who need help.

It is their job to diagnose and treat emotional disorders – cognitive, affective and behavioral – that occur within the confines of marriage or family systems. They are trained to use psychotherapeutic, as well as family system theories and techniques, to help couples and families who are dealing with mental disorders or stressful life situations. 

Marriage and family therapists can work with individual clients, couples or families. Unlike with other mental health professionals, these therapists are trained to apply a family-centered perspective to the treatment of their patients. To do so, they must first evaluate family roles and situations, to help them to understand how a client’s family dynamic affects their mental health. A treatment plan that involves the patient, as well as the family, is then crafted. 

Education Options

As with other counseling and psychology careers, all states require marriage and family therapists to hold a master’s degree, as well as a license to practice. 

According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, three options are available: earning a master’s degree, which includes two to three additional years of schooling beyond a bachelor’s degree; earning a doctorate degree, which requires three to five years of graduate school; or enrollment in a post-graduate clinical training program, which requires a three to four year commitment beyond an undergraduate degree. 

Students enrolled in a master-level degree program, pursuing a master's degree in marriage and family therapy, can expect to learn how to recognize the symptoms of mental and emotional disorders, as well as which counseling strategies will be the most effective in dealing with each situation. An additional four to six years of schooling beyond a bachelor’s degree can be expected for this occupation, which will include an internship with a qualified supervisor. 

The top 10 schools offering graduate degree programs in marriage and family therapy are: Northwestern University, Il.; Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio; Syracuse University, Syracuse, N.Y.; the University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minn.; the University of Connecticut, Storrs, Conn.; the University of Georgia, Athens, Ga.; the University of Southern California, Los Angeles; the University of Rochester, Rochester, N.Y.; the University of Maryland, College Park; and Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va.

While there are some online degree programs for this field, many are restricted to undergraduate and master’s degrees, while others offer a combination of online learning and brick-and-mortar learning.  Online marriage and family therapy degrees are growing in popularity, as people shift from strictly physical campus degrees to attending school on their computer when they can fit the learning into their schedule.

As with other subsets of psychology and counseling careers, marriage and family counselors must be licensed by the state in which they plan to practice. In order to obtain a license, a master’s degree, plus 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical work is required. Therapists also must pass a state-approved licensing examination, and participate in and complete annual continuing education classes to maintain their license. For information about licensing requirements per state, please visit the National Board for Certified Counselors website at

Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average median salary for marriage and family therapists in the United States as of March 2012 was $46,240.

Demand for marriage and family counselors is on the rise, as is a degree in marriage and family therapy, with an anticipated growth rate of 37 percent expected to occur between 2010 and 2020. Like many health-related careers, it is seeing a high demand for qualified individuals to fill these roles; however, it is growing much faster than any other healthcare-related position. 

With an increase in the number of health insurance companies now willing to pay for counseling services for married couples and families on the rise, more people are seeking out these services. Population growth also is contributing to the number of people who will require and seek out counseling services of this nature. 

Article by Shari Berg,

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