Marriage and Family Therapists Overview

Marriage and family therapists should possess a strong desire to help other people. In addition, they will need to gain trust, respect and confidence from others easily. Most marriage and family therapists typically need a masters degree to become licensed as a counselor, however education and training requirements vary by state. Job opportunities for marriage and family therapists are expected to be favorable because there will be more positions open then there are qualified graduates from counseling programs.

Nature of the Work for Marriage and Family Therapists

Marriage and Family Therapists

Marriage and family therapists provide a range of support and counseling services in diverse community settings. They may face the challenge of clients who have a variety of issues including mental health disorders, trauma, addiction and disability. Despite their specialty marriage and family therapists must be able to recognize a variety of issues to provide the most appropriate support and counseling.

Marriage and family therapists treat and help clients work through emotional and mental problems using family systems theory, techniques and principles. Using this process they can help to modify client’s behaviors and perceptions, help them prevent crises on the individual and family level and improve communication and understanding among families and couples. Marriage and family therapists work with a variety of clients including couples, families and groups. Because this type of therapy focuses less on a particular identified or internal psychological conflict, it differs from traditional therapy. Instead, marriage and family therapists must understand and observe their clients’ interactions and symptoms as they occur within their environment. In addition, marriage and family therapists may refer clients to psychiatric resources, teach courses in subjects like interpersonal relationships and perform research.

The work environment of marriage and family therapists is typically in a community health organization, public or private practice or day treatment programs. Often marriage and family therapists go to an office where they see clients during the day, but others may provide services at other locations in the community.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Marriage and Family Therapists

Training and education requirements vary by state for marriage and family therapists, but usually a masters degree is required for licensure. Those looking to become a counselor should check with national voluntary certification organizations, state and local governments and prospective employers to determine requirements.

Colleges and universities offer counselor education programs for marriage and family therapists in psychology, human services or education departments. Areas of study include marriage and family therapy, education, gerontological counseling, agency or community counseling, career counseling and more. Often courses are grouped into areas such as relationships, group work, counseling techniques, assessment, professional ethics and identity, human growth and development, social and cultural diversity and research and program evaluation. Accredited masters degree programs for marriage and family therapists usually include up to 60 hours of graduate study semester hours including a supervised internship. Some newly hired counselors will receive on the job training. Other employers offer tuition assistance or time off for counselors to complete their graduate degrees. To maintain licenses and certificates often marriage and family therapists must complete workshops, personal studies and graduate studies.

All states require marriage and family therapists to have some form of counselor license. These requirements usually include the completion of a masters degree program in counseling or a masters degree in marriage and family therapy, as well as the completion of continuing education credits, compliance with ethical codes and standards, the passage of a state exam and an additional 3,000 hours or two years of clinical experience beyond schooling.

A strong desire to help others and a respectful, trustworthy and confident attitude are important for marriage and family therapists. Both individual and team work skills are needed. Because marriage and family therapists must deal with a variety of problems from clients they may experience stress and they can benefit from high physical and emotional levels. They must also follow the code of ethics described by their license or certification.

The National Boar for Certified Counselors offers a voluntary certification as well as specialty certifications. While it is different from the state license, some states will recognize it instead of the state exam. And while this certification and certifications offered by other counseling organizations, they may help improve marriage and family therapists job prospects.

Some marriage and family therapists go on to become researchers, teachers, advanced clinicians or supervisors—this is especially true of those professionals with doctorates in family therapy. Others may go back to school to pursue a doctoral degree to improve their chances of future advancement.

Top 10 Most Popular Marriage and Family Therapy/Counseling Schools

1. John F Kennedy University (Pleasant Hill, California)
2. Alliant International University, San Diego (San Diego, California)
3. Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry (Dobbs Ferry, New York)
4. Fuller Theological Seminary (Pasadena, California)
5. Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
6. Nyack College (Nyack, New York)
7. Pacific Oaks College, Pasadena (Pasadena, California)
8. Friends University, Wichita (Wichita, Kansas)
9. The College of Saint Rose (Albany, New York)
10. Argosy University (Multiple Campus Locations)

See All Marriage and Family Therapy/Counseling Schools

Most Popular Online Marriage and Family Therapy/Counseling Schools

1. Walden University - Online School
2. Capella University - Online School
3. Grand Canyon University
4. Liberty University - Online School
5. Northcentral University - Online School
6. Golden Gate University - Online School
7. Eisner Institute For Professional Studies - Online School

Employment and Job Outlook for Marriage and Family Therapists

Number of People in Profession


Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow faster than average (increase 14 - 19%).

Marriage and family therapists hold about 26,450 jobs. More and more counselors are self-employed in private or group practices. This change in employment is due to both the recognition of counselors as well-trained professionals and the growing acceptance of insurance companies covering counseling appointments.

Employment of marriage and family therapists is expected to grow by about 14 percent, which is faster than average compared to all occupations. Part of the growth is due to an increased recognition in the field, and in turn, it’s becoming more common for couples to seek assistance for working out family and marital problems.

Earnings and Salary for Marriage and Family Therapists

Marriage and family therapists earn median annual wages of $46,920. The highest 10 percent earn above $73,610, the lowest 10 percent earn under $29,270 and the middle 50 percent earn between $36,480 and $58,440. Broken down by the largest industries employing marriage and family therapists, median annual wages are as follows:

Individual and family services: $45,230
Offices of other health practitioners: $48,250
Outpatient care centers: $49,450
Local government: $52,200
State government: $58,120

Annual Salary for Marriage and Family Therapists

On average, Marriage and Family Therapists earn $46,920 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $29,270/yr $36,480/yr $58,440/yr $73,610/yr

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook