How to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)

How to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)

Curious about how to become a family and marriage therapist? You’re not alone. Many people who are interested in mental health want to work to support healthy relationships and family structures. As a marriage and family therapist (MFT), your role is pivotal in addressing intimate and interpersonal relationships within families. This comprehensive guide aims to illuminate your path towards becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), providing insights about education, licensure, and practice.

Understanding the Profession

Being an MFT involves much more than simply listening to clients’ concerns. Your responsibility extends to diagnosing and treating mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage and family systems. You might work in diverse settings, from private practices to community agencies, schools, and hospitals.

To succeed as an MFT, empathy, active listening, and excellent communication skills are crucial. The ability to remain non-judgmental while facilitating difficult conversations is equally important.

Education Pathway: Marriage Counselor Schooling

Bachelor’s Degree

If you’re wondering how to become a Marriage and Family Therapist, you’re likely curious about what type of school you’ll need to go through to become licensed. The first step is earning a Bachelor’s degree. While there is no set major required to enter a Master’s program in Marriage and Family Therapy, relevant fields such as psychology, sociology, or family studies provide a solid foundation. Courses in these programs delve into human behavior, developmental psychology, sociology, and social work, equipping students with the necessary theoretical understanding.

Consider taking advantage of opportunities for internships, research, or volunteering. These experiences enhance your resume and provide a glimpse into the world of mental health professionals. Real-life experience can help you determine if this career path aligns with your passions.

Master’s Degree

After completing your Bachelor’s degree, the next step is earning a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy. This is a specialized program that dives deeper into the intricacies of family systems and relationships. Courses typically cover areas such as couples therapy, family therapy, ethics, research methods, and more. The program also incorporates practical components like internships and practicums where students can apply their theoretical knowledge under supervision.

Selecting the right program is crucial. Look for programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). This works to ensure high-quality education that meets industry standards.

COAMFTE Accreditation

The Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) is a distinguished body that endorses Master’s, doctoral, and postgraduate clinical training programs in Marriage and Family Therapy across the United States and Canada. COAMFTE accreditation is a clear signal of a program’s adherence to stringent academic and clinical experience benchmarks set forth by this authoritative entity.

The Significance of COAMFTE Accreditation

Selecting a COAMFTE-accredited program can offer you numerous advantages:

  • Assurance of Quality: The accreditation verifies that the program adheres to high standards concerning curriculum, faculty, and resources, reassuring you of a top-tier education.
  • Streamlined Licensure Process: Several states either mandate or highly recommend that your degree is obtained from a COAMFTE-accredited program. This could facilitate your licensure process and potentially offer greater flexibility should you decide to relocate and practice in another state.
  • Enhanced Employment Opportunities: Many employers have a preference for, or may even necessitate, candidates who have graduated from an accredited program, which could strengthen your standing in the job market.
  • Preparedness for Professional Practice: Accredited programs offer comprehensive training that equips you for the practical aspects of the profession, striking a balance between academic coursework and supervised clinical experience.

Locating and Applying to COAMFTE-Accredited Programs

COAMFTE’s website provides a list of accredited programs. Ensuring the accreditation status of any program you are considering is vital, as it can significantly influence your educational journey and subsequent career path.

Gaining admission into these programs can be competitive. Maintaining a robust academic record, acquiring relevant experience (such as internships or volunteer work), and possessing a profound understanding of the field can bolster your application.

Opting for a COAMFTE-accredited program can serve as a pivotal step towards a rewarding career as a Marriage and Family Therapist. It’s a stamp of high-quality education and training, readying you to impact the lives of individuals, couples, and families positively.

Doctoral Degree (Optional)

Although not required for practice, some therapists opt to pursue a doctoral degree. A Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy provides opportunities for more advanced roles in research, academia, or administration. The curriculum typically focuses on advanced therapeutic techniques, research methodologies, teaching, and leadership in the field of family therapy.

Supervised Clinical Experience

Clinical experience is not just a licensing requirement, it’s an invaluable part of your training. You will be working under the supervision of an experienced Marriage and Family Therapist, observing their work, learning practical skills, and gradually taking on your own clients.

As you chart your journey towards becoming a Marriage and Family Therapist, securing enriching clinical experiences is key. While these opportunities typically form part of your Master’s program, it’s also possible and beneficial to pursue them independently.

Locating Clinical Experience Opportunities

Several avenues can lead you to meaningful clinical experiences. Mental health clinics, hospitals, schools, non-profit organizations, and private practices can provide valuable chances to learn from your future colleagues. Networking with established professionals can also unveil a plethora of opportunities that may otherwise remain hidden.

Optimizing Your Clinical Experience

Think of your clinical experience as an immersive learning phase. It’s a time to delve deep, ask probing questions, request constructive feedback, and introspect about your experiences. The insights you gain during this period can be transformative for your professional growth.

Further, this phase can assist in identifying your unique strengths and specific areas of interest within the broader field of marriage and family therapy. You may discover a particular affinity for working with certain demographics or tackling specific issues. Such realizations can help shape and steer your career path in meaningful directions.


To become a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT), you’ll need to go through a licensing process. The licensing process typically entails the following steps:

Supervised Experience Completion

After completing your education, you’ll need to go through supervised practice. Most states require 2,000 to 4,000 hours. This duration varies by state. This practical experience helps in translating theoretical knowledge into actionable skills in a clinical environment and furthers the development of therapeutic expertise.

Licensing Exam

The subsequent step is clearing a licensing examination. The Examination in Marital and Family Therapy, conducted by the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB), is commonly utilized by most states. The exam assesses your proficiency in key areas such as diagnosis, treatment, and assessment within the framework of relationships and family systems.

Licensure Application

After successfully passing the exam, you’ll apply for a license in your state. This generally includes submitting proof of education, supervised experience, and exam results, along with a requisite fee. It’s crucial to verify the specific requirements in your state as they can differ and might include additional stipulations like background checks or extra coursework.

Post-Licensure: Career Development

Achieving licensure is a momentous milestone, but it’s merely the onset of your career journey. MFTs have a plethora of opportunities in varied settings, such as private practices, hospitals, social service agencies, substance abuse treatment centers, and schools.

Job Search

After you decide what type of job you’d like in the field, it’s time to get to work. Attending networking events, joining professional organizations, and leveraging connections with peers and mentors from your degree program.

Practice Development

If private practice is of interest, there are additional factors to consider. Apart from therapeutic skills, business aspects such as marketing, billing, and insurance also need attention.

Career Advancement

As an MFT, numerous avenues for career advancement are available. One might choose to specialize in a specific area, like child and adolescent therapy, substance abuse, or couples therapy. Some MFTs transition into supervisory or administrative roles, while others might opt for teaching or research roles.

Continuing Education and Professional Development

Continuing education serves a dual purpose – not only does it fulfill licensing requirements, but it also helps stay current in your field. As new research, therapies, and best practices emerge, continuing education is the pathway to staying up-to-date.

Continuing Education Opportunities

Many professional organizations offer opportunities to fulfill continuing education requirements. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), provides webinars, workshops, and conferences. Universities and online platforms also offer a broad range of courses.

Professional Organizations

Joining professional organizations not only grants access to continuing education opportunities but also provides resources, networking opportunities, advocacy, and support.

MFT Certifications and Specializations

Beyond mandatory education and licensure, MFTs can choose to specialize further in their practice by obtaining additional certifications. These certifications signify a high level of expertise in a specific therapy area and can elevate your professional standing and widen your career opportunities.

Here are a few examples of certifications and specializations that MFTs might pursue:

  • Family Therapy Certification (CFT): Indicates proficiency in utilizing family therapy techniques
  • Sex Therapy Certification (CST): Provides therapists with education to promote sexual dynamics within therapeutic contexts
  • Addiction Counselor Certification (CAC): Prepares therapists to work in substance abuse settings
  • Trauma Treatment Specialist Certification (CTTS): Teaches therapists to offer trauma-informed counseling
  • EMDR Certification: Provides therapists with Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing techniques to facilitate clients in processing traumatic memories
  • Behavior Analyst Certification (BCBA): For therapists utilizing applied behavior analysis in their practice

Earning a certification usually requires training, experiential hours, and a final exam. Maintaining the certification typically requires ongoing continuing education in the specialty area.

Choosing to specialize can bring depth to your practice and allow you to better serve certain populations or address specific issues. Continuing education within your specialization area can help you stay on top of best practices in the industry to best meet the needs of your clients.

Navigating Real-Life Experiences

Theory and practice can sometimes feel like two different worlds. Real-life experiences from practicing therapists can bridge that gap and offer invaluable insights.

Facing Challenges: Every therapist faces challenges, whether it’s dealing with difficult clients, navigating ethical dilemmas, or managing self-care. Hearing how experienced therapists have tackled these issues can provide guidance and reassurance.

Celebrating Successes: Success stories can be incredibly motivating. When things get tough, reminding yourself of the difference that you’ve made in helping people to develop healthy relationships with one another can keep you going.

Career Advice: Working with a mentor who knows the field can be helpful. Having an experienced sounding board can provide you with the support necessary to make the right decisions for your clients.

Embarking on the path to become a Marriage and Family Therapist unfolds a journey of academic endeavors, practical involvement, and lifelong learning. This profession demands empathy, patience, and an intimate comprehension of human relationships. For those who resonate with this calling, the rewards are immense, providing the chance to steer individuals, couples, and families through their most challenging periods, fostering stronger and healthier relationships.

While the path may initially appear intimidating, it’s crucial to understand that each stride forward brings closer the ultimate goal. Patience, continuous learning, and self-care are fundamental.

What Does a Marriage and Family Therapist Do?

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) offer support and guidance to individuals, couples, and families. As they navigate through a spectrum of emotional, mental, and interpersonal challenges, the expertise of an MFT can be instrumental. By employing a diverse range of therapeutic techniques, MFTs address a variety of situations. MFTs can help couples and families through relationship discord, parent-child conflicts, mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, and more.

MFTs’ responsibilities encompass assessing clients’ needs, formulating effective treatment plans, and delivering therapy with the overarching aim of enhancing communication, fostering understanding, and promoting problem-solving within the context of relationships and family systems.

Essential Skills Marriage and Family Therapists Should Have

Successful MFTs have a variety of skills to help their patients, including:

  • Empathy and Compassion: When a therapist shows empathy, clients feel supported and open. They need to provide a safe and supportive environment where clients feel heard and understood. Utilizing empathy and compassion can help to build a trusting relationship between therapists and clients.
  • Communication Skills: They must be able to listen effectively and communicate clearly. This includes being able to facilitate conversations between family members and convey complex information in an understandable way.
  • Problem-Solving Skills: MFTs need to be able to help clients identify issues and develop solutions. This involves analytical thinking and creativity.
  • Interpersonal Skills: MFTs work closely with a variety of people and must be able to build rapport and trust with their clients.
  • Patience and Resilience: The therapeutic process can be long and challenging. MFTs need to be patient and resilient, providing steady support for their clients.

LMFT Salary and Job Outlook

The salary for MFTs can depend on several factors, including location. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2021, the median annual wage for MFTs was $49,880.

The job outlook for MFTs is positive. The field is projected to grow 14 percent from 2021 to 2031, faster than the average for all occupations.


How Long Does it Take to Become a LMFT?

The time to become an LMFT can vary depending on your educational path and state licensure requirements.

Typical education to become a LMFT includes:

  • Bachelor’s degree (4 years)
  • Master’s degree (2-3 years)
  • Clinical experience (2-3 years)

Your path may be faster or slower depending on whether you take full- or part-time classes.

Is Licensure Required to Be a Marriage and Family Therapist?

Yes, all states require MFTs to be licensed to practice. Requirements vary by state. Most states require a master’s degree, supervised clinical experience, and successfully passing a licensure exam.

What States Have the Highest LMFT Salaries?

According to the BLS, as of May 2022, the top-paying states for MFTs were Utah, New Jersey, Maryland, Wyoming, and Virginia.

Why Become a Marriage and Family Therapist?

MFTs have the opportunity to make a significant impact on individuals, couples, and families, guiding them towards healthier and happier lives. The field also offers opportunities for continuous learning and specialization.

What Degree Do You Need to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist?

MFTs need a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling or a related field. Some therapists also choose to pursue a doctoral degree.

What Services Do LMFTs Provide?

LMFTs provide a range of services, including:

  • Individual therapy: While the focus is on relationships and families, MFTs often provide individual therapy to address personal issues that impact those relationships.
  • Couples therapy: MFTs help couples navigate challenges, improve their communication, and strengthen their relationships.
  • Family therapy: They work with families to resolve conflicts, improve dynamics, and foster healthier relationships.
  • Group therapy: Some MFTs may lead therapy groups on specific topics, such as parenting skills or dealing with grief.

These services are provided within a therapeutic framework that emphasizes relationships and family dynamics. MFTs may also provide referrals to other resources or collaborate with other professionals as part of a comprehensive care approach.


Here are some additional resources that might be useful on your journey to becoming an LMFT:

Professional Organizations:

  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT): Offers resources, networking opportunities, continuing education, and advocacy for MFTs.
  • International Family Therapy Association (IFTA): Promotes family therapy worldwide and provides opportunities for international networking and collaboration.
  • National Council on Family Relations (NCFR): Offers resources for understanding families through interdisciplinary research.

Licensing Information:

  • Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB): Provides information about licensing examinations.
  • Your State’s Licensing Board: Be sure to check your state’s specific requirements for becoming a licensed MFT.

Continuing Education:

  • Continuing Education Courses: Look for courses and certificates from accredited institutions and professional organizations.
  • Journals and Research: Regularly read academic journals, such as the “Journal of Marital and Family Therapy,” to stay updated with the latest research and developments in the field.

Job Search and Career Information:

  • Career Centers of Professional Organizations: AAMFT, IFTA, and other organizations often have job listings and career resources.
  • Networking Events: Events, workshops, and conferences can allow you to connect with experienced professionals.

If you’re ready to start your journey toward becoming a LMFT, you’re embarking on a career that will allow you to have a lasting impact on the lives of others. Your passion and dedication will be your greatest guides on this rewarding path.

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