Marriage and Family Counselor

How to Become a Marriage and Family Counselor

In our society, marriage and family counseling is becoming more commonplace to address mental health issues within the context of the family unit. This form of therapy is considered one of the core mental health disciplines and is fundamentally based on the research that mental illness and family problems are ideally treated in a family context.

Counselors who focus on marriage and family are devoted to helping people successfully overcome their problems and restore healthy relationships. Some families require assistance with enduring crises or other types of stressful times in their lives. Individuals within marriages, or families, might be dealing with a major stressor such as illness, a death within their family, or loss of employment. Sometimes there are issues of substance abuse. Many individuals are trying to save their marriages and avoid divorce.  Counselors with a specialty in marriage and family counseling can assist individuals in expressing needs appropriately, making intelligent compromises, and establishing healthy boundaries. Counselors focusing on marriage and family can also assist with making appropriate assessments to ensure that families and individuals receive the right services. Marriage and family counselors serve a very important role in our society.

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If you are interested in getting the education you need in your chosen field to practice as a marriage and family counselor, there is a growing demand for well-trained counselors. More and more people are considering treatment for their issues. Interpersonal therapy has become more acceptable. Marriage and family counselors are often preferred, and chosen, over (PhD) psychologists and (MD) psychiatrists because their services are more affordable.

Some of the environments expected to see the most future opportunities are in the following areas:

  • residential care facilities
  • individual and family services centers
  • mental health centers
  • substance abuse centers

Education for Marriage and Family Counselors

You should plan to complete a Master’s degree in order to properly work in the capacity of marriage and family therapist. Your program has a couple of options for accreditation: or the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP); or the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). Some programs maintain dual accreditation. The program could be considered marriage and family therapy, or referred to as marriage and family counseling. The titles are set specifically by the school offering the program and the agency performing the accrediting. The program should adhere to the requirements set by the state board. The statutes within your state will determine the title you professionally use.

It is advantageous for you to gain an undergraduate degree in a subject that is highly relevant to helping people. Psychology and Social Work are two viable choices. You may have to take a few prerequisites if your degree is not in a related field.

Become a Marriage Counselor

These counseling programs can be highly competitive. Admissions teams will look at several factors in your candidacy. The following are just some of those factors:

  • experience
  • personal statement
  • references
  • grades

Your marriage and family counseling program will provide you a thorough understanding of the following:

  • marriage and family systems
  • professional ethics
  • psychopathology
  • therapy techniques

An internship is also critical to your program. You will likely have the option to choose a specialty in an area such as addictions and you will be able to conduct therapy with patients while being supervised. Expect to put in at least roughly 500 direct service hours before you graduate. Marriage and Family Counseling is a wonderful career choice if you are willing to put in the work.

Marriage and Family Counselor Licensure and Certification

Upon fulfilling all educational requirements, one then takes the licensing exam; usually, this test is the Examination in Marital and Family Therapy. The exam is implemented by the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards. The exam will contain questions in five separate areas.

It is usually a requirement to perform your duties “under supervision” for up to two years post-graduation. A counseling professional will usually review your therapy practice and meet with you at regular times. This provides the professional a chance to offer valuable feedback and support. You will gain direct knowledge of what the practice of counseling entails. The state board will offer guidelines regarding what is considered an approved supervisor and details about how your experience and supervision will ideally be documented.

After completing all requirements, you will be formally licensed. You will be able to apply your skills with confidence and experience in such areas as hospitals, clinics, and private practice. Throughout most of the US, your formal title will be LMFT, (or Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist). Some other states include such titles as the following:

  • Licensed Marital and Family Therapist
  • Licensed Independent Marriage and Family Therapist

Salary and Career Outlook for Marriage and Family Counselors

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for a marriage and family counselor is $43,190 per year.