How Do I Become a Marriage Counselor?

Marriage counselors are licensed therapists who treat couples and families. Also known as marriage and family therapists, or MFTs, they may provide counseling to adults, teenagers, and children in group or individual settings. To become licensed, MFTs must have master's degrees in marriage and family therapy, psychology, or related mental health fields; however, some marriage counselors also pursue doctorates. Schools offering Marriage & Family Therapy degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) estimates that there were 34,270 marriage and family counselors working in the US as of May 2012. Marriage and family therapists help people work through various relationship issues and clinical problems, such as mood disorders, depression, and anxiety. The first step toward becoming a marriage counselor is to earn a bachelor's degree with coursework in behavioral sciences. Prerequisite classes in statistical analysis are also required for admission to many psychology and marriage counseling master's degree programs.

Education

Students must complete an accredited graduate program to obtain licensure. Some graduate programs are accredited through the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy's (AAMFT, www.aamft.org) Commission on Accreditation of Marriage and Family Therapy Education. Many state licensing boards also recognize schools' regional accreditation.

Though a master's degree is the minimum educational requirement for licensure, some MFTs also pursue a Doctor of Psychology. Most master's degree programs take 2-3 years to complete; doctoral programs may take 3-5 years or longer. Master's-level coursework often includes:

  • Interview and research techniques
  • Principles of parent-child counseling
  • Couples therapy
  • Chemical dependency and substance abuse

Licensure

In nearly every state, therapists must be licensed to work independently; unlicensed therapists must work under supervision of licensed professionals. Most states also require interns to take a licensing exam and obtain a registration number. A licensed intern is known as an MFTI. A licensed marriage and family therapist earns the LMFT designation and is qualified to provide psychotherapy. Licensing requirements vary from state to state and most states don't have reciprocity. This means that counselors must become licensed in each state in which they practice. The AAMFT website provides a complete listing of state licensing requirements, but most share the following criteria:

  • Completion of an accredited graduate-level degree program that includes an internship
  • Approximately 3,000 hours or two years' supervised clinical experience
  • Passing the state MFT licensing exam
  • Continuing education to keep license in effect

Salary Potential and Career Outlook

The BLS predicts that marriage and family counselors will see a 31% increase in job opportunities during the 2012-2022 period. As of May 2012, the marriage and family therapist average salary was reported as $49,270, with therapists working for state governments earning the highest incomes.

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