Marriage and Family Therapist

Job Description

Marriage therapist
••• Carmen MartA-nez BanAs / E+ / Getty Images

The people with whom we live—our spouses, significant others, children, and parents—all have an impact on our mental well-being. A marriage and family therapist understands this, and it is from this perspective that he or she approaches therapy whether his or her clients are couples, families or individuals. That is why, in addition to treating clients, he or she attends to their relationships as well.

Like other mental health professionals, marriage and family therapists help their clients overcome or manage their disorders or illnesses which can include anxiety, low self-esteem, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and substance abuse. They take into account the effect a client's family has on his or her mental health by evaluating family roles. They also help clients resolve interpersonal problems within relationships.

Quick Facts

  • Marriage and family therapists earned a median annual salary of $48,790 (2017).
  • 41,500 people work in this field (2016).
  • Jobs are typically in mental health centers, hospitals, colleges, and private therapy practices.
  • Most marriage and family therapists work full time. Hours sometimes include weekends and evenings.
  • The outlook for this occupation is excellent. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies this as a "Bright Outlook" occupation because they predict employment will grow much faster than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026.

    A Day in a Marriage and Family Therapist's Life:

    If you are considering this career, you should know about some typical job duties. These are from employment announcements on Indeed.com:

    • "Provide strength-based, intensive (depending on client program) mental health services to families, couples, individuals, and children utilizing the principles of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy complemented with Solution Focused Therapy"
    • "Independently conduct intake and needs assessment of Veterans and their significant others and establish helping relationships with their clients"
    • "Maintain accurate, thoroughly documented client records with a quality of documentation that meets facility and licensing standards"
    • "Engage in planning, implementation, and evaluation of therapeutic treatment programs for each client"
    • "Provide in-service training as needed"
    • "Cooperate with staff and other community agencies in carrying out treatment plans"
    • "Attend and participate in weekly scheduled Clinical Team meetings and Reflective Supervision"

    How to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist

    A master's degree in marriage and family therapy is required to practice in this field. To be admitted to a program, first earn a bachelor's degree, which can be in any area of study. In your graduate school coursework you will learn how marriage, families, and relationships function and affect mental and emotional disorders. Participation in a supervised practical learning experience, such as an internship, is required. 

    In addition to a degree, you will also need a license to practice marriage and family therapy. It requires getting two years of clinical experience under a licensed therapist's supervision and passing a state-recognized exam.

    To maintain licensure, you will need to complete continuing education courses annually. State regulatory boards issue licenses. Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards website for a list of state-recognized boards.

    What Soft Skills Do You Need?

    You will learn about conducting therapy through your formal training, but you won't acquire all the soft skills—personal qualities one is either born with or acquires through life experiences—needed to succeed in this field. They are:

    • Communication Skills: You need excellent verbal communication skills to clearly convey information to clients. Strong listening skills will allow you to understand the information they are sharing with you.
    • Interpersonal Skills: It is essential for a therapist to be able to establish rapport with his or her clients and understand the sentiments behind their actions.
    • Service Orientation: The desire to help others is essential for anyone who wants to work in this field.
    • Problem Solving and Critical Thinking: It is imperative to be able to recognize problems and identify possible strategies to solve them. You must be able to critically evaluate each of these strategies to choose the most promising one.

    What Will Employers Expect From You?

    To find out what requirements employers have, we looked at some actual job announcements on Indeed.com:

    • "Remain current with best practice standards and related research"
    • "Enjoys collaborating with a team"
    • "Keeps appropriate professional boundaries"
    • "Must demonstrate a commitment and ability to serve a diverse community"
    • "Skill in the use of computer software applications for drafting documents, data management, maintaining accurate, timely and thorough clinical documentation, and tracking quality improvements"

    Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

    When choosing a career, first learn about your interestspersonality type, and work-related values by doing a self assessment. The occupation you pick must be a good match for your traits. Consider becoming a marriage and family therapist if you have the following ones:

    Occupations With Similar Tasks

     DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2017)Minimum Required Education/Training
    Mental Health CounselorHelps people who have mental or emotional disorders$46,740Master's Degree in a Mental Health Field
    Child, Family, and School Social Worker

    Diagnoses and treats people with emotional, behavioral or mental conditions

    $44,389Master's Degree in Social Work (MSW)
    School CounselorHelps students overcome academic and social problems$55,410Master's Degree in School Counseling
    Clinical PsychologistAssesses, diagnoses, and treats individuals' mental disorders$75,090Doctorate or Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology (Varies by State) 

    Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited December 22, 2018).