Employment Outlook & Career Guidance for Marriage Family Therapists
Marriage and family therapists diagnose and treat a range of serious mental and emotional problems, including anxiety, depression, marital, individual and child-parent problems. In some cases, marriage and family therapy can be more effective than individual or standard treatments for mental health problems, such as affective disorders, alcoholism, drugs abuse, schizophrenia, OCD, anorexia and chronic illnesses in both children and adults.
These professionals are trained in psychotherapy, and are licensed to diagnose and treat emotional and mental disorders in the context of marriage and family. Typically, they will possess an average of nearly 15 years of clinical experience, and hold a master’s or a doctoral degree in marriage and family therapy.
Important Knowledge, Skills & Abilities
A skilled marriage and family therapist will have expertise in a number of disciplines. They also tend to have a set of personality traits that enable them to work effectively with both individuals and families of all ages, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds. Some therapists approach their work holistically, using a wellness model instead of an illness model, which highlights and encourages their clients’ strengths.
A marriage and family therapist will earn a bachelor’s degree in counseling, psychology, sociology or social work, and go on to earn a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy or counseling. Most states require therapists complete at least two-years of post-graduate work and a certain number of hours of clinical experience (depending on state requirements). Marriage and family counselors must also pass a state-recognized exam, as well as continuing education courses.
State licensing guidelines for psychologists vary, so if entering this field you must first check out guidelines in the state you wish to practice.
- Psychology – Knowledge of human behavior, interests, learning, and motivation; psychological research methods and diagnostic assessment and treatment of behavioral and affective disorders.
- Therapy and Counseling Theory and Practice – Knowledge of the principles and procedures for the diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of behavioral and mental dysfunctions at the individual, family or group level.
- Sociology and Anthropology – Knowledge of group behavior and dynamics, social trends and influences, ethnicity, and distinctions in various cultures.
- Philosophy – Knowledge of different philosophical systems and religions.
- Research Methods – Knowledge of the various methods in research and evaluation.
- Clinical applications of human development – Knowledge and understanding of basic psychological functioning in the family, in the school, and in other social contexts that influence mental and emotional development.
Skills & Abilities
- The ability to affectively Communicate and Listen – The ability to talk to individuals or groups and convey information clearly and effectively, as well as listening to clients, not interrupting, and asking questions as appropriate.
- Decision-Making Skills – Knowing the benefits of clients’ actions, choosing appropriate treatment based on those actions, and maintaining flexibility in difficult situations.
- Critical Thinking Skills – Using logical reasoning to identify strengths and weaknesses of individuals or the family dynamic, and finding alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.
- Problem Solving Skills – Identifying problems and developing solutions.
- The ability to negotiate – The ability to reconcile differences by bringing people together to find common solutions.
- Time management skills – Managing not only client’s time, but your own.
- Research and statistics skills – Using data as a means to discover what you can and cannot expect out of human behavior and development.
Job Outlook and Employment Projections for a Marriage and Family Therapist
In May 2022, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were about 65,300 marriage and family therapists treating individuals, couples, and families in the US alone. As of 2023, US News and World Report ranks the profession as #20 on its list of the best social service jobs. Membership in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) has grown to more than 22,000. Growth in this field is, in part, a result of increased public awareness of the value of family life, and possibly a concern about increasing stresses on families.
The BLS projects employment for Marriage and Family Therapists to grow by 14% from 2021 to 2031, which is much faster than average for all careers.
Family and marriage therapist work in a variety of sectors, including:
- Mental health clinics
- Social outreach agencies
- Hospitals; state, local and private
- In private practice
- Nursing and residential care facilities
- Outpatient Care Centers
- Individual and family services
- Government agencies
- Faith-based agencies
The BLS reports that the average wage for a marriage and family therapist is $63,300 per year, with the top 10% making upwards of $98,700 and the lowest 10% making about $36,840. Upward mobility with prospects for a higher salary, promotion, and good work balance is average, as is job flexibility when compared to all careers. Stress level is above average.
Learn more about how to become an MFT.
How to Increase Your Job Prospects as a Marriage and Family Therapist
Although employment for marriage and family therapist is expected to continue to grow, competition is fierce. Because marriage and family therapists work with children and adults of all ages, they must hold a master’s or doctoral degree in marriage and family therapy or counseling, this will also expand an individual’s employment options, as well as salary. A PhD will provide opportunities to teach at a four-year college or university, and work in some government agencies.
Employers also prefer work experience (often between 2,000 - 6,000 hours) or internships in child welfare agencies, family advocacy programs, and other non-profit or state-run organizations. Some programs offer certification at various levels. Certification is required by some employers as is continuing education credits.
Marriage and Family therapists and counselors and most other mental health providers must also be state licensed. Although requirements vary by state, all jurisdictions require individual’s pass an exam and perform supervised practice prior to being eligible for the highest level of licensing.
Related MFT Education Guides
2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics job market trends and salary figures for marriage and family therapists are based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed June 2023.