Marriage and Family Therapist Careers

What Is Marriage and Family Therapy?

Smiling Couple at TherapyNo marriage or family is perfect. In fact, many people may even admit that their families are downright dysfunctional. Traditional families are not the only types of families that seem to have problems, however. Because marriages and families today come in all shapes and sizes, marital and family problems can affect all sorts of non-traditional families as well, including blended families, extended families, single parent families, and families with same-sex parents.

All different types of families might be affected by all different types of problems. There are, however, a few very common arguments that arise in many families, causing undue stress and problems. Some common arguments may be about infidelity, jealousy, financial disagreements, child rearing, household responsibilities, substance abuse, mental illness, teenage rebellion, various career paths, and more.

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Catching and resolving marriage and family problems early is usually best. Resolving these issues as soon as possible can help minimize most of the negative effects down the road. Married couples that do not resolve their issues, for instance, may end up getting divorced, which will affect their children as well as themselves. In fact, many parenting experts agree that separations and divorces are generally rougher on the children in a family than the adults.

Marriage and family therapy is available for individuals who need help working out issues that affect their home lives. Working together with a therapist can help families minimize the possibility of divorce, and it can help them argue less and communicate better. This results in a more harmonious home life and less stress on everyone involves.

Professionals in this field might help work out issues that have arisen between all different members of a family. They might try to help work out issues between couples, for example, as well as between siblings, parents and children, and step-parents and step-children. Depending on the type of family they are working with, they may also work to improve other familial relationships as well. If a teenager is living with his grandparents, for example, a therapist might help them work on their grandparent-grandchild relationship.

Becoming a marriage and family counselor does require a few particular characteristics. Aside from a genuine interest in helping families, marriage and family therapists must be excellent listeners and communicators. They should be able to listen to each individual’s concerns with an unbiased and non-judgmental ear. They should also be able to help each member of a family communicate peacefully and effectively with each other. If you’re looking into becoming a marriage and family therapist, you should also be comfortable with listening to couples and families “air their dirty laundry”, so to speak. When in therapy, most individuals will eventually begin to feel very comfortable, and open up about their most personal and intimate problems. If hearing about issues such as a couple’s sexual problems does not make you uncomfortable, then you just might have what it takes to have a successful marriage and family career.

Why Do We Need Marriage and Family Therapy?

"To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish 'till death do us part."

At one time, these words actually meant something in every marriage. Unfortunately, today, research has shown that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, which can be very devastating for everyone involved. However, even if couples don’t get divorced, the consequences of a volatile home life can also have very devastating long-term results as well.

Marriage and family therapists serve to help married couples and families communicate more effectively and work out their differences. For many families, marriage and family therapy is often time well spent, reducing the time spent fighting as well as the risk of divorce.

What Does a Marriage and Family Therapist Do?

Although most families have problems and many of them have frequent arguments, it can often be hard to pinpoint the underlying causes of these arguments. This, however, is often one of the first duties of a marriage and family therapist. In order to do so, a marriage and family therapist will first need to meet and talk with all members of a family involved in the therapy. Most of the time, the therapist will meet with the couple or family together. Depending on the nature of the problem and the family situation, they may meet just with a married couple or with the family as a whole. This can help them see how each family member reacts to the others. In some circumstances, however, a therapist may choose to meet with members of a family separately.

During therapy sessions, talking is usually the job of the family members rather than the therapist. A marriage and family therapist will often do more listening than talking during these meetings. The therapist will also watch the members of a family closely for non-verbal body language, or clues to where certain problems may lie. For instance, a marriage and family therapist that witnesses a teenager rolling her eyes might deduce that actions such as these might make her parents feel disrespected.

After discovering some possible underlying causes of major problems in a family, a marriage and family therapist can then help the family as a whole work through their issues. The therapist will often offer guidance and advice to frustrated family members, for instance, or he might teach them how to communicate more effectively.

If you’re looking to become a marriage and family therapist, keep in mind that you won’t be the magic cure that ends all arguments in a household. Arguing is part of being in a family; it just comes with the territory. Instead of teaching families how to stop arguing, as a marriage and family therapist, you’ll help them learn to communicate more effectively, work through their differences, and become a stronger family unit - even if that does involve an occasional argument.

Where Does a Marriage and Family Therapist Work?

Marriage and family therapists might work in a number of different settings. This might include social service offices, or community and mental health facilities.

Many marriage and family therapists, however, choose to open their own private practices. In doing so, married couples and families can seek out their services and meet in the therapists’ offices. A few marriage and family therapists might even make house calls, which involve visiting a household to observe the living situation.

What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist?

A marriage and family therapist career generally involves a good deal of education, much like other mental health and therapy careers. Individuals interested in pursuing marriage and family counseling careers will typically start by earning bachelor’s degrees in areas such as psychology, social work, or counseling. While earning this degree, students should focus taking courses on marriages and family situations.

Most areas also require those pursuing marriage and family therapist careers to earn master’s degrees as well, especially if they wish to become licensed marriage and family counselors.

Along with certain education requirements, you will also be required to complete several hours of fieldwork. The exact number of hours required varies from state to state. New York requires applicants to complete 1,500 hours of supervised work experience, for instance, while California requires 3,000 hours of supervised work experience. Checking with your state licensing board regarding these requirements is recommended.

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What Is the Annual Average Salary for a Marriage and Family Therapist?

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, marriage and family therapists earned an annual average salary of $51,730 as of May of 2014. The top 10 percent of the profession earned an annual average salary of $78,920. Those that working in the state government or local government are the marriage and family therapists who usually make the most. And New Jersey and California are examples of two states that pay marriage and family therapists more than the national average.