Marriage and Family Therapist

According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), the “Federal government has designated marriage and family therapy as a core mental health profession along with psychiatry, psychology, social work and psychiatric nursing.”

It’s often said that you have the most emotional conflict with those you are closest to, whether it be arguments, heartache or a range of negative feelings (feelings we tend to keep hidden from the majority of the people we know). Often family and/or intimate partners/spouses are those who we are closest to.  While such conflict is expected in any family or romantic relationship, it can get to the point where an objective and trained professional (i.e. a marriage and family therapist) is needed to help resolve issues and unhealthy situations.

According to the AAMFT, there are 50 times more marriage and family therapists than there were in 1970; and at any given time marriage and family therapists are treating approximately 1.8 million or more individuals.


“I feel [honored] to even sit in the same room with people who are willing to take risks, to share things that they have difficulty sharing, and to do the work necessary to make their relationships and their lives the best they can possibly be,” states licensed marriage and family therapist, Jason Esswein, on his website. “…The counseling and psychotherapy services I provide are centered on helping individual adults and couples increase their self-awareness and insight so they can resolve feelings of anxiety and depression, improve their relationships, and increase their self-confidence and self-esteem.”

“While such conflict is expected in any family or romantic relationship, it can get to the point where an objective and trained professional (i.e. a marriage and family therapist) is needed to help resolve issues and unhealthy situations.”

Marriage and Family Therapists At a Glance

  • Degree Level Requirements: Master’s Degree or higher
  • Licensure Requirements: License required; requirements vary by state.
  • Specializations: Self-Esteem, Communication, Infidelity, Separation, Family Dynamics, Addictions, Elderly Relatives etc.
  • Median Annual Salaries: $40,080*
  • Job Outlook: 37% growth from 2010 to 2020**

Career & Job Description

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) describes the role of marriage and family therapists in this way: “Unlike other types of mental health professionals, they bring a family-centered perspective to treatment, even when treating individuals… They treat the clients’ relationships, not just the clients themselves.” LMFT Esswein adds to this saying that the “relationship,” rather than the individual(s), is the “client”.

Marriage and family therapists may work for family service agencies, government and military agencies (including Veterans Affairs), outpatient clinics (i.e. mental health and substance abuse treatment centers), long term care facilities, in private practice, as part of a mental health practitioner office and more.

Marriage and Family Therapists ranked #33 among U.S. News’ 100 Best Jobs of 2013 (and specifically #6 amongst Best Social Service Jobs).


Professional duties of a marriage and family therapist may include:

  • Provide counseling to individuals, couples and families.
  • Diagnose and treat mental health/emotional/behavioral disorders that relate to marriage/couple and family dynamics.
  • Develop treatment plans for clients/patients.
  • Help identify key issues within couple and family relationships, such as psychological problems, child-parent concerns or relationship struggles.
  • Facilitate such treatment and coping skills as communication, problem-solving, listening and self/mutual respect.
  • When necessary, contact or collaborate with other community or healthcare services.

According to the AAMFT, marriage and family therapy is generally “brief”, “solution-focused”, “specific, with attainable therapeutic goals” and “designed with the ‘end in mind’”.

According to the AAMFT, marriage and family therapy is generally “brief”, “solution-focused”, “specific, with attainable therapeutic goals” and “designed with the ‘end in mind’”.


Specializations / Concentrations

While there may be similarities amongst individuals, every relationship and family is different. As a result marriage and family therapists help address a number of problems and concerns and over time (based on training and experience) can tackle a range of specialties.

Examples of concentrations or specializations within marriage and family therapy include:

  • Depression
  • Substance Abuse/Addiction
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Obesity
  • Marital conflict
  • Parenting
  • Self esteem
  • Life Coaching
  • Grief/Bereavement
  • Social/community involvement
  • Dementia
  • Caregiver relationships
  • Blended families
  • Separation/divorce
  • And more

Explore Your Career Path

The Educational Journey

The AAMFT states that to become a marriage and family therapist you must complete a minimum of a Master’s degree. (There are also doctoral and post-graduate clinical training options for those interested in entering the field).

If you wish to gain professional experience before pursuing your Master’s degree, there are several related careers obtainable with a Bachelor’s degree.

  1. Bachelor’s Degree: Some people that become a marriage and family therapist may not know this is their plan when they are completing a Bachelor’s degree. This means they may come from a variety of undergraduate backgrounds. The only thing to be wary of is some (not all) Master’s programs will require that you completed certain pre-requisite courses at the Bachelor’s level. If you know from the get-go that you want to become a marriage and family therapist, relevant undergraduate degrees include a Bachelor of Psychology (some programs even offer Marriage & Family Therapy concentrations), a Bachelor of Psychology & Counseling, a Bachelor of Human Services, or another related discipline.
  2. Relevant Careers with a Bachelor’s Degree: Case Management Aide, Psychological Assistant, Community Support Worker, Life Skills Counselor, Substance Abuse Counselor, Research Assistant, Correctional Treatment Specialist, Child Life Specialist, Youth Probation Officer, Family or Youth Shelter Case Manager, Family Services Worker, Crisis Center Worker, etc. (Note some positions may require specified coursework or certification/licensure).
  3. Master’s Degree: Relevant graduate degrees include a Master of Marriage & Family Therapy, a Master in Clinical Psychology, a Master of Marriage & Family Counseling, a Master of Counseling Psychology, and a Master in Marital & Family Therapy.

Licensure Requirements

Generally speaking, you MUST be licensed to practice as a marriage and family therapist. According to the AAMFT, the requirements for licensure usually involves completing supervised clinical experience (often two years) after graduating from an accredited Master’s or higher program. “When the supervision period is completed, the therapist can take a state licensing exam, or the national examination for marriage and family therapists conducted by the AAMFT Regulatory Boards,” states the AAMFT. “This exam is used as a licensure requirement in most states.”

For more information on a particular state’s licensure requirements, visit the AAMFT’s “MFT Licensing Boards” directory for links to regulatory boards:

“Research indicates that marriage and family therapy is as effective, and in some cases more effective than standard and/or individual treatments for many mental health problems such as: adult schizophrenia, affective (mood) disorders, adult alcoholism and drug abuse, children’s conduct disorders, adolescent drug abuse, anorexia in young adult women, childhood autism, chronic physical illness in adults and children, and marital distress and conflict.” ~ AAMFT (American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy)

  • Nearly 90% of clients report improvements in emotional health after seeing a marriage and family therapist.
  • More than 75% of those receiving couples/marriage therapy report relationship improvements after seeing a marriage and family therapist.
  • In cases where a child sees a marriage and family therapist, 73.7% of parents report that their child’s behaviour, social relationships and/or school performance improved.
  • Reference & Data Information Provided by the Following:
  • * May 2012 (for Mental Health Counselors, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • ** May 2010 (for Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • † Salary data from US BLS
  • ‡ Job Outlook data from US BLS
  • Other Sources/References