A therapist talking to a client across a table

A marriage and family therapist could...

Counsel parents about how to understand and cope with an out-of-control child. An child with an aggressive expression shown holding one hand in a fist Help a person who spends money excessively understand and modify his or her behavior. A hand holds a credit card while it is cut in half with a pair of scissors
Assist parents in explaining their divorce and their feelings to their children. A father embracing a daughter with a sullen expression Determine if a person who is depressed should be referred to a psychologist for other treatments. A woman with a contemplative expression
Find out more...

Key Facts & Information

Overview Families and couples face many problems, from difficult child behaviors, depression, and compulsions to anger-management issues and eating disorders. Sometimes these problems get repeated generation after generation, whereas other times they arise spontaneously. Marriage and family therapists can help break the cycles of maladaptive behaviors. They provide goal-oriented counseling that focuses on the family and close relationships. They diagnose mental health problems, give psychological tests, provide counseling services, and refer patients who need medication to psychiatrists.
Key Requirements Good listener, analytical, observant, caring, empathetic, patient, with outstanding communication skills
Minimum Degree Master's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Biology, chemistry, algebra, geometry, algebra II, English; if available, physiology, statistics, foreign languages
Median Salary
Marriage & Family Therapist
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Faster than Average (14% to 20%) In Demand!
  • Watch this video to meet psychologist Brenna Chirby who volunteers her time to help troops with the mental health problems that arise while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Read this interview to meet a self-employed marriage and family therapist who describes what she enjoys the most, and what she finds the most challenging about her job.
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Source: O*Net

Education and Training

Requirements for marriage and family therapists typically include master's degrees in counseling, two years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience, and state-recognized exams. Therapists must adhere to ethical codes and standards and complete continuing education requirements every year. Courses in sociology, social work, psychology, and modern foreign languages are helpful.

Other Qualifications

Aspiring therapists who are interested in direct patient care must be emotionally stable, mature, and able to deal effectively with people. Sensitivity, compassion, good communication skills, and the ability to lead and inspire others are particularly important qualities for people wishing to do clinical work and counseling. Patience and perseverance are vital qualities, because achieving results in the psychological treatment of patients or in research may take a long time.

Nature of the Work

Marriage and family therapists or counselors provide therapy for people who wish to solve emotional conflicts. Their goal is to modify people's perceptions and behavior, improve communication, and prevent individual and family crises. Therapists work in mental health centers, clinics, hospitals, social service agencies, and private practices.

Watch this video to see what a marriage and family therapist does who specializes in helping children whose parents are going through separation or divorce.

Therapy usually consists of talk sessions, lasting about an hour. Using techniques learned in classrooms and in fieldwork, counselors guide their clients through a series of conversations that reveal their clients' anger, fears, and needs. When couples are considering divorce, for instance, counselors work to uncover the underlying reasons for the divorce and discover whether reconciliation is possible.

Marriage counselors usually speak with a husband and wife at the same time, although they may have some sessions with them separately. They may also counsel groups of married couples, groups of husbands, or groups of wives. Family therapists work with entire families or with individual family members, using similar methods of therapy.

Therapists' work may vary by place of employment. Those in private practice, for example, may specialize in one or two kinds of problems. They may refer clients to other counselors if they determine that their clients' problems are outside their areas of expertise. Counselors who work in clinics may work in teams, consulting each other on appropriate therapy techniques. Some clinics employ counselors with special qualifications to take on the most difficult cases.

Work Environment

Therapists work in offices where they can speak with their clients in private or in groups. Working hours vary because many therapists combine part-time jobs in social service agencies with private practice. Agency work, especially in marriage counseling, often includes two or three evenings of work each week because many clients work during the day. Therapists in private practice can regulate their own schedules; they may have some evening and weekend sessions.

The work can be very demanding. Therapists must always give their complete attention to their clients' difficulties.

On the Job

  • Ask questions that will help clients identify their feelings and behaviors.
  • Counsel clients on concerns, such as unsatisfactory relationships, divorce and separation, child rearing, home management, and financial difficulties.
  • Encourage individuals and family members to develop and use skills and strategies for confronting their problems in a constructive manner.
  • Maintain case files that include activities, progress notes, evaluations, and recommendations.
  • Collect information about clients, using techniques such as testing, interviewing, discussion, and observation.
  • Develop and implement individualized treatment plans addressing family relationship problems.
  • Determine whether clients should be counseled or referred to other specialists in such fields as medicine, psychiatry, and legal aid.
  • Confer with clients to develop plans for posttreatment activities.
  • Confer with other counselors in order to analyze individual cases and to coordinate counseling services.
  • Follow up on results of counseling programs and clients' adjustments to determine effectiveness of programs.
  • Provide instructions to clients on how to obtain help with legal, financial, and other personal issues.
  • Gather information from doctors, schools, social workers, juvenile counselors, law enforcement personnel, and others to make recommendations to courts for resolution of child custody or visitation disputes.
  • Provide public education and consultation to other professionals or groups regarding counseling services, issues, and methods.
  • Supervise other counselors, social service staff, and assistants.
  • Provide family counseling and treatment services to inmates participating in substance abuse programs.
  • Write evaluations of parents and children for use by courts deciding divorce and custody cases, testifying in court if necessary.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Marriage & Family Therapists

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