- What is a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT)?
- What Do Marriage and Family Therapists Do?
- How Is MFT Counseling Unique?
- Can Family Members See the Same Therapist?
- Do MFTs See Individuals?
- Find a Therapist and Request an Appointment
- How to Become a Marriage & Family Therapist (MFT)
- What Is Marriage and Family Therapy?
- Why Do We Need Marriage and Family Therapy?
- What Does a Marriage and Family Therapist Do?
- Where Does a Marriage and Family Therapist Work?
- Becoming a Marriage and Family Therapist
- What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist?
- What Is the Annual Average Salary for a Marriage and Family Therapist?
- Start Helping Families in Need
- Related Careers
What is a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT)?
A marriage and family therapist, also known as an MFT, can help you and your loved ones heal your relationships and improve your mental health.
An MFT differs from other types of counselors in that they focus on all the interconnected parts of your life.
These therapists can treat pairs or groups connected through relationships, but they also treat individuals using the unique MFT lens.
What Do Marriage and Family Therapists Do?
MFTs are mental health counselors who treat problems in the context of relationships, including romantic, familial, friendships, and others. MFTs can diagnose mental health disorders and apply a systemic perspective in treating such diagnoses. They work with individuals, couples, families and groups, providing a range of counseling services in a variety of settings, including:
- Private practices
Each MFT has their own style and areas of specialty, but all MFTs’ approach to treatment is relationship-oriented. In couple’s or family therapy, MFTs guide conversations between individuals in a relationship or between family members.
They help all participating individuals to better understand one another’s perspectives and needs. That’s one unique aspect of working with an MFT – sessions often include multiple individuals, even if the others aren’t physically present.
This allows for the MFT to observe how individuals behave within their relationships.
How Is MFT Counseling Unique?
Relationship-based therapy differs from other types of counseling in important ways. In individual sessions, MFTs seek to address the individual’s psyche as well as the relevant, interconnected components of their life. This includes the client’s:
- Family members
- Church community
- Community at large
This is a very unique and powerful method, as MFTs account for all the different people and systems that affect and are affected by the client. This approach allows for a more robust therapeutic experience and often accelerated change.
MFTs try to understand problems within a broader context. They consider your environment, culture, lifestyle and other factors to provide holistic treatment and empower you.
MFTs collaborate and coordinate services with other professionals, such as psychologists, physicians and school counselors, to address the important parts of an individual’s life.
Overall, relationships are key for MFTs.
Can Family Members See the Same Therapist?
While it’s generally considered a conflict of interest for family members to see the same therapist, MFTs work differently. When it comes to marital and family therapy, it can be advantageous for family members to see the same therapist. An MFT has the education, training and experience to work with people who know one another. To practice, an MFT must have:
- A bachelor’s degree
- A master’s degree in marriage and family therapy or a related field
- Required hours of clinical experience
- A passing score on all licensure exams
Do MFTs See Individuals?
A common misconception is that only those experiencing family- or marriage-related troubles should seek an MFT. While MFTs can treat multiple people connected through family or romantic relationships, they also treat individuals.
MFTs address the same issues or concerns as other therapists — they simply use different treatment methods. MFT is a way of viewing the world — MFTs approach concerns and workshop solutions while paying close attention to broader contexts.
In other words, a patient doesn’t need to have concerns about their family or marriage to seek help from an MFT. Anyone can benefit from the unique perspectives an MFT will offer and potentially improve their mental health with an MFT’s specialized approach.
Find a Therapist and Request an Appointment
Both marriage and family therapy can give people the tools to improve their interpersonal relationships and individual mental health. This specialized form of counseling can provide many positive benefits and is a helpful resource for anyone.
If you’re looking for a professional, licensed MFT, consider Stanford Couples Counseling Services. Our therapists are here to help you strengthen your relationships and improve your mental resilience. Find the right therapist for you and make an appointment today.
How to Become a Marriage & Family Therapist (MFT)
At some point in every relationship, conflict arises. For many families, conflict can be dealt with amicably without long-term consequences. But sometimes, issues can’t be worked out on their own, whether due to differing personalities, behavioral issues, or even psychological disorders.
As a marriage and family therapist, you have the unique opportunity to help guide families back to a healthier path. Your empathetic nature, expert skillset, and dedication to bringing families together allows you to frame conflict in different perspectives and provide the tools your clients need to communicate more effectively and compassionately.
Let’s go through how to become a marriage counselor to learn why this rewarding psychology career might be the perfect choice for you.
What Is Marriage and Family Therapy?
Marriage and family therapy is a form of counseling that helps families work through issues that affect their home lives.
This encompasses any kind of familial grouping including couples, parents and children, blended families, siblings, extended families, or any other type of relationship.
Working together with a marriage and family therapistcan help couples minimize the possibility of divorce, or help parents argue less and communicate better with their children. This results in more harmonious home life and less stress on everyone involved.
All different types of families might be affected by any number of problems. There are, however, a few very common arguments that arise in many families, causing undue stress and problems, including infidelity, jealousy, financial disagreements, child-rearing, household responsibilities, substance abuse, mental illness, teenage rebellion, various career paths, and more.
Why Do We Need Marriage and Family Therapy?
Catching and resolving marriage and family problems 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.
Even if couples don’t get divorced, the consequences of volatile home life can still have very devastating long-term effects, including emotional detachment from future partners, attention-seeking or reckless behavior, and substance abuse issues or other harmful coping mechanisms.
Marriage and family therapists serve to help their patients avoid these outcomes by teaching families how to 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?
A marriage and family therapist uses psychotherapy tools, skills, and principles to repair family relationships and treat any underlying psychological issues that may be contributing to the discord.
MFTs can diagnose and treat a variety of disorders that affect the family unit, from clinical disorders depression, anxiety, and personality disorders to simpler issues poor communication or heightened stress.
For families in distress, it can often be hard to pinpoint the causes of their arguments.
This is often one of the first duties of a marriage and family therapist, and they’ll typically first meet and talk with all members of a family to assess the situation and determine the right treatment path.
Most of the time, the therapist will continue to meet with the couple or family together to 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.
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.
During therapy sessions, a marriage and family therapist may use several tools to allow patients to work through their difficulties. These include:
- Talk therapy: A marriage and family therapist will often start with letting clients each relay their side of the issues and will do more listening than talking during these meetings.
- Bodily observation: 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.
- Role-playing exercises: During a session, a therapist may ask their clients to imagine themselves in the other person’s shoes and do a role-playing activity to break their singular perspective and achieve a deeper level of empathy.
- Reflection exercises: Having family members reflect on specific memories can often speak volumes about how each interprets and reacts to different situations. This can also help bring feelings of warmth and togetherness when reflecting on happier times and remembering when communication and perspectives were more aligned.
- Reframing exercises: A common tool in a marriage and family therapist’s arsenal, a reframing exercise can be incredibly helpful to defuse tension created by accusations made in anger. For example, instead of, “You never listen and always talk over me,” a reframing exercise alters this statement to, “When you interrupt me when I speak, I feel my words and opinions aren’t valid or valued.”
If you’re looking into how 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. Disagreements are part of being in any relationship.
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.
Where Does a Marriage and Family Therapist Work?
Marriage and family therapists might work in several different settings, from clinical environments and medical clinics to schools and government agencies. They may work as part of a team with other medical professionals or on their own as either a consultant or a private practitioner. A few additional workplace options include:
- Social service offices
- Community centers
- Mental health facilities
- Hospitals and inpatient care clinics
- Schools and universities
- Addiction treatment centers
- Nursing homes
- Juvenile correction facilities
Many marriage and family therapists choose to open their own private practices, and a few might even make house calls, which involve visiting a household to observe the living situation or a neutral location to diffuse situational tension. Either of these options are often used during interventional events. However, it’s far more common for the patients to visit the therapist’s place of work for sessions.
Becoming a Marriage and Family Therapist
If you’re wondering, “What qualifications do I need to be a family therapist?” understand that learning how to become a marriage and family therapist starts with assessing whether your passions and personality align with the unique needs of the profession. Aside from a genuine interest in helping families, becoming a marriage and family counselor requires a few characteristics, including:
- Excellent listening and communication skills.
- Objectivity and the ability to offer an unbiased, non-judgmental ear.
- A calm and peaceful demeanor to help diffuse situations of high tension.
- A comfortability with discussing extremely personal topics.
- Commitment to privacy.
If this sounds you, then your next steps in how to become a marriage counselor are as follows:
- Earn the appropriate marriage and family therapist degree—You’ll typically want to pursue a degree in psychology, with a bachelor’s being the minimum standard requirement for hire at many clinical practices and a master’s required to practice on your own. You can learn more about the educational requirements to become a marriage and family therapist
- Accumulate clinical hours—You’ll need to complete supervised clinical practice hours with a licensed therapist or counselor before you can earn your state certification. These hours are set by your state licensing board and are often rolled into your graduate studies.
- Earn your state license—To practice as a full-fledged marriage and family therapist, you’ll need to earn state licensure by passing one or more exams, depending on the certifications you’re pursuing. Once you’ve passed, you can apply for your license through your state’s specific certification board.
Once you’re fully licensed, expect to complete continuing education courses throughout your career to keep your certification current.
What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist?
A marriage and family therapist career requires a good deal of education, much other mental health and therapy careers. You will typically start by earning a bachelor’s degree in an area such as psychology, social work, or counseling.
This generally will take you around four years to complete, though it’s dependent on how your program is structured, whether your study is self-directed (such as with an online psychology program), and additional factors.
While earning your marriage and family therapist degree, you should focus on taking as many courses that cover the marriage and family dynamic as possible, selecting electives in those areas if they aren’t already part of your program’s general curriculum.
After earning your bachelor’s, most state licensing boards also require you to earn your master’s degree to become a licensed marriage and family therapist. Your program should be accredited by at least one of the following national certification boards:
Your master’s in marriage and family therapy often take anywhere from two to three years, including the year of clinical fieldwork that you’ll need to complete as part of your licensing preparations.
The exact number of hours required varies from state to state—for example, New York requires applicants to complete 1,500 hours of supervised work experience, while California requires 3,000 hours of supervised work experience.
Check with your state licensing board for specifics on these requirements and learn more about earning your MFT degrees online.
Once you’ve completed your marriage and family therapist degree and earned your state license, your education isn’t over.
Most states require that you complete continuing education courses throughout your career in order to stay current with the latest advances in therapeutic philosophies, tools, and skills.
These additional courses will also firmly establish you as an expert in your field, making your practice highly desirable for families seeking support and intervention.
You can also pursue separate certification in specific areas that you think will benefit your practice. This additional education includes specializations in art therapy, trauma, parent-child interactions, and more.
What Is the Annual Average Salary for a Marriage and Family Therapist?
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median marriage and family therapist salary in 2020 was $51,340. The top 10 percent of the profession earned an annual median salary of $92,930. Those working in the state government usually earn the most, with a median income of $78,450.
There are also some areas where it pays more to be a licensed marriage and family therapist.
California has the largest employment rate of marriage and family therapists, followed by New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
New Jersey also pays the highest annual mean marriage and family therapist salary ($78,960), followed by Illinois ($67,650)—both of which are significantly higher than the national average.
Start Helping Families in Need
No matter how “perfect” it may seem, all relationships experiences strain. But when that strain reaches a breaking point, you could be the difference in helping families get back on track to a healthy, loving coexistence. Becoming a marriage and family therapist means making a huge impact in your client’s lives, repairing what’s broken and offering perspective on how to start anew.
Find the right psychology program and get started on becoming an MFT today.