Students with a passion for helping others overcome challenges may find marriage and family counseling a rewarding career path.
Marriage and family counselors are professionals in the mental health field trained extensively in psychotherapy and family systems. Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) are licensed to diagnose and treat a variety of mental and emotional disorders.
Rather than simply treat an individual, therapists in this specialty examine the family unit as a whole – even if only one person is interviewed – to gain an understanding of the relationships that influence a person or everyone within the family unit.
Marriage and family therapy tends to be considered rather brief as most interactions include about 12 sessions on average. About 65.6% of all cases are completed within 20 visits, and nearly all (about 88%) within 50 sessions or less, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
Therapists generally spend about half their time providing one-on-one therapy, while the other half is dedicated to couple and family treatment sessions.
Where MFTs Work
Marriage and family therapists work in a variety of medical settings. They may work in outpatient care centers, hospitals and within doctors’ offices. Some choose to work within school systems or as part of social service agencies. Private practice is also a possibility.
Employment opportunities are available in both the private and public sectors. The military, religious organizations, insurance companies, healthcare facilities and a host of other employers have marriage and family counseling professionals on their payrolls.
How Marriage and Family Counselors Help Patients
Individuals who seek out this type of counseling may do so for a variety of reasons, such as the following:
- Addressing communication problems within a marriage or family
- Facing emotional fallout from infidelity
- Balancing work and home demands
- Behavioral concerns related to a child
- Grief support after the loss of a loved one
- Issues related to step-parenting and blended families
- Domestic violence
- Substance abuse
Marriage and family therapists can also treat a range of serious clinical problems. Their expertise may include helping people with anxiety, depression, substance abuse issues, eating disorders and chronic physical illness, among others.
Breaking into the Field
Marriage and family counselors must possess at least a master’s degree, and many obtain doctorate-level degrees. Programs that can open the door on this career opportunity include psychology, marriage and family therapy, clinical mental health counseling and other related paths.
Licenses are required at the state level. The requirements for state licensing include a minimum of a graduate degree in a suitable field of study along with 2,000 to 4,000 hours of post-degree clinical experience that is supervised. State exams are also required along with annual continuing education.
Professionals will find the annual median pay is $49,170 in May 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Anticipated pay may vary greatly by geographical region with counselors in New Jersey earning an annual mean wage of $74,750 in May 2016, according to the BLS. On the lower end of the spectrum, counselors in West Virginia earned an annual mean wage of $37,380, according to the BLS. Growth in the field was projected at 19% through 2024, which outpaces the average growth rate for all professions of 7%.
Students interested in pursuing careers in marriage and family counseling are urged to conduct their own research. Requirements, job availability and anticipated pay may vary based upon geographical region and employer.