What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Marriage and Family Therapist?

If you are a good listener and have a compassionate personality, you could put your interpersonal skills to work helping couples and families work out their problems. Marriage and family therapists are the community and social service professionals who help clients cope with relationship issues and mental and emotional disorders. To embark on this rewarding career, you will need to earn a master’s degree and complete thousands of hours of supervised training.

Undergraduate and Graduate Education

An advanced degree is essential to become a marriage and family therapist, but the first step, of course, is to earn your undergraduate degree. There’s no single bachelor’s degree program that’s the right choice to prepare for this career, and undergraduate degrees in most fields will qualify a student for admittance to a graduate program, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. However, studying a relevant discipline as an undergraduate will give you a strong foundation in the social sciences to draw from during your graduate education and career. For this reason, a degree in psychology, sociology, social work or interdisciplinary social sciences is often a good choice. No matter what subject students choose to major in, taking courses in psychology, human development and statistics can prove useful in their later education.

After an aspiring marriage and family therapist earns a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree in counseling, marriage and family therapy, social work or psychology is the next step to entering the career. In a counseling program, students will learn more general information, like counseling strategies and how to identify mental and emotional disorders and their symptoms. On the other hand, marriage and family therapy programs focus more specifically on how marriages and family relationships work and their impact on mental and emotional disorders, the BLS reported.

Training and Licensure

Even beginning marriage and family therapists will go into the field with real-world work experience. That’s because hands-on training is an important part of career preparation. Most states require marriage and family therapists to attain a license. In addition to a relevant graduate degree and a passing score on an exam, candidates must have between 2,000 and 4,000 hours of supervised experience, the BLS reported. Clinical experience may include providing therapy in family and group settings overseen by an experienced, licensed counselor.

Marriage and family therapists earn a median salary of $40,080 per year, somewhat above the $34,750 median annual salary across all occupations, the BLS reported. However, marriage and family therapists don’t go into the field for the money. The work of helping couples and families work through their problems and improve their lives is personally fulfilling. Other factors, like the much faster than average job growth rate of 29 percent and the above average flexibility, had led U.S. News & World Report to rank marriage and family therapist 16th on its list of the Best Health Care Jobs and 25th on its 100 Best Jobs list.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris