How to Become a MFT Marriage Family Therapist

A marriage family therapist (MFT) is a mental health professional that is trained in advanced psychotherapy and family systems. An MFT is licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional issues that are common in relationships and marriages. Marriage family therapists are highly experienced mental health professionals, with an average of 13 years of counseling work experience. (

As a marriage family therapist, you will observe how patients behave in their families and identify any problems that exist. You will come up with treatment plans so that each person has their needs met, and the family works more happily and efficiently.

If you are interested in a career in marriage family therapy, learn more below.

What Is Marriage Family Therapy?

A marriage family therapist treats many of the same problems as other psychologists, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. But the work of a marriage family therapist is more focused on issues that are specific to the family, such as marital issues, adolescent behavior problems, domestic violence, and matters related to infertility.

SEE ALSO: Difference Between MFT & LCSW Degrees

The pattern of behavior in a family influences the individual, so a marriage and family therapist focuses treatment on not just the patient but on the family relationships of which the patient is a part. (

Some of the physical and psychological problems MFTs address in treatment programs include: (

  • Parent and child conflict
  • Marital and couple conflict
  • Grief
  • Distress
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Eating disorders
  • Weight Problems
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Dealing with eldercare problems, such as dementia

Marriage and family therapy broadens the regular emphasis on treating the individual and takes a holistic approach to mental health care. They are focused on the long term, overall well being of individuals and the family unit.

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What Do Marriage Family Therapists Do?

Marriage family therapists typically perform the following:

  • Encourage patients and their families to talk about experiences and emotions.
  • Help patients process reactions and adjust to changes in their lives, such as health problems or divorce.
  • Guide patients through the process of making major decisions about their lives.
  • Refer clients to other healthcare resources or community services, including support groups and inpatient treatment.
  • Assist clients to develop skills and strategies to alter their behavior and deal with challenging situations.

MFTs use many tools and techniques to help clients. Some will use cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a goal-oriented approach that helps clients to understand harmful feelings, thoughts, and beliefs, and teaches them how to supplant them with more positive ones.

Recent studies show that marriage and family therapists are effective in treating all types of mental and emotional problems. From drug abuse, depression, alcoholism, obesity, and dementia, these are but a few of the mental health and behavioral problems MFTs can treat. Studies also show that consumers say that marriage family therapists are the mental health professionals they would most recommend to their friends.

Where Do Marriage Family Therapists Work?

Marriage and family therapists hold approximately 55,000 jobs in the US as of 2018. The largest employers of MFTs are: (

  • Individual and family services: 30%
  • Other health practitioner offices: 20%
  • Outpatient care centers: 12%
  • State government: 9%
  • Self-employed: 9%

Marriage family therapists work in many settings, such as mental health centers, substance abuse facilities, and public and private hospitals. They also can work in private practice and in employee assistance programs. EAPs are mental health programs that some companies offer employees to deal with their personal problems.

The profession is growing rapidly; the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy had only 237 members in 1960. Today, membership stands at more than 25,000.

What Is the Job Outlook for Marriage Family Therapists?

Employment for MFTs will increase by 22% by 2028, much faster than average compared to other occupations.

SEE ALSO: How Much Do Marriage Family Therapists Make?

Growth in this field is expected because of the higher use of integrated care, which is the treatment of several health problems at once by a group of healthcare providers. ( As a provider of integrated care, MFTs work with counselors in substance abuse, behavior disorder, and mental health to deal with the patient’s issue a team.

Demand is rising also because mental health counseling is covered under more insurance plans today than in the past. Another reason for job growth is the higher number of military professionals and veterans who need help with their mental health and relationships. (

How Can You Become a Marriage Family Therapist?

Marriage family therapists must have at least a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, as well as a license to practice in their state of residence. (

SEE ALSO: Affordable Online MFT Programs With No GRE

A marriage and family therapy program will teach the student about how a marriage, family, and relationships function, and how these relationships affect mental and emotional problems.

It is vital to attend a master’s or doctoral program with appropriate accreditation from one or more of the following to ensure your education is recognized by major employers:

  • Accreditation of Counseling and Related Programs (CACREP)
  • Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)
  • Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC)

SEE ALSO: Online DMFT Doctorate of Marriage and Family Therapy

As you are looking at programs, consider whether you want to earn only your master’s, or eventually get your Ph.D. A master’s will qualify you to work in private practice, while a Ph.D. will allow you to earn higher pay potentially, and work as a professor in a university if you choose.

After you have decided which degree you want, you will need to apply to the university, complete two to five years of coursework as well as an internship. Then, you will be ready to take the examination for licensing.

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What Do Exams and Licensing Involve?

All states require a marriage family therapist to have a license. Licensure requires the therapist to have at least a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of post-graduate supervised clinical work. Also, therapists must pass an examination recognized by their state and attend continuing education classes annually. For most MFT’s, this examination is the Association of Marital and Family Therapy’s Regulatory Board’s (AMFTRB) Examination in Marital and Family Therapy. (

Do you think you want to be a marriage family therapist? Please review the online master’s programs we have on our website, choose a program, and get started on your educational journey!