MFT vs Psychologist Which One Should I Choose?

Are you thinking about becoming a marriage and family therapist (MFT) or a clinical psychologist? There is some overlap between these two professions, as well as some key differences to understand.

First, both are mental health professionals who treat patients with a variety of mental and personal problems, including mental illnesses. However, clinical psychologists usually work with people with severe mental health problems.

Occasionally, an MFT will work with people with serious mental illnesses because it can be more effective to involve their family. But the severity of mental health disorders the MFT will treat depends on their training and what the laws of their state allow.

Clients usually see a marriage and family therapist if they need premarital counseling or help with a divorce, death in the family, or other family transition.

Clinical psychologists are the professionals to see if a psychometric assessment or mental health test administration is needed.

What’s On This Page

  • Education and Training
  • Salary and Career Potential
  • What the Other Experts Say

Education and Training

MFT – Marriage Family Therapist

A marriage and family therapist must have a master’s degree at least to practice. Most MFT master’s programs have at least 60 hours of courses and take two years minimum to complete.

SEE ALSO: Best Online MFT Programs

Approximately 20% of MFTs have a doctoral degree. Having a Ph.D. in this field does not provide a higher level of license, but it can help you get a higher-level position in research or academia.

Most coursework in an MFT program focuses on family studies, human development, and clinical practice. Students usually take a research course and have assessment training. There usually is a year of part-time clinical work or internship, which takes 15 or 20 hours per week.

SEE ALSO: Is a MFT Degree Worth It?

At Seton Hall University, these are some of the required MFT courses:

  • Counseling Skills
  • Personality Theory
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Etiology and Treatment of Addictions
  • Group Counseling
  • Human Sexuality
  • Psychology of Human Development
  • Couples and Family Dynamics
  • Couples and Family Systems Techniques

Clinical Psychologist

A clinical psychologist can begin their career with a master’s degree in psychology but most get their doctoral degree to work in private practice. Clinical psychologists can earn a Ph.D. or PsyD degree. The Ph.D. is the traditional doctoral degree that is for students who want a career in academia or research. This degree takes approximately five years to complete.

SEE ALSO: Steps to Becoming a Clinical Psychologist

The PsyD degree is a newer option that is focused almost exclusively on clinical practice. It takes approximately four years to complete. It includes much more assessment training than an MFT program.

Ph.D. programs are highly competitive and quite difficult to enter. PsyD programs also are competitive but they generally have easier entry requirements.

At LaSalle University, these are some required courses in the Psy.D. program:

  • Psychotherapy I
  • Biological Bases of Behavior
  • Foundations of Psychotherapy
  • Interviewing and Psychotherapy Lab
  • Human Behavior I: Developmental Bases
  • Psychological Assessment I-III
  • Human Diversity
  • Advanced Cognitive Behavior Therapy
  • Psychopharmacology

Postgraduate Practicum

Both degrees require you to have supervised clinical hours after you graduate. Clinical psychologists usually have a year of supervised clinical practice, and MFTs have two years. It is important to check the clinical hour requirements for your state for each degree program.

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Salary and Career Potential

One of the reasons some students choose the clinical psychology profession is salary – psychologists earn more than MFTs.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median salary for psychologists is $80,370 with the top 10% earn more than $132,000 per year. Other salaries reported for psychologists are:

Job demand for all psychologists will increase by 14% by 2028, which is much faster than average for all occupations. Employment for clinical psychologists should increase because of the greater demand for psychological services in hospitals, schools, mental health centers, and social service agencies.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics states the median salary for marriage and family therapists is $49,610, with the top 10% earning more than $87,700. Other salaries reported for MFTs are:

  • State government: $72,230
  • Outpatient care centers: $51,100
  • Individual and family services: $45,600
  • Offices of other health practitioners: $45,150

Job growth for MFTs is even stronger than for clinical psychologists. Jobs will increase by 22% by 2028, much faster than average. Growth will occur because of more integrated care being used; this involves the treatment of several problems at once by several healthcare professionals.

SEE ALSO: How to Become a MFT Marriage Family Therapist


All states require MFTs to be licensed. Earning your license requires at least a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of postgraduate supervised clinical practice. Also, the MFT must pass a state examination to earn their license.

Clinical psychologists generally need a doctoral degree, a one-year internship, and at least one or two years of supervised clinical practice after graduation. Next, they must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology or EPPP.

What the Other Experts Say

To learn what the experts have to say about the MFT vs psychologist question, we checked and found some interesting questions and answers:

What are the advantages of getting a PsyD vs MFT if I want to practice?

A doctoral degree, whether it is a PsyD or Ph.D., gives professionals more options for private practice than a master’s in marriage and family therapy. With a doctoral degree, you can get your license to practice almost anywhere. With a master’s degree, it depends on the state and what the licensing laws are. Doctoral degree holders also have more options to teach and supervise. Further, many insurance companies, including Medicare, only pay for services if a psychologist provides them. Some may only pay for services provided by a professional with a master’s degree if that person is working in a community health center. – Cherie Valeithian, MA, Clinical Psychology, Cleveland State University

Why should a person see a psychologist over an MFT?

Sometimes the patient needs psychological testing that only a Ph.D. in psychology can provide. Other times, the psychologist may have specific training in some treatment areas, such as anxiety, that an MFT is not qualified to treat. – Nancy Barbour, BS, MSW Social Work and Psychology, Michigan State University

The MFT is mostly concerned with family dynamics and is not as likely to see a person on an individual basis. Psychologists have more training in testing and research than MFTs. But the key is whether the MFT or psychologist has been trained in your area of need, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, etc. – Sara Trembath, Licensed Professional Counselor

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Both the MFT and psychology professions offer many advantages. MFTs tend to treat people with family and relationship problems, while clinical psychologists treat people with more serious mental illnesses.

Psychologists also generally earn higher salaries than MFTs and have more education. But both professions are growing and are good options to explore if you want to help people improve their lives.