A breakdown in communications or simply growing apart after years of marriage and children can cause problems leading to separation or divorce. Children with behavioral, social or psychiatric problems also put stress on a marriage and the rest of the family members.
Marriage and family therapists are licensed counselors who help couples and families communicate better and deal with problems affecting the health of relationships and everyday life.
The Work of Marriage and Family Therapists
Marriage and family therapists help people deal with their reactions and feelings about changes that affect their lives, families, children and lifestyle. They help individuals deal with problems with spouses, children, parents or other family members and the emotional or behavioral problems that affect the family.
They deal with the effects of work situations such as layoffs, failed businesses and bankruptcies. They ask questions to help couples and family members understand and deal with their situations and find solutions.
If you want to become a marriage and family therapist, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology is the first step. Marriage and family therapists have to be licensed, and you’ll need at least a Master’s degree or Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy to meet the licensing requirements in most states.
Choose a graduate program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. A master’s degree will add two years and a Ph.D. an additional three years of study.
Certification of Marriage and Family Therapists
Before you can take the state licensing exam from the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards, you must gain up to two years of experience in marriage and family therapy. Licensing requirements may vary by state. Some states may also require continuing education courses and re-certification.
Marriage and family therapists work in a variety of settings. Some set up private practice with an office and hold regular office hours. Even those in private practice may work evenings and weekends to accommodate clients that work or go to school during the day.
Some work for large healthcare providers that offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) as part of an employee benefits package. Others work in mental health and substance abuse facilities, state and local government agencies, community agencies, colleges and universities.
Because marriage and family therapists deal with individuals and families in crisis, they can be called upon to work at any time of the day or night. Therapists who work in a hospital or clinical setting may work evenings and weekends.
Earning Potential for Marriage and Family Therapists
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a marriage and family therapist is $46,000. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $24,000 and the top 10 percent earned more than $72,000 per year.
State and local government agencies employ the largest number of marriage and family therapists, followed by mental health agencies and individual and family services.