Demand for marriage and family therapists has accelerated in recent years due to an increased push in the medical field for integrated care. This approach blends general healthcare with mental healthcare and is expected to drive the need for therapists. We’ll take a look at the responsibilities, environment, education and skills required for becoming a marriage and family therapist.
In an integrated care approach, marriage and family therapists (MFTs) may partner with another counselor to treat a patient for substance abuse, behavioral disorder or mental health. MFTs apply a family-oriented outlook to mental health care, incorporating the family system into the treatment plan, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). While they do provide group, couples and family therapy, MFTs largely treat individuals using a relationship perspective. MFTs typically practice therapy on a short-term basis, with an average of about 12 sessions.
MFTs take on a variety of responsibilities, including:
- Diagnosis and treatment of mental or emotional disorders
- Individual psychotherapy
- Group, couples and family therapy
- Formulating treatment plans
- Marriage and relationship therapy
- Premarital counseling
- Life coaching
- Provide guidance for decision making
- Referrals for clients to community services or resources for further support or treatment
Treatment from marriage and family therapists addresses an array of serious clinical issues:
- Marital problems
- Individual psychological challenges
- Child-parent problems
- Depression and other mental illnesses
- Domestic violence
While the largest number (28%) of professionals work in individual and family services, MFT professionals work in a number of environments, including outpatient care centers, employee assistance programs, health practitioner offices, state governments, or as self-employed experts. Often, MFTs focus on special populations; the AAMFT reports that 25% of patients are minorities, and 25% are also in faith-based settings. Most work full-time, and some may shift their schedule to include evenings or weekends to accommodate client needs.
In 2016, the BLS reported a mean annual wage of $54,090 for marriage and family therapists. Those working in elementary and secondary schools were top earners, with an average of $79,440 compared to the $48,520 mean for individual and family services professionals.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates the field anticipating 20% growth between 2016 and 2026. The projected increase in jobs, driven in part by the heightened focus on integrated care, creates strong job prospects for MFTs in the next decade. In addition, the field has seen increased acceptance in the culture as a whole, resulting in an uptick in people seeking out treatment from MFTs as the practice becomes more widely adopted.
At a minimum, MFTs must possess a master’s degree in psychology, marriage and family therapy, or a related mental health field, from an accredited program. Master’s applicants must have a bachelor’s degree, but most fields are acceptable for entrance. The AAMFT states that an estimated 30% of MFTs hold a doctoral degree. MFTs are required in all states to be licensed. In addition to a master’s degree minimum, therapists complete 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience through internship or residency, where they partner with a licensed counselor to practice providing therapeutic intervention, including family therapy, group therapy, psychotherapy.
While requirements differ by state, professionals should expect to pass a licensing exam, like the Examination Advisory Committee of the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) and Professional Examination Services.
With treatment centered in the unit of family, marriage and family therapists apply treatment in the context of a set of relationships. As a result, interpersonal skills are a key skill for this profession, to establish good relationships with both their clients and other medical professionals also involved in treatment. Related, MFTs must also have strong listening skills, to accurately understand their patients’ problems, desires, and situations. Then, MFTs must possess strong speaking skills to relay information to their patients as well as any other medical professionals who may be involved in a case. Because MFTs often work with people in stressful or adverse circumstances, compassion is another valuable skill. Finally, since many MFTs operate private practices, organizational skills are important to manage the business aspect, including invoice processing and insurance requirements.