What Is a Marriage and Family Therapist?

Family in a therapy session
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Couples and families face unique problems, which is why they often seek out help from marriage and family therapists. These professionals are trained to deal specifically with interpersonal issues that arise in individuals, couples, families, and groups.

Professionals who work in this field often use a variety of psychotherapeutic techniques. They may work with individuals, couples, or families to treat illness, improve communication, and strengthen relationships.

What They Do

Marriage and family therapists assess, diagnose and treat mental illness and psychological distress within the context of the marriage and family systems. They may provide premarital counseling, relationship counseling, child counseling, and separation and divorce counseling.

Some of the typical tasks that a marriage and family therapist might perform on a regular basis include:

  • Diagnosing and treating mental disorders
  • Conducting psychotherapy with individuals, couples, and families
  • Developing treatment plans
  • Helping clients develop new interpersonal communication skills
  • Collecting information about clients through self-report inventories, interviews, observations, discussions, and formal assessments.

If you are considering a career as a marriage and family therapist, it is also important to note that there is more to the job than just conducting therapy. In addition to providing client services, many professionals in the field spend time marketing their services, particularly if they work in private practice.

Completing paperwork and dealing with insurance companies also takes up a significant portion of a therapist's time. When working with a client, therapists need to maintain accurate case progress notes, keep a record of evaluations, and note any recommendations for further treatment.

Conditions They Treat

Marriage and family therapists treat a wide range of issues and conditions. Some of these include:

Marriage and family therapists provide psychotherapy and attend to mental health issues, but they tend to focus more on how family dynamics impact psychological health.

Salaries

As of May 2020, the median annual salary for marriage and family therapists was $51,340. Salaries can vary depending on the sector of employment. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the highest paying industries for this profession include:

  • State government: $78,010 (mean annual wage)
  • Medical and surgical hospitals: $71,110
  • Management: $69,870
  • Outpatient care centers: $62,740
  • Local government: $62,390

Where They Work

Family therapists work in a range of employment areas including outpatient care centers, individual and family services, local and state governments, and the offices of other healthcare providers. Other common work settings include private practices, inpatient mental health facilities, schools, universities, and health clinics.

Since marriage and family therapists often have to adapt to their clients' schedules, working evening and weekend hours is not uncommon.

Training and Educational Requirements

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) suggests that the minimum training to become a marriage and family therapist includes a master's degree plus two years of supervised clinical experience. After completing these educational requirements, therapists must also pass state licensing exams.

In addition to the basic training and educational requirements, it is important for professionals to have the characteristics that will allow them to succeed in the job.

  • Interpersonal skills: Compassion and empathy are vital. Marriage and family therapists should be good at listening to their clients.
  • Problem-solving abilities: Marriage and family therapists need to be able to deal with complex problems and come up with effective solutions.
  • Ability to build trust: Therapists need to help their clients feel able to trust and share their innermost thoughts and feelings.
  • Organizational skills: They also need to be able to keep track of case notes and other paperwork and manage billing and insurance claims, which is why organizational abilities are essential.
  • Communication skills: Marriage and family therapists also collaborate with others including family members and healthcare professionals, so strong communication skills are a must.

Comfort with different technologies can also be helpful. Marriage and family therapists often use a range of technology tools including video conferencing, accounting software, multi-line telephone systems, spreadsheet software, email, and medical software.

The increased use of online therapy has also made it more important to be comfortable using technology to deliver treatment.

Job Outlook

The Occupational Outlook Handbook projects that the employment of marriage and family therapists will grow by 22% between the years 2019 and 2029, a rate that is much faster than the average for all other occupations.

The growth of the professions is expected to be driven by an increased need for specialists working in integrated care. Integrated care involves the coordination of multiple professionals—including doctors and substance abuse counselors—to address an individual's mental health needs.

A Word From Verywell

Marriage and family therapists play an important role in mental health. The American Association of Marriage for Marriage and Family Therapy reports that nearly 90% of people who receive marriage and family therapy report improvements in their emotional health. If you are interested in becoming a marriage and family therapist, speak to an academic counselor about your educational options and check the licensure requirements in your state.

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5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Wetchler JL, Hecker LL. An Introduction to Marriage and Family Therapy. Routledge; 2015.

  2. Metcalf L. Marriage and Family Therapy : A Practice-Oriented Approach. Springer Publishing Company, Llc; 2019.

  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational employment and wages, May 2020: 21-1013 marriage and family therapists. Updated March 31, 2021.

  4. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. About marriage and family therapists.

  5. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Marriage and family therapists: job outlook. Updated April 9, 2021.