How Long Does It Take To Become a Marriage and Family Therapist?
Even the strongest family units may benefit from counseling as a useful tool in maintaining their emotional health, resolving conflicts, and forming stronger bonds. A qualified marriage and family therapist will be able to attend to their needs.
What are Marriage and Family Therapists?
The job description of a marriage and family therapist is to help mend couples and families with various problems, such as depression, marital problems, and parent-child relationships. To earn your stripes as a licensed marriage and family therapist, you need both a bachelor's degree and master's degree, required hours of clinical experience, and passed a licensure exam. More so, after getting your license, you still have the option of continuing education. Continuing education can support you in your career considering the marriage family therapist field is constantly evolving, so continuing your therapy education can help broaden your practice.
So how long does it take to become a marriage and family therapist?
From the moment you begin your post-secondary education to the moment you receive a license is likely to be around ten years. This includes a four-year bachelor’s degree, a two- to three-year master’s program, including clinical hours, plus additional practical hours to acquire a license.1 This guide will explain the usual process and give a brief marriage and family therapist job description so you can better decide if this is the right career path for you.
Becoming a Marriage and Family Therapist: A General Timeline
Each state has specific licensing requirements that vary but there are certain steps that most marriage and family therapists will take, regardless of where they practice:2
- Bachelor’s degree (4 years) – Most family therapists start their educational journey with a bachelor’s degree, usually in a related field such as psychology, social work, or counseling that will focus on relevant, applicable skills.
- Master’s degree (2-3 years) – Many prospective therapists go on to earn a Master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, or a similar program. Most programs will include clinical hours, while some also require a thesis. You’ll want to ensure that your program has been accredited by one of three nationally recognized boards:
- Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)
- Master’s in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC)
- Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
- Master’s alternatives (3+ years) – If you’ve already received a Master’s degree in a different field and are looking to become a marriage and family therapist or you want to advance your studies, you can enter a doctoral program (3+ years) or a post-graduate clinical training program (3+ years). These may also make you eligible for licensing and potential career opportunities in the field.
- Supervised work experience (2 years) – After you complete your educational requirements, you may still need to complete a period of supervised work experience to earn the proper licensure. The requirements differ from state to state (New York, for example, requires 1,500 hours whereas California requires 3,000 hours3). In most states, you can generally expect this period to last around two years.
Once you’ve completed these requirements, you’ll likely be ready to take your state’s licensing exam. However, even after receiving your license, most states require you to complete continuing education courses to learn of any new technologies or advancements in the field.
Marriage and Family Therapy Job Description: What You Can Expect
As you can see from the typical timeline listed above, it can take a long time to become a marriage and family therapist. So, why do it? Many find this to be a rewarding career path, especially solution-oriented individuals.
While it can be stressful to enter into the middle of family strife, it can also be fulfilling to know that you helped people through a difficult time. Unlike some forms of intensive therapy, marriage and family therapy is normally short-term, with most cases averaging only 12 sessions. This is because effective family counseling focuses on finding specific, reasonable solutions that can remedy the pervasive problem, and usually concludes once it’s been solved.
This may make it an appealing career to people who are also solution-oriented and interested in finding workable solutions to the everyday problems people face.
Generally, licensed marriage and family counselors are called upon to deal with:
- Communication issues, either between partners or other family members
- Extramarital affairs, and how to move forward from that breach of trust
- Coping strategies in the face of tragedy or significant life changes such as divorce, relocation, or substance abuse difficulties
- Encouraging healthy family dynamics and problem-solving skills
- Behavioral problems, such as rebellious youth
Marriage and Family Therapy at Alliant
At Alliant International University’s California School of Professional Psychology, we offer both MA and PsyD programs in Marital and Family Therapy. Both programs are accredited by COAMFTE and offer flexible class schedules and online offerings. If you’re interested in becoming a marriage and family therapist, the programs at Alliant may be the right next step for you.
- “About Marriage and Family Therapists.” American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. https://www.aamft.org/About_AAMFT/About_Marriage_and_Family_Therapists…. Accessed: January 5, 2022.
- “State Licensure Comparison.” Association of Marital & Family Therapy Regulation Boards. https://amftrb.org/resources/state-licensure-comparison/. Accessed: January 5, 2022.
- U.S. News Staff. “Online Master's Degree in Family Counseling.” U.S. News & World Report. U.S. News & World Report. https://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/family-counseling-mas…. Accessed: January 5, 2022.