There are numerous reasons people seek a marriage and family therapist. Among them are improving their family relationships or communication skills, learning conflict resolution strategies, or managing emotional struggles just to name a few. Marriage and family therapists can use their compassion, training, and skills to help clients with these issues and make a lasting, positive impact on a couple or family unit. Let’s explore the pros and cons of being a marriage and family therapist, what they do, and why they are necessary to help build a stronger society.
A licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT) provides couples counseling and family counseling to offer guidance, education, and facilitation in improving relationships. They are similar to a licensed professional counselor but there are differences you should explore if you’re trying to choose between these two career paths (LPC vs LMFT).
MFTs are trained to work with many kinds of family systems including traditional two-parent families, single-parent families, extended and blended families, and heterosexual and same-sex couple relationships. Marriage and family therapists may also provide premarital counseling or work with divorced parents who need help with co-parenting, intergenerational families, and foster or adoptive families. Cases that involve the disabled, the elderly, or youth groups may require the help of a social worker instead of or in addition to an MFT. If helping more vulnerable populations interests you, explore the differences between earning an MFT vs MSW.
After an initial assessment and diagnosis, MFTs conduct therapy sessions to address specific areas of concern using various methodologies to find the best solutions for each client. In some cases, they may recommend individual therapy sessions in addition to couple or family sessions.
Typically, MFTs use cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to explore the root causes of mental health issues and develop effective tools and practices that clients can use in their daily lives to make improvements. MFTs may also use emotion-focused therapy (EFT) to identify and overcome destructive patterns and behaviors in a relationship or narrative therapy which involves both partners describing their relationship problems in narrative form, then rewriting their stories to help them gain a comprehensive picture of their shared experience.1
Why are MFTs Important?
Mental Health America (MHA) is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting overall mental health for everyone. Their recent report on the state of mental health in 2023 stated that there are currently 350 individuals for every available mental health provider.2
It is clear that we are experiencing a profound mental health crisis, and the need for qualified, dedicated mental health professionals is at an all-time high. While mental health problems have always existed, four recent factors have played a major role in this current crisis:
- Social media use: Research has shown that too much time spent on social media can cause anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and other negative effects on mental health.
- The COVID-19 pandemic: The global pandemic drove an increase in mental health problems related to the death of loved ones, financial stress, and increased anxiety over feeling a profound loss of control.
- Increased isolation and loneliness: Isolation and loneliness were concerns before 2020, but the pandemic exacerbated these conditions for people of all ages, races, populations, and socio-economic backgrounds.
- Lack of access to mental health care: Mental health is intrinsically linked to physical health and should be accessible to all who need it. Sadly, the lack of affordable mental health care, insurance coverage for these services, and access to available therapists can be tremendous obstacles to getting help.3
How does this relate to being a marriage and family therapist? MFTs help create healthy relationships and family units which are the foundations for building a strong, stable society. When families and relationships are healthier and more productive, people can make positive contributions to their communities, workplaces, and schools. Additionally, MFTs can instill positive attitudes about mental health to help remove any shame or stigma about seeking treatment, which can also benefit society.
Understanding the Pros and Cons of Being an MFT
It’s important to understand the pros and cons of being a marriage and family therapist before you embark on this career path. One benefit is the chance to witness positive results in clients over time and empower them to grow and overcome challenges. Perhaps the most impactful reward is knowing the positive and lasting effect you have on these clients will not only strengthen their existing relationships but their future ones, too. MFTs can help parents break negative family cycles they inherited to avoid passing them on to their children. They help couples heal from past relationship challenges to create a healthy partnership moving forward. And children who work with an MFT can learn positive skills and behaviors to use as adults with their own families and responsibilities in society.
For MFTs who are in private practice, it can be a challenge to build client bases, navigate insurance processes, maintain a work-life balance, and stay ahead of evolving trends in the MFT field. Maintaining supportive relationships with other professionals in the field or seeking help from a therapist who truly understands their work can help alleviate these challenges. Belonging to professional organizations, having outside interests, and celebrating successes can help MFTs during times of high stress or a lack of momentum. Additionally, hiring administrative support or using a virtual assistant service can help an MFT with administrative tasks so they can focus on their clients.
As with any role in the mental health field, the emotional toll on a therapist’s well-being can be a challenge. It takes an enormous amount of resilience to avoid burnout and maintain patience and empathy with each client. The good news is that MFTs are already trained in techniques to recognize and address these challenges provided they treat themselves with the same boundaries and self-care practices they prescribe to their clients.
The Pros of a Marriage and Family Therapy Career
Those seeking an MFT career will likely find many job opportunities to suit their personal and professional goals. The diversity of family structures in modern society will require therapists who specialize in helping unique family dynamics and adapt to ever-changing family units in the future. You’ll be providing invaluable mental health counseling to these populations and helping to build functional, stable families of all kinds.
MFTs also have the flexibility to work in various settings which include private practices, mental health clinics, hospitals, community organizations, and schools. This allows professionals to tailor a career to their interests and passions. The recent rise of remote apps and services allows MFTs more flexibility and provides greater accessibility of online therapy to a larger client base.
MFTs learn transferrable skills that can be applied to other specialties and provide career diversification. Their communication and listening skills can be used in human resources or coaching roles and their unique training in conflict resolution makes MFTs well-suited for positions that require mediation, negotiation, and problem-solving. Today’s MFTs are also trained in cultural competence, sensitivity, and empathy which are increasing skill sets in almost every field. With their assessment, evaluation, advocacy, and collaboration skills, many MFTs move into roles as professors or administrators in higher education where they can help shape future generations of therapists.
Overcoming the Challenges of Being an MFT
The primary challenge to being a marriage and family therapist is the time and resources it takes to pursue an education for this career. A master's degree in MFT requires a minimum of 2-3 years and many MFTs pursue a doctoral degree (3-5 years) to further develop their training and expertise. A period of post-degree supervised clinical experience is also necessary before licensure or certification. When the supervision period is completed, therapists can take a state licensing exam or the national examination for marriage and family therapists conducted by the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB).4
While this may seem overwhelming, exploring financial aid options and flexible MFT degree programs like the one offered by Alliant International University can help make this process easier.
Additional challenges may arise for MFTs working on more complex cases such as:
- clients with multiple mental health issues.
- crises and trauma such as domestic violence or sudden loss.
- legal and ethical considerations related to child custody cases.
- diverse cultural backgrounds which require culturally sensitive approaches.
In all of these cases, specialized training in these areas can empower MFTs to provide the help their clients need. If you have a passion for this work, these challenges may help advance your career by giving you the professional experience and unique skills to become an in-demand marriage and family therapist.
MFT Programs at Alliant: Your Path to Success
If you’re still interested in becoming a marriage and family therapist, the California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP) at Alliant has been training mental health professionals for over 50 years. Our accredited programs, esteemed faculty who are also practitioners, and our inclusive community are many reasons why students pursue a marital and family therapy degree at CSPP.
The flexibility of our online programs allows candidates to keep working while they earn their MFT degrees. Our on-campus programs provide an immersive environment to earn your M.A. or PsyD degree at our Los Angeles, Irvine, Sacramento, or San Diego campuses. Both programs are designed to pair scholarship with hands-on practice and are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). At CSPP, we train you to become agents of change in the fields of psychology and family science and to assist diverse individuals, couples, and families regardless of their structure or circumstance.
Choosing a career as a marriage and family therapist offers a unique blend of rewards and challenges, but for those who are passionate about this work, the pros may outweigh the cons. MFTs serve as guides, educators, and facilitators who empower individuals and families to navigate the complexities of human connection. Their work is vital to support the fabric of our society and lay the foundation for lasting, positive change that ripples through the lives of those they treat.
- Meaghan R. Couples Therapy Techniques: Therapy Approaches & Exercises. Talkspace. Published November 19, 2021. Accessed November 20, 2023. https://www.talkspace.com/blog/couples-therapy-techniques/
- Reinert, M, Fritze, D. & Nguyen, T. The State of Mental Health in America 2023. Mental Health America, Alexandria VA. Published October 2022. Accessed November 20, 2023. https://mhanational.org/sites/default/files/2023-State-of-Mental-Health…;
- Amanda M. 4 Possible Reasons Why Mental Health Is Getting Worse. Health.com. Published August 21, 2023. Accessed November 20, 2023. https://www.health.com/condition/depression/8-million-americans-psychol…;
- AAMFT. About Marriage and Family Therapists. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Published 2022. Accessed November 20, 2023. https://www.aamft.org/About_AAMFT/About_Marriage_and_Family_Therapists…;