PsyD Marital and Family Career Paths
Choosing an area of specialization in psychology isn’t always easy, but Marriage and Family Therapy is one of many versatile career options for psychologists in the making. Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) are specially-trained to counsel couples (married or unmarried) and their families, and they can diagnose and treat a variety of mental health issues.1
That said, patients don’t just encounter MFTs in private practice or medical settings—the growing awareness and importance of mental health care has increased the presence of MFTs in various industries, making it one of the fastest-growing careers in the United States.2
If you’re interested in a career in Marriage and Family Therapy, there are numerous career opportunities in a variety of sectors, not just in healthcare. In this article, we’ll explore the role of MFTs in private practice, schools, the military, and more.
One of the most common MFT career paths is working in private practice. Private practice provides countless options for structuring work and patient treatments, including:
- MFTs can establish their own private practices and see individual or group patients exclusively in an office setting.
- After licensing, MFTs can join an existing private practice group with one or more other providers.
- MFTs can combine private practice with another career path, such as Social Service Agency work or Addiction Treatment, splitting their time between two or more settings.
- Private practices can maintain close relationships with a school, government agency, or company and exclusively treat patients referred from these organizations.
There isn’t one right way to do private practice, and this MFT career path could deliver the versatility you’re craving.
MFTs play a role in the education system from top to bottom. While providers treat family and child-related conflicts in these settings, their training in family structure is particularly relevant to academic environments, where adults and children alike frequently must cooperate in group settings.
If your impression of school MFTs begins and ends with elementary school guidance counselors, consider some other school-based career paths for MFTs:
- MFTs treat children and their families at all levels of the K-12 spectrum.
- MFTs can direct or organize therapy services throughout the education system at large.
- Colleges and universities often have an MFT on staff to counsel students and their parents.
- MFTs can teach psychology at the K-12 or collegiate level, or even provide mental health training to other academic employees.
- MFTs conduct research at colleges and universities.
The career options for MFTs in education are numerous, multifaceted, and could even be combined with another MFT career, like private practice.
Inpatient and Outpatient Care
Inpatient and outpatient care centers offer opportunities for jobs to MFTs. MFTs in these settings sometimes strictly perform clinical duties, but their roles often also integrate administrative, liaison, or case management work.
In both inpatient and outpatient scenarios, MFTs can counsel children, their families, and their elderly relatives during turbulent medical crises. While they’re often on care teams for emergency mental health treatment, MFTs can also counsel families who don’t enter the healthcare system for a mental health-related issue.
For instance, hospitals often assign MFTs to cases of long-term inpatient care of children, parents, or the elderly. MFTs help family members adjust to the hospital environment, assist in distributing responsibilities among family members while someone is hospitalized, and serve as a sounding board for grief and emotional distress.
In inpatient and outpatient care centers, MFTs treat patients, patients’ families, or sometimes both.
Nursing Homes and Long-Term Care Facilities
Nursing homes, assisted living communities, and other long-term care centers often hire MFTs to treat residents’ and their families’ mental health concerns, but they can also perform other crucial services in this setting:
- MFTs counsel couples living in long-term care facilities together.
- They provide organized emotional support and conflict resolution to facility staff through group therapy or one-on-one sessions.
- They’re on-call if a patient, a patient’s visiting relative, or a staff member experiences a mental health emergency in the facility.
If you’re an MFT in the making and you like the idea of working in a long-term care facility, but didn’t plan on specializing in geriatric care, keep in mind that long-term care facilities come in all shapes and sizes and serve a variety of populations. MFTs, for instance, can also work in group homes for disabled children and adults.
Churches and Religious Settings
MFTs are particularly useful in churches, seminaries, and other religious organizations. Places of worship often cater to families, and religious communities aren’t exempt from family conflict. MFTs counsel families experiencing conflict in their faith community, provide emotional support for children in religious youth programs, and treat clergy in turmoil.
In devout religious communities, clergy often recommend engaged couples to partake in marital counseling before tying the knot. MFTs can provide this service on their own or team up with church leadership to counsel soon-to-be newlyweds.
MFTs also work in seminaries and other religious education programs, counseling the theologians of tomorrow. Just like pursuing a degree at a college or university, pursuing the cloth is an academically rigorous, emotional experience, and MFTs help support students throughout their time in religious training.
The Military and Veterans Affairs
The US military and the VA often provide counseling to active-duty soldiers, veterans, and their families. MFTs in the military treat so much more than post-traumatic stress disorder:
- MFTs counsel military families living on bases.
- MFTs help recently-discharged veterans reacclimate to civilian life.
- MFTs provide support to families of wounded or hospitalized soldiers.
Providing mental health care to military members and their families requires specialized training and familiarity with military structures, histories, and social cultures. MFTs with military experience are a particularly vital resource for bases and VA facilities alike, but current PsyD students with a special interest in history or military culture may find their calling in military-adjacent roles.
Social Service Agencies
One of the most common MFT career paths is employment with a non-profit, for-profit, or governmental agency providing social services to children, their families, and the elderly. Some of these organizations include:
- State foster care and adoption systems
- Child Protective Services and similar organizations
- Organizations that deliver meals to low-income families, like Meals on Wheels
- Municipal community services, like senior centers
- Organizations providing free transportation to the elderly and people with disabilities
- Public libraries
- Legal aid organizations
- Local health departments
As mental health awareness and education gains increasing cultural importance, social services agencies are beginning to recognize the need for qualified mental health staff in their operational structures. Families requiring low- or no-cost meal delivery, for instance, should also have access to mental health care during financial crises and other turbulent periods.
As more and more social service agencies add mental health treatment to their slates of services, MFTs will develop an increasingly strong presence in these organizations.
Addiction Treatment Centers
Substance abuse and addiction treatment patients wouldn’t thrive without support from licensed mental health staff like MFTs. Treatment centers hire MFTs to contribute positively to patient outcomes in a variety of ways, like:
- Pinpointing contributing factors to addictive behaviors
- Creating and adjusting treatment plans
- Liaising with and counseling families of addicts
- Finding and establishing a healthy support system outside of the facility
- Leading group or individual counseling sessions
- Providing emotional support to treatment center staff
Poor mental health and substance abuse often go hand-in-hand. In an addiction treatment center, it’s often an MFT’s job to untangle addictive behaviors and coping mechanisms to provide patients with mental health care strategies that don’t rely upon addictive substances.
MFTs may choose to specialize in addiction treatment during their education or pursue a certificate program after graduation to gain insight into addiction treatment.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) come in all shapes and sizes, and MFTs make excellent candidates for EAP teams. EAPs are typically companies hired by an employer to provide:
- Conflict resolution between employees
- Support for employees’ emotional struggles or personal issues
- Short-term counseling
- Referrals or recommendations for additional treatment services
- Change management strategies for workplace cultures
Employers generally use EAPs to promote employee well-being, physical health, and mental health, contributing to their work performance, collaboration abilities, and productivity.
MFTs can provide the services above and so much more to businesses prioritizing employee health, and, like educational settings, their specialty in interpersonal dynamics makes them particularly useful for workplace-related counseling, where interaction with a team is crucial to success.
Start on Your Marriage and Family Therapy Path with a PsyD from Alliant International University
Marital and Family Therapy career paths are diverse, and MFTs have a role in countless industries. While private practice is one of the most common destinations for newly licensed MFTs, PsyD students should open their minds to the countless other career options for psychologists today.
At Alliant University, we know that MFTs can impact every industry, from academia to religious organizations, and we take pride in educating the next generation of well-rounded, clinically competent psychologists who are ready to find their niche. Our MFT PsyD students encounter rigorous coursework and hands-on training, and they graduate the program ready to seek licensure and make a difference in their communities.
If you’re picturing a mental health career in any of the industries above, explore our psychology programs and apply today.
- Advanced Solutions International, Inc. “About Marriage and Family Therapists.” About marriage and family therapists. AAMFT. Accessed January 4, 2022. https://www.aamft.org/About_AAMFT/About_Marriage_and_Family_Therapists…. Accessed January 4, 2022.
- “Marriage and Family Therapists : Occupational Outlook Handbook.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 8, 2021. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/marriage-and-famil…. Accessed January 4, 2022.