Family Therapist Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

About this article
A family therapist's median salary is about $48,040, but is it worth the lengthy education and licensing requirements? Read real job descriptions and find out the truth about career prospects to decide if becoming a family therapist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Family Therapist Career

As a family therapist, you'll counsel families, couples and individuals. Find out more about this career by reviewing the pros and cons below.

Pros of a Family Therapist Career
Jobs for marriage and family therapists are expected to grow much faster than average (31% from 2012-2022)*
Higher-than-average salary ($48,040 median salary in 2014)*
Family therapists have the flexibility to work for a variety of employers or start their own practice*
Helping people solve mental and emotional problems can be fulfilling**

Cons of a Family Therapist Career
A master's degree in counseling or marriage and family therapy is required*
Many family therapists work irregular hours to accommodate their clients*
State license required*
Dealing with patients' problems can be stressful**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ** O*NET OnLine.

Career Info

Job Description

Family therapists, or marriage and family therapists (MFTs), work with couples and family units struggling with issues such as depression, addiction, marital or child-parent issues, low self-esteem and stress. You'll focus on broader relationship contexts even when counseling individual family members, as well as set therapeutic end goals. Depending on your employer, you may counsel clients in an office, a hospital, a residential treatment center or a patient's home.

Salary and Outlook

The BLS stated that marriage and family therapists made a median salary of $48,040 in 2014. The lowest 10% made approximately $30,000 or less in 2014; in the same year, the top 10% earned around $78,000 or more. Employment of MFTs is projected to grow by a much-faster-than-average 31% over the 2012-2022 decade because insurance companies are increasingly likely to provide for mental health and family counseling. Additionally, there is an upward trend in people seeking professional help for emotional problems.

What Are the Requirements?

Education and Licensing Information

You will be required to hold a master's degree in marriage and family therapy, psychology, social work or counseling. Most master's degree programs related to counseling include clinical internships, which typically include 2,000-4,000 hours of experience working with clients. Organizational, listening and interpersonal skills are required for this profession.

Licensing requirements vary from state to state, but many states will require you to pass an exam and take continuing education courses. The Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) administers a standardized licensing examination consisting of multiple-choice questions covering areas including client assessment, intervention implementation, therapeutic process evaluation and professional ethical codes.

What Do Employers Look For?

Employers want licensed therapists with previous experience working with the issues specific to the type of employer. For example, if your employer is a substance abuse center, you may be required to have previous experience working with people struggling with related addictions. For more of an idea of what employers seek in candidates, take a look at these real job postings from March 2012:

  • In Georgia, a juvenile court advertised for a family therapist to evaluate and make recommendations to families involved in court cases. The employer preferred bilingual (Spanish) applicants.
  • A drug and alcohol outreach project in New York was looking for a family therapist to counsel adolescent addicts and their families. Qualifications included experience working with teens and addicts.
  • A substance abuse center in Massachusetts advertised for a family therapist with at least three years of experience treating families for domestic violence, mental health and substance abuse.
  • A Colorado residential treatment center wanted a bilingual family therapist with a master's degree and one year of experience.
  • In Massachusetts, a mental health clinic was looking for a family therapist to provide clinic and home-based care to children aged 3-19 and their families. Requirements included a master's degree in psychology or social work and previous experience working with children, teens and families with clinical issues, such as mental illness, retardation and traumatic brain injury.

How to Stand Out in the Field

To make yourself stand out as a family therapist, you can obtain voluntary certification through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), which offers the basic National Certified Counselor (NCC) designation. Eligibility requirements include a master's degree, a passing score on the National Counselor Exam and 3,000 hours of supervised counseling experience. NBCC also offers specialized certifications in clinical mental health, addiction and school counseling to those already certified as an NCC.

Alternative Career Paths

Clinical Psychologist

If you're interested in seeking a possibly higher salary, clinical psychologists also provide psychotherapy to individuals and families and, along with counseling and school psychologists, earned a median salary of about $68,000 in 2011, according to BLS. They assess and diagnose patients, providing treatment to address emotional, behavioral and other issues. Note that clinical psychologists usually hold a doctoral degree in the field. Jobs for psychologists as a whole are expected to grow faster than average, 22% from 2010-2020.

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor

If you'd like to consider a related profession that might require less in the way of educational preparation, you could look into becoming a substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor. These counselors work with addicts, creating drug treatment and behavior modification plans. Educational requirements vary from state to state and may be as minimal as a high school diploma or as extensive as a master's degree. The BLS stated that substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors made a median salary of around $39,000 in 2011 and had a predicted job increase of 27% between 2010 and 2020.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Regent University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - Marriage & Family Ministry
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - Grief Counseling
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - Human Services Counseling
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - International
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - Research Concentration
    Master's
      • M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Walden University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PhD in Clinical Psychology - General
      • PhD in Clinical Psychology - Health Psychology
      • PhD in Clinical Psychology - Teaching Psychology
      • PhD in Clinical Psychology - Forensic Psychology
      • PhD in Clinical Psychology - Industrial & Organizational Psychology
      • PhD in Forensic Psychology - Criminal Justice
    Master's
      • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Addiction Counseling
      • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Forensic Counseling
      • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - General Program
      • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Military Families & Culture
      • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Trauma & Crisis Counseling
      • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Marriage, Couple & Family Counseling
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Liberty University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PHD: Counselor Education and Supervision
      • EDD: Community Care & Counseling: Marriage and Family
      • EDD: Community Care & Counseling: Traumatology
    Master's
      • MA: Marriage and Family Therapy
      • MA: Professional Counseling
      • MA: Pastoral Counseling: Community Chaplaincy
      • MA: Pastoral Counseling: Theology
      • MS: Criminal Justice: Forensic Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Colorado Christian University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Counseling, M.A.
      • Counseling, M.A. Online
    Bachelor's
      • B.S. Applied Psychology: Clinical Counseling
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Therapy with Military Families
      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - General
      • DMFT - Child & Adolescent Therapy
      • DMFT - Couple Therapy
      • DMFT - General Family Therapy
      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Couple Therapy
    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Marriage & Family Therapy in General Family Therapy
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master in Christian Counseling of Substance Use & Addictive Disorders
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Saybrook University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision.
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
      • Master: Psychology/Addictions
      • MS in Nursing
      • MS in Educational Psychology
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Psychology in Addictions
    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate in Addictions
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • HS Diploma

Featured Schools

Regent University

  • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - Marriage & Family Ministry
  • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies
  • M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

What is your highest level of education completed?

Walden University

  • PhD in Clinical Psychology - General
  • PhD in Clinical Psychology - Health Psychology
  • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Addiction Counseling
  • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Forensic Counseling

What is your highest level of education completed?

Liberty University

  • PHD: Counselor Education and Supervision
  • EDD: Community Care & Counseling: Marriage and Family
  • MA: Marriage and Family Therapy
  • MA: Professional Counseling

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Christian University

  • Counseling, M.A.
  • Counseling, M.A. Online
  • B.S. Applied Psychology: Clinical Counseling

What is your highest level of education completed?

Northcentral University

  • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Therapy with Military Families
  • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - General
  • Master of Arts in Marriage & Family Therapy in General Family Therapy

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • Master in Christian Counseling of Substance Use & Addictive Disorders

What is your highest level of education?

Saybrook University

  • Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision.

What is your highest level of education completed?

Purdue University Global

  • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
  • BS in Psychology in Addictions
  • Graduate Certificate in Addictions

Which subject are you interested in?