Family Clinician Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a family clinician? Get real job descriptions and salary info to see if becoming a family clinician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Family Clinician Career

Family clinicians, also referred to as marriage and family therapists, are licensed mental health experts who apply psychological techniques, theories and methods to counsel and treat emotionally problematic individuals, marriages and/or families. Take a look at the pros and cons of this career below to determine whether it could be a good path for you.

Pros of a Family Clinician Career
Decent starting salary (mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists earned $41,000 and $48,000, respectively, in 2014)
Strong employment outlook (jobs are expected to grow 29% to 31% percent from 2012-2022)*
Job flexibility (family clinicians may practice in a wide array of professional settings)**
Opportunity for advancement (family clinicians have numerous paths of advancement available to them)***

Cons of a Family Clinician Career
A master's or doctoral degree is usually required*
Must complete clinical requirements and continuing education hours
Licensure is required
Irregular hours (clinicians may need to accommodate to other people's busy and erratic schedules)*
Potentially stressful work environment (dealing with people's personal and family crises everyday can take an emotional toll)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, ***Seton Hall University.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Family clinicians may work with individuals and couples as well as families. They address a range of emotional issues, such as depression, trauma, domestic violence, sexual dissatisfaction, anxiety, parent-child conflict and bereavement. They spend a lot of their time listening to people communicate these problems, facilitating discussions between family members and dispensing advice for their clients to act on. In addition to their strict clinical activities, they also have other functions, such as administering surveys, setting up videotape equipment used to record sessions and organizing case files.

The more specific duties of family clinicians may vary depending on their position, place of employment and specialization. For instance, a family clinician who practices at a facility that's affiliated with a university may be required to teach in addition to carrying out his or her clinical duties. However, all family clinicians, regardless of their professional status, are required to observe strict rules of patient confidentiality.

Job Growth and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for mental health counselors was about $41,000, while for marriage and family therapists it was about $48,000 in 2014. The employment outlook for mental health counselors was projected to grow by 29% percent from 2012-2022, while marriage and family therapists were projected to see 31% growth, both of which were faster than the average for all other professions. This growth is fueled, in part, by mental health counseling being covered in more health insurance policies over the decade.

Career Paths and Specializations

As a family clinician, you may have the opportunity to work in a wide array of different professional settings, including private practices, prisons, social service agencies, schools, community health centers, colleges and universities, research centers and consulting firms. You may also provide an array of services, such as life coaching, group therapy, marriage counseling and treatment planning, in which you could specialize. You could also consider going into teaching and research.

Career Skills and Requirements

Family clinicians are required to hold at least a master's degree in marriage and family therapy or a related field in order to a secure state license, which they must acquire before practicing. You must also have a sufficient amount of supervised clinical experience, which you would typically obtain through a master's degree program. More specific licensure requirements may vary state-by-state; however all states will require that you take a licensing exam.

Useful Skills

The work of family clinicians demands that you possess certain fundamental skills that will help you work with clients, communicate with professional peers, disseminate complex data and translate this data to viable treatment options. Some specific skills that will need include:

  • The ability to observe people and situations
  • The ability to write clearly and concisely
  • The ability to empathize with others
  • The ability to resolve conflicts and disputes
  • The ability to instruct others towards goals

Job Postings from Real Employers

A March 2012 search conducted on revealed that employers were looking for family clinicians and marriage and family therapists with at least a master's degree. Some employers also preferred that candidates have some experience in the service the employer was providing. Here are some actual job postings obtained from that job search:

  • A healthcare facility in Utah advertised for a licensed marriage and family therapist with at least 2 years of experience in mental health services. The successful candidate would facilitate group therapy, maintain medical records and conduct individual therapy sessions.
  • A non-profit organization in Maine was seeking a licensed marriage and family therapist with at least 2 years of experience in child and family social services. The successful applicant would be part of a team of treatment professionals delivering home-based therapy.
  • A Los Angeles mental health facility advertised for a bilingual licensed marriage and family therapist to manage case files, write court reports and conduct group therapy sessions. Applicants were required to have at least 3 years of experience serving Latinos and African-Americans living in poverty.

How to Stand Out

One the most effective ways to enhance your career prospects is by acquiring education. Family clinicians who hold doctoral degrees may have more opportunities than those without them. A doctoral degree would also allow you to pursue teaching and research work in addition to your clinical duties. You may also distinguish yourself by attaining additional certification.

Continuing Education

A Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in marriage and family therapy or a related field will give you the credentials and expertise to conduct advanced research, teach at the university level and take up supervisory positions. A Ph.D. program will also enable you to provide clinical supervision to therapist trainees. As a Ph.D. candidate, you'll be required to pass preliminary examinations, complete a clinical internship and fulfill a number of teaching hours.

Get Certified

Although certification is voluntary, it can provide a considerable boost to your career prospects. There are several professional associations, including the National Board for Certified Counselors and the American Counseling Association, that offer credentials and/or membership opportunities. Not only do certification and professional membership add legitimacy to your resume, they also allow you the opportunity to tap into a network of professional contacts, give you access to resources and literature and offer leadership opportunities among your peers.

Other Careers to Consider

If you may be pondering a career change or reconsidering your family clinician aspirations, there are many careers with similar qualities that may suit your interests. Substance abuse counselors help individuals and families overcome the emotional tolls of addiction. They help people through issues such as gambling, eating disorders and alcohol addiction. Substance abuse counselors may also be called on to administer community outreach programs. The BLS reported that substance abuse counselors earned a median salary of $38,560 in 2011, and jobs were expected to grow 27 percent from 2010-2020.

Another occupation that involves counseling and advising people through tough life periods is school and career counselor. A career counselor helps people who are either unemployed or unsatisfied with their present careers transition into the careers of their choice. They may also seek to alleviate any emotional distress that comes with making career decisions. School counselors work with students in elementary schools, secondary schools and even colleges. Jobs for school and career counselors were expected to grow 19 percent from 2010-2020, according to the BLS.

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