Similar Titles

Marriage and Family Counselor, Clinical Social Worker, Clinical Therapist, Mental Health Therapist

Job Description

Marriage and family therapists work with individuals, couples, and families to help promote mental and emotional health. They bring a family-centered perspective to treatment, even when treating individuals.

Rewarding Aspects of Career

"Many times, individuals come into therapy as a last resort. Marriage and family therapists have the rewarding job of helping clients who are struggling with issues such as family dysfunction, self-harm, and relational problems.  The therapeutic relationship becomes one in which individuals can work through their deep pain and fight for their relationships with others. As a therapist, you get to help shed light on their hope, their areas of strength, and make them aware of the potential that still lies in their life. Its rewarding because as devastating as some clients stories are, you often have the privilege of watching people live more fulfilling lives with healthier and authentic relationships.” Jenna Stauffer, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

The Inside Scoop
Day in the Life

NOTE: Every day varies based on the client and their needs, some therapist work evenings and weekends to best fit their clients schedules.

  • Typically works an 8 hour day,
  • 2/3 of the day is filled with client sessions and 1/3 of the day is filled with paperwork.
  • Typically sees 3-4 clients, 1-hour session per client.
  • 30-60 minutes of paperwork per client regarding but not limited to:
    • Assessment of their progress and current issues
    • Treatment plans (diagnoses and goals)
    • Giving clients referrals and resources
  • If in a child or school setting, therapists provide holistic services and care that means they build relationships with the people that surround their patient (parents, counselors, and teachers).
Skills Needed on the Job
  • Listening skills
  • Perceptiveness
  • Decision-making skills
  • Communication skills
  • Empathy/non-judgmental outlook
  • Compassion
Job Responsibilities
  • Evaluates family roles, patterns, history and development in order to gather information about how one is impacted by their family in order to and to help bring healing into their personal lives.  Treats the clients’ relationships, and not just the clients themselves.
  • Understands that the people in the “family system” (spouses, significant others, children and parents) all have an impact on one’s mental health.
  • Diagnoses and treats mental and emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression.
  • Encourages clients to discuss their emotions and experiences.
  • Helps clients process their reactions and adjust to changes in their life, such as divorce or layoffs,
  • Guides clients through the process of making decisions about their future.
  • Helps clients develop strategies and skills to change their behavior or cope with difficult situations.
  • Coordinates treatment with other professionals, such as psychiatrists and social workers.
  • Refers clients to other resources or services in the community, such as support groups or inpatient treatment facilities.
  • Addresses a wide variety of issues such as low self-esteem, stress, addiction and substance abuse.
Organization Types
  • Religious institutions
  • Educational institutes: middle school, high school, university, etc.
  • County mental health facility
  • Addiction/rehab facility
  • Private practice
  • Hospital
  • Homeless shelters
  • Non-profit organizations
Expectations/Sacrifices Necessary
  • Paperwork: With every client you are working with, there is an extensive amount of paper work. A therapist would prefer to spend their time investing in the client but paperwork is just as important in order to document their history and track their progress or lack of progress.
  • It personally affects you: Therapy is a 100% emotional job, both during your education and once you are a licensed practicing therapist. As you are assisting people with their own issues and dysfunctions you are simultaneously shining a light on your own past or present issues and dysfunctions. This is called “counter transference”, there isn’t necessarily a way to prevent it, it is mainly important to be aware that it will happen and learn how you as an individual best deal with your issues that surface.
  • Take care of yourself: Every day you are investing everything you have to give to your client. You need to learn to balance your emotional capacity. “Self Care” is extremely important in the mental health care field. If a therapist isn’t taking care of his/herself than they can’t assist others in taking care of themselves. When dealing with clients in difficult situations mentally or physically, it is only natural for a therapist to carry some burdens with them. It is important to learn how to compartmentalize to an extent, leaving work at work in order for the therapists to maintain a healthy relationship with their own family and friends.
2016 Employment
2026 Projected Employment
Education Needed
  • Marriage and Family Therapists must have a master’s degree related to their work, such as a Master of Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) or Psychology
  • Many majored in psychology as undergraduates, though that is not required as long as you can complete sufficient prerequisites to be accepted into a graduate program
    • Look for programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs, the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education, or the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council
  • After graduation, prospective Marriage and Family Therapists perform supervised work via internships or residencies
  • Every state requires Marriage and Family Therapists to obtain a license
    • Licensure requirements include holding a master’s, finishing 2,000 - 4,000 of supervised hours of clinical work, passing a licensure exam, and completing continuing education
    • The Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards lists detailed licensure and exam information
  • Common core courses include lots of psychology, such as General Psychology, Statistical Reasoning in Psychology, Biological Foundations of Psychology, and Theories of Personality
  • Graduate courses may include Life Span Development and Long-Term Care, Couples’ Counseling and Domestic Violence, and Theory and Practice of Marital/Family Therapy
  • Workers may add speciality certifications such as:
    • Board Certified Specialist in Couple and Family Psychology
    • Certification in Cognitive Therapy
    • Certified Addiction Specialist    
    • Certified Sex Therapist Supervisor
Things to look for in a program
  • Small classes: “As you are learning about therapy you go through so much inner personal reflection on your own life (past and current issues). I found that a smaller setting made it easier to go through my own processing while also learning how to best treat others.” Jenna Stauffer, Licensed Marriage Therapist
  • If you are religious, look for an institution that integrates religion with psychology such as Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA.
Things to do in High School and College
  • Depth and breadth courses in psychology are crucial for this career field
  • Students must also build strong communications skills such as English, writing, and speaking, as well as interpersonal skills like listening, teaching, negotiating, and conflict resolution
  • Volunteer with local social welfare organizations to see gain exposure to real-world family problems and their consequences  
  • Think about your long-term plans and where you might want to work. Most Marriage and Family Therapists are employed by either hospitals, mental health or substance abuse treatment centers, or outpatient care centers. However, 15% are self-employed and 6% work for government agencies
    • If you plan to be self-employed, you’ll want to learn about accounting software, marketing and advertising, and social media platforms, too
  • Join professional organizations to stay up-to-date and grow your network
  • Get published in magazines or on websites to grow your reputation
Education Stats
  • 6.6% with HS Diploma
  • 5.7% with Associate’s
  • 25.2% with Bachelor’s
  • 45.9% with Master’s
  • 4.6% with Doctoral
How to Land your 1st job
  • Consider where you want to live and work. Marriage and Family Therapists work in every state, but the highest employment levels are in California, New Jersey, Illinois, Minnesota, and Florida
    • Note, the top paying states are Utah, New Jersey, Colorado, Minnesota, and Nevada
  • Work hard during your Marriage and Family Therapist internship! Maybe it’ll lead to a full-time position afterwards
  • Visit the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards website to ensure you’ve met all state licensure criteria. Contact your state board for changes regarding licensing
  • Understand the various teletherapy guidelines that apply in your field
  • Stay in touch with former teachers, supervisors, and colleagues who can serve as professional references
  • Set up profiles on job portals such as Indeed, Glassdoor, and Zippia to get notified of openings. Don’t forget, LinkedIn is also a great way to find opportunities
  • Think about which type of organization you want to work for, or if you want to open your own practice
  • Stay engaged with national organizations (see Recommended Resources > Websites). Go to conferences, give lectures, and build your network
  • Scan job posts for keywords and skills needed, then tailor your resume accordingly for each job you apply to
  • Review Marriage and Family Therapist resume templates
  • Study Marriage and Family Therapist interview questions to prep for tough interviews!
How to stay competitive and stay in the game
  • Find a specialty: While you are in school or getting your hours you should work in many areas of mental health to learn what specialty fits you best:
    • Trauma
    • Eating disorders
    • Addictions
    • Anxiety
    • Mood disorders: depression, anxiety, bi-polar
  • Continuing Education: Therapy is a field that requires a lot of continuing education to maintain the license. People are ever changing and new forms of therapy are constantly being developed.
  • Go to trainings, seminars and read new literature.
What to look for in a mentor
  • Someone successful not only therapy but in the specific type of therapy you plan on practicing in. For example - If you are interested in trauma counseling, find someone in that field. If you want to work in a high school, find someone who worked with children.
  • Someone who has maintained a love for their work since it is so easy to get burnt out in.
  • Find a mentor who has a similar belief system as you: religious beliefs, holistic beliefs, or moral standards.
Recommended Tools/Resources


  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
  • American Counseling Association
  • American Family Therapy Academy
  • American Psychological Association
  • Association for Addiction Professionals
  • Association for Community Organization and Social Action
  • Association for Play Therapy
  • Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards
  • Association of Social Work Boards
  • Council on Social Work Education
  • EMDR International Association
  • National Association of Social Workers


Plan B

Alternate careers

  • Clinical psychologist
  • Any job in social services/social work
  • Life coach
  • Working in Church/Ministry staff
  • Human Resources
  • Education
    • Psychology professor
    •  Guidance counselor
Words of Advice

“Bottom line, you must love people and learning because you will invest years of your life to school and thousands of dollars to your education. The devastating stories you will hear on a daily basis will wear on you so heavily, but if at the root of it all is a love and desire to help people see hope, that is what will keep you moving and make it all worth it.” Jenna Stauffer, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist


Online Courses and Tools