Why become a marriage and family therapist? At the end of the day, your reasons to become an MFT therapist will be unique. Every individual has their own magic mix of drives and rewards. That’s something you learn if you get a marriage and family therapist education, but it’s just as true for you as it is for your clients.
Anyone who enjoys helping other people is probably going to be drawn to a marriage and family therapist career. That’s true about a lot of social and psychological services jobs, though. So what are the reasons to become a marriage and family therapist that are unique to this role?
Well, the truth is there are more than we have room to list! It’s a great profession full of great people and worthwhile jobs. But here are 8 in-depth reasons to become a marriage and family therapist and never look back.
1. Marriage and Family Therapy Offers Personal Fulfillment
Who doesn’t enjoy helping other people? That’s why a lot of folks get into therapy and counseling work in the first place. A marriage and family therapy career doubles down on that satisfaction: you’re helping two or more people in every session!
Of course, numbers aren’t everything when it comes down to personal fulfillment, but here are a couple that should catch your eye if you are considering a career as an MFT therapist: #2 and #20.
That’s where U.S. News & World Report ranks the job in their annual list of the Best Jobs in the United States. MFT therapists rank as the second best position in the social services field, and twentieth overall.
The job gets such high marks partly because a red hot employment market makes it easy to find positions you will enjoy, ensures a high salary, and has strong growth prospects. Those are all things that will contribute to your job satisfaction.
But maybe more important is a very high work-life balance. Many MFT therapists have the option of setting their own hours and choosing the clients they want to work with. You can leave the work at the office at the end of the day, or the middle of the day, or whenever you decide. It’s ideal for anyone with a family of their own.
Why Do You Want to Be a Marriage and Family Therapist?
Figuring out whether or not a career as an MFT therapist is going to be personally fulfilling for you requires figuring out what your own motivations are. Obviously, if you are a loner who hates having conversations with other people, it’s not going to be your dream job.
Although it mirrors other social service work in that the main goal is to improve people’s lives, there are a lot of things that make the job different. Counseling is always a dicey and delicate process, and the difficulty blows up fast when you start involving multiple people.
You have to know your own goals well enough to decide if that is an environment where you will thrive. Many successful MFT therapists get a kind of buzz from bringing people together and helping communications thrive. If that’s your jam, then this is a job you are going to love.
2. Marriage and Family Therapy Offers a Fast-Path Into a Career in Psychology
Becoming a psychologist is a long process. Clinical psychologist licenses in every state require a doctoral degree at a minimum. That will take you at least four years in a bachelor’s program, another six to seven to earn your doctorate, and up to two years of post-doctoral practice before you can start practicing independently.
You can launch a marriage and family therapist career much faster than that, however. Not everyone has the kind of time it takes to become a full-blown clinical psychologist. But for MFT therapists, you can perform a lot of the same kinds of work without that massive time commitment.
The saying that time is money is particularly true for the psychologist career path, too. Psychology doctoral training is expensive. The American Psychological Association (APA) did a study that the cost per year for a psych doctoral program ranged from $11,000 to $34,000 depending on the university.
If you have the courage to add all that up, you are looking at somewhere between $50,000 and $200,000 to become a trained clinical psychologist.
Worse, you’re not making any money during those years. A shorter career path can have you out in the workforce getting paid, not paying other people.
So if you’re interested in fast-tracking a career in the psychology sector and don’t have the time or money to drop on a doctoral degree, a marriage and family therapist education can be where it’s at.
How Long Does It Take To Become a Marriage and Family Therapist?
Becoming a MFT therapist is still a tough process, even though it’s shorter and less expensive. You have to earn a bachelor’s degree, which will take around four years. Then you will move up to a master’s degree. That’s usually an additional two to three years of study.
So, altogether you are looking at six or seven years in school. That’s one of the fastest starts you will find into any kind of professional psychology career. The whole course of study is the same amount of time you would spend in a psychology doctoral program alone!
Of course, you’re not entirely done with training when you are done with your degrees. State licensing requirements also mandate a period of post-graduate residency to hone your skills in real-world practice settings, under the supervision of licensed professionals. That can require an additional 1,000 to 4,000 hours of your time, which can take an additional year or two before you are fully qualified as an MFT therapist. Still, when you add up all the similar requirements in clinical psychology, you still come out ahead of the game.
3. MFT Therapists Help Build a More Stable Society
Among other reasons to become a marriage and family therapist is the notion of being part of creating the real improvements in society and culture that stable relationships provide.
Anyone who has ever been through a divorce can tell you it’s a rough process. You’ll see it in uncomfortable detail if you become an MFT therapist, but your goal will be to prevent it as often as possible. And every time you do, you won’t just be helping the couples you counsel, but also society as a whole.
One reason is that high divorce rates actually impact economic growth. It makes sense when you think about it. A divorce is a huge financial burden, splitting up resources and funneling money into unproductive court battles. It also reduces the inherent efficiencies of couples, the ability to combine resources and produce more than either could separately. When you multiply that by the nearly 800,000 divorces that occur annually in the U.S. according to the CDC, that adds up to real economic drag.
But it doesn’t stop there. Another long-term drag on society comes from the children of divorce. In addition to the significant mental health consequences, children of divorce are more likely to divorce themselves, up to 35 percent over the baseline.
That kind of cascading effect has a real impact on society and culture. For every relationship you save, you’re helping stabilize a society that currently sees almost half of marriages fail.
What Are The Goals of Family and Couple Therapy?
Your specific goals in any counseling session will depend on the situation. Although saving relationships is a great thing for both the individuals and the whole of society, that’s not always the solution. Your professional expertise may take you in another direction.
The goals depend on the individuals. You will find people who come in for counseling who genuinely have unreconcilable differences. Sometimes, divorce is the best option for everyone—even the kids.
New research supports the idea that the context matters. Kids who are immersed in high-conflict environments have poor outcomes regardless of their parents marital status. The cycle breaks when kids are raised in supportive, predictable settings. That gives MFT therapists a clear goal: work to minimize conflict in the family, whether through pursuing amicable divorce or salvaging the marriage itself.
4. Challenge Yourself With New Skills and Knowledge as an MFT Therapist
There’s no question that challenging yourself is one of the best reasons to become a marriage and family therapist. It’s a hard job to get one person through counseling, confronting their individual issues and solving them.
It’s geometrically harder when you put two or more people together, with all their personal issues, illnesses, and preferences. Throw in some communications and other interpersonal issues into the mix and you’ve got a real circus to manage.
But there’s nothing like the feeling you get when you help people solve those complicated problems. It’s like fitting in the last piece of a 1,000 piece puzzle of a Jackson Pollock painting. The feeling of accomplishment is a massive rush.
The great thing about MFT therapy is that there is always another challenge to face. If you’re the kind of person who always needs another hill to climb, there is always another one out there. Have you mastered couple’s counseling? Great… let’s throw some kids in the mix. Got family therapy down cold? Hey… how about intergenerational counseling? You can become an infidelity specialist if you have the stomach for it. Or you can specialize in traumatic events, helping families through periods of loss or serious illness.
It’s a wide open field and the perfect place for a go-getter to put their knowledge and skills to good use.
What Do I Need to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist?
This brings up the question of what is marriage and family therapy, exactly? That’s because there are several different paths to couple and family counseling practices.
It’s almost always the case that unless you are in the clergy or a lawyer, you will need a license to practice in most states.
There are different licenses that can apply, though. You can get into various kinds of marriage and family therapy as:
- A licensed MFT therapist (LMFT)
- A licensed school psychologist
- A licensed professional counselor (LPC)
- A licensed social worker or school social worker (LSW/LCSW)
- A licensed clinical psychologist
All of those might lead you into different specialty areas or have different kinds of legal boundaries involved. They all let you work with families in various settings to help them solve their problems.
As noted earlier, you will at least need a master’s degree to get into this field. A marriage and family therapist education doesn’t always require a marriage and family therapy major, however. You can also be successful with degrees in psychology, counseling, social work, or related fields.
On top of the education required for licensing, you need to rack up some supervised hours in post-graduate experience. You’ll also have to take and pass one or more state licensing tests. You can find more information on our state licensing requirements for psychologists page.
5. Make a Good Living in a Marriage and Family Therapist Career
All the job satisfaction in the world doesn’t pay the bills. Not to mention student loan debt! You have to think about the practice side of things when you are picking a profession these days.
Fortunately, a marriage and family therapist career offers you the opportunity to make a solid living on top of offering challenging and meaningful work.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, the median pay for marriage and family therapists as of 2020 was $51,340 per year. Those in the top ten percent of the profession, though, could expect more than $92,930 per year.
How Much Does a Marriage Family Therapist Make?
Part of what determines your earning potential as an MFT therapist depends on your path into the profession.
There are real differences in salary depending on your level of licensing, and your practice area. The average salary for counselors is a bit lower than mainstream MFT therapists, at $50,800 per year.
Practicing family therapy as a licensed clinical psychologist hits the top line salary for the field, with an average annual pay of $107,183 according to one APA survey.
The industry you work in also has a big influence on your pay. BLS shows the following median salaries for MFT therapists based on employer type:
- State government, excluding education and hospitals – $78,450
- Outpatient care centers – $55,690
- Individual and family services – $47,590
- Offices of other health practitioners – $46,630
Like every other job, though, what you make will depend a little bit on where you live. The average salary for different states across the country tells you the story:
- New York : $51,990
- California : $55,540
- Illinois : $67,650
- Texas : $52,740
- Florida : $42,460
- Missouri : $48,420
- Georgia : $54,550
- Washington : $44,710
6. Help People Live Longer and Happier Lives
Interpersonal relationships can be one of the biggest boosts to personal happiness that the ordinary person will ever experience. Studies of American psychology and personal satisfaction have consistently shown that married people are happier and healthier than unmarried, divorced, separated, or widowed individuals. The National Opinion Research Center found that 40 percent of married people rated themselves as very happy over a thirty-year period versus only 24 percent of those who are single. That statistic holds across ages, genders, and income levels.
The health effects are almost as significant. According to the Harvard Health Blog, married people live longer, have fewer strokes and heart attacks, and are less likely to get advanced cancer and more likely to survive it.
How Does Couples Counseling Help People Become Healthier?
Health and happiness are pretty closely linked. A lot of the studies proving that have a causation problem, though: healthier people are always likely to be happier because being sick stinks. You’re always more susceptible to depression when you are in poor health.
But there are some reasons to think the relationship works in the other direction, too. That’s particularly true for people in committed relationships.
Studies have found that happy relationships lead to measurably lower levels of cortisol (associated with stress levels) and an improved immune response.
There’s also a strong behavioral component at work. Married people take fewer risks, have better diets, and maintain a healthier lifestyle than single people. Having someone around to support you can reinforce your better angels.
So keeping people together save lives! Your work as an MFT therapist can save a lot more than just relationships!
7. Enjoy Incredible Job Security Working in Marriage and Family Therapy
Not only are you looking at a solid living from your salary as an MFT therapist, but you also get serious job security with the profession.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of positions in the field will jump by 22 percent between 2019 and 2029. That’s way faster than the average level of growth in the country.
When you get that kind of rapid expansion in demand, it means you get a lot of open positions. That competition means you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a job that is the perfect fit for you. It also puts a lot of pressure on salaries, so even though they are already good, you can bet they are going to be even better the longer you stay in the profession.
How Do I Find a Job as a Marriage and Family Therapist?
With an expected additional 14,800 new jobs being created in the field over the next decade, you’re not going to have to look too hard to get work as an MFT therapist.
But with that kind of demand, you can afford to be picky. Finding the right job can be a little more challenging.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 80 percent of MFT therapists work in the healthcare and social assistance sector. Around 30 percent are concentrated in individual and family services. That’s mostly private non-profit and for-profit corporations that focus on social services and therapy.
It’s really easy to open these businesses, and most of them are quite small. So finding the right job as an MFT therapist takes a lot of networking and research. You can start the process as early as college, by looking for internships and practicum placements with companies you might want to work for. You get the inside track on those jobs as well as the inside scoop on how the office environment vibes.
It’s also a great idea to look to professional associations like the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, or your state affiliate of AAMFT, for jobs. Employers who list positions through those organizations are usually affiliated with them. Therefore, you can count on their professionalism and dedication more than some outfit you found on a poster outside your local grocery store.
8. Own Your Own Business as an MFT Therapist
One of the big draws to psychology and counseling professions is the opportunity to become an independent therapist. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 8 percent of MFT therapists are self-employed.
Once you have your degree and credentials in hand, this is one field where there are very low barriers to entry into independent practice. Get a business license, a private space where you can see clients, and you’re ready to offer help to anybody without a bunch of unnecessary bureaucracy. Because MFT therapy is so personal, there are no big businesses that dominate the market. Couples always pick therapists they are comfortable with, not brand names.
This is a big opportunity in a marriage and family therapist career for anyone who values their independence. The freedom to set your own schedule, to take a vacation whenever you want one, to pick your own focus of practice and clients… it’s sort of the dream! A marriage and family therapist education can make it a reality.
How Do I Start an Independent Practice Marriage and Family Therapist Career?
Well, we hate to break it to you, but your path to owning your own independent practice in marriage and family therapy probably starts by getting a job working for someone else.
Most independent MFT therapists don’t start out independent at all. You can benefit a lot from the structure and support of an existing business when you first get into the field. You need a way to build up your experience and expertise before you hang your own shingle. It’s bad for both you and your clients if you start running into difficult situations for the first time and don’t have any one to turn to for advice or backup.
Also, you’ll get an inside view of some of the nuts and bolts of running a business. There’s a lot that happens, from marketing to billing to licensing, that no one taught you about in college. But it’s all a vital part of being a small business owner.
Working for an established MFT business also gives you the opportunity to make connections and start getting your name out there as a therapist to trust. You will grow your network at the same time as you are impressing clients and getting referrals. When the time comes to make the jump to your own practice, you’ll have the kind of client list and reputation you need to be a success on your own.
There are dozens of other reasons to become an MFT therapist. You’ll probably find more than a few of your own along the way. But these are some of the big ones, and it’s more than enough to get you started!
2020 salary and job growth data for Marriage and Family Therapists, Psychologists and Rehabilitation Counselors published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Figures are based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed April 2021.