Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) Career Guide

Marriage and family therapists (MFTs) help their clients learn how to form and maintain healthy relationships with others, from family relationships to romantic relationships. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that there are about 55,000 MFTs, also known as marriage and family counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs), and licensed marital and family therapists (LMFTs).1 In this guide, you’ll learn how to become a marriage and family therapist, common job requirements, and the career and salary outlook for marriage and family therapists.

Table of Contents

How to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist

The typical process to become a marriage and family therapist is:

  1. Earn a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, mental health counseling, or a related field that meets your state’s licensing requirements.
  2. Gain one to three years of supervised experience in marriage and family therapy as required by state licensing guidelines.
  3. Take the licensing exam(s) for marriage and family therapists required by your state.
  4. Apply for a marriage and family therapist license.
  5. Once licensed, apply for marriage and family therapist jobs.
  6. Complete continuing education requirements set by your state.

MFT Licensure and Schools by State

While the general steps to becoming licensed as a marriage and family therapist always include earning a master’s degree and passing exams, the specific process and requirements vary by state. Check with your state for information on how to become an MFT and to learn about MFT programs offered at schools in your state.

Marriage and Family Therapist Job Description

Marriage and family therapists help individuals, couples, and families learn how to build, manage, and promote healthy relationships and interactions with others. MFTs are trained on how to diagnose and treat a variety of mental and emotional disorders that can also be worked through in individual, couple, family, or group therapy. Marriage and family therapists take a holistic approach, expanding the traditional focus on individuals to consider their roles and dynamics within primary relationships, such as intimate partnerships and families.

Marriage and family counseling can take place one-on-one or in group settings. Marriage and family counselors often specialize in working with a particular group, such as youth, families, or couples in romantic relationships. They may also specialize in marriage and family therapy for those who have specific mental illnesses or related challenges, such as substance abuse.

Like most counselors and therapists, marriage and family therapists usually develop their practice around a particular “school” of mental health treatment, such as psychotherapy (“talk therapy”), play therapy, trauma-based therapy, or cognitive-behavioral therapy. What sets them apart from other therapists is that MFTs have specialized training in psychotherapy and relational dynamics/family systems that help inform how these dynamics shape and maintain our well-being.

Marriage and family therapists work in many different settings. Most commonly, they work in individual and family services (29%).2 Marriage and family counselors also work in the offices of other health practitioners (24%), as self-employed workers (13%), in outpatient care centers (11%), and in state government agencies (7%).2 They often work as part of a care team that includes other mental health and medical professionals such as doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists.

In addition to direct work with clients during counseling sessions, marriage and family therapists complete paperwork, work with insurance companies, and refer patients to other mental health professionals when their challenges go beyond the scope of MFT.

All marriage and family therapists complete continuing education to keep their licenses active. The amount and timing of continuing education required varies by state, but in most cases, some professional coursework must be taken during each calendar year. Keeping up-to-date with developments in counseling best practices is also important to provide the best possible therapy to clients.

Marriage and Family Therapy Careers by Degree Level

According to a survey from O*NET OnLine, 79% of respondents working in the industry said that a master’s degree is required to be a marriage and family therapist, 10% said that a professional degree is required, and 5% said that a doctoral degree is required.3 To help you research and learn more about careers in marriage and family therapy with different degrees, we have provided the following summary of careers by degree level. Be aware that licensing rules vary by state. Additionally, employers commonly use different terms to describe similar roles. The table below is a general outline of common degree requirements by role.

Counseling Job TitleMinimum Degree
Commonly Required
Behavioral Health TechnicianAssociate’s
Case Coordinator/ManagerAssociate’s
Counselor AideAssociate’s
Crisis Specialist or TechnicianAssociate’s
Human Services WorkerAssociate’s
Mental Health TechnicianAssociate’s
Intake CounselorBachelor’s
Intervention SpecialistBachelor’s
Mental Health Worker, Residential Treatment CenterBachelor’s
Family Counselor/TherapistMaster’s
Licensed Marriage and Family TherapistMaster’s
Marriage and Family Therapy AssociateMaster’s
Professional TherapistMaster’s
Research AssistantMaster’s
Department ChairDoctorate
Marriage and Family Therapy Program ManagerDoctorate

Marriage and Family Therapist Salary and Job Outlook

According to the BLS, the average annual marriage and family therapist salary was $59,660 as of 2021.1 The states with the highest concentration of jobs in this area were California, New Jersey, Minnesota, Utah, and Oklahoma.1 The highest average annual salary for marriage and family therapists is found in Utah ($86,490), rounded out by New Jersey ($81,330), Colorado ($73,040), Minnesota ($68,660), and Nevada ($66,600).1 The salary that marriage and family therapists can expect is based on various factors including the type of license held, years of experience, specialty area, and geographic location.

Demand for licensed marriage and family therapists is expected to remain high through the coming years due largely to a focus on medical care that integrates different disciplines in a “whole person” approach, leading to job growth in this field.2 Through 2030, job growth of 16% (roughly four times the average overall US job growth) is expected for marriage and family therapists, equating to 11,900 new jobs added to the workforce in the US over this 10-year period.4

Marriage and Family Therapist Career Interviews

  • Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) working with men and couples, John Skandalis

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

Where do marriage and family therapists work?

Common workplace settings for marriage and family therapists include mental health centers and agencies, private practices, and inpatient facilities. Marriage and family therapists also work at social services and community agencies as well as academic institutions.

What is marriage counseling?

Marriage counseling is a specialty within therapy that aims to help people in romantic relationships build healthy behaviors that support the relationship and their partner. This typically includes one-on-one counseling with each partner and sessions with both partners together. Also known as couples or relationship counseling, various theories and methods are involved in this type of therapy. Effective marriage counselors often use a mix of these theories and methods to promote the best outcomes for their clients.

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021, Marriage and Family Therapists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211013.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Marriage and Family Therapists:
3. O*NET OnLine, Marriage and Family Therapists: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/21-1013.00
4. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm