Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) Career Guide

    Marriage and family therapists 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 marriage and family therapists (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 working in marriage and family therapy, according to 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.

    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. 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 of people, 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.

    Marriage and family therapists usually develop their practice around a particular “school” of mental health treatment, such as psychotherapy (“talk therapy”). However, marriage and family therapy is almost always behaviorally-focused, meaning that the goal is to help the client(s) modify their behaviors in order to find success and fulfillment in their interactions and relationships with others.

    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 license 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 in order 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, while 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 and a given state may have different exceptions for therapy-related roles that are required to be licensed. Additionally, employers commonly use different terms to describe roles that can be similar and often have different requirements as well. The below table 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 in large part 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 who are in romantic relationships build healthy behaviors that support the relationship and their partner. This typically includes one-on-one counseling with each partner and group therapy sessions with both partners together. Also known as couples counseling or relationship counseling, there are various theories and methods 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