Marriage and family therapists specialize in the relationships among family systems. These therapists are trained to address specific issues that can arise between couples or within families. Resolving problems related to divorce, custody mediation, domestic violence, parenting, and developmental issues in children, these professionals work in individual or group settings. Understanding the dynamics of familial relationships and how they relate to mental health is a specialty within the field of psychology.
Why a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Counseling?
A master’s degree program in marriage and family counseling readies its graduates for entry-level counseling positions that are specialized to a specific patient population. By educating program candidates in lifestyle assessment and intervention techniques, these programs produce qualified therapists who can ease family strife and make day-to-day living easier for their clients. Common sociological themes such as self-esteem, stress, and addiction are emphasized, particularly in their adverse effects on a family. The growing need for marriage and family counselors in our society makes this master’s degree program one that is likely to result in high job satisfaction and good employment prospects.
Getting into a Marriage and Family Counseling Master’s Program
Entrance requirements for an online marriage and family therapy master’s degree are similar to those of a master’s degree in general counseling, though a higher GPA is preferred for this specialized program. Admissions departments at programs like this expect:
- Bachelor’s degree in psychology from an accredited institution. (Some schools will accept other undergraduate degrees if enough psychology credit hours were earned.)
- Minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.7
- Two letters of recommendation from a professional or academic source
Inside a Marriage and Family Counseling Master’s Degree Program
An online marriage and family therapy degree can be completed in two to three years. The program design combines online classes with residencies and field training, all of which qualify graduates for state licensure. Class curriculum focuses on the foundations of inter-family system theories and their practical application in individual and group therapy. Familial roles and how they define individual relationships are examined, as are assessment tools for diagnosing mental illness and substance abuse. Graduates of this program are also well-versed in analytical and writing skills that are essential for students who choose to pursue a doctorate in marriage and family therapy.
Classes that are commonly taught in an online master’s program like this might include:
- Introduction to Couples Counseling
- Theory of Psychotherapy
- Counseling Technique
- Human Development
- Trauma and Crisis Assessment Technique
- Child and Adolescent Counseling
- Human Sexuality
All master’s programs in psychology require a residency/fieldwork component. In an online marriage and family degree program, residencies may be offered in multiple locations. Candidates may also conduct local residencies that are approved by program advisors. Residencies serve to introduce face-to-face interaction with clients, develop skills appropriate to individual and group settings, examine multicultural influences, and provide experience in prevention and wellness counseling for families and children.
What’s Next for Marriage and Family Counseling Master’s Degree Holders?
The marriage and family counseling job outlook is excellent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Marriage and family therapists can enjoy a projected job growth of 41% between 2010 and 2020. The explosive surge in job openings is due to the growing U.S. population, longer life expectancies and a reduction in the stigma once associated with seeking assistance with emotional or mental health issues. The vast majority — 96% — of these new jobs are expected to be in private practice.
Practitioners who hold a master’s degree are qualified for a broad range of positions besides private practice. Marriage and family therapy specialists may find employment in social service agencies, community health centers, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), hospitals, colleges or university health centers, courts or religious organizations. BLS data reported a median annual wage of $45,720 for marriage and family therapists in 2010; government agencies paid the highest salaries, averaging $56,320 per year.
As with many specialties within social services and psychology, a doctoral degree is the next step in education. Marriage and family therapists may elect a traditional PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy. A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Marriage and Family Therapy offers a dual study of academic research and therapeutic development. Alternatively, a Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy (DMFT) focuses specifically on the development of clinical skills and practical application of theory.