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Last Updated: April 24, 2021

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists

While many people are familiar with the concept of individual therapy, some are unaware of the avenue of therapy that is directed at a partnership or family unit. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists, or LMFTs as they are commonly referred to by psychology professionals, make up a subspecialty of clinical psychology, with more than 50,000 marriage and family therapists active worldwide. These people are mental health professionals trained broadly in clinical therapy, with specific training in psychotherapy and group systems. MFTs generally have graduate training in marriage and family therapy with at least two years of clinical experience.

Couple Therapy

Popular culture paints a picture of "couples therapy," showing two individuals, working through the problems in their relationship, often at the bequest of one person. If there is conflict in a relationship, sometimes the distress may disproportionately fall on one person. Their objective is to instate improvement in productivity, relationships, emotional health, social life, and community involvement. Acceptance and pursuit of this sort of service have increased, as the public awareness of the value of healthy social connections and of the impact of stresses on individuals and families has become more centralized. This service may be sought out when one member of a family unit is considered by other members to be contributing negatively to group culture, or perhaps when seeking to improve the functioning of the group, along with many other scenarios.

License / Degree requirements - family therapist

All American states issue licenses for the marriage and family therapist profession, with each state engaging in practice regulation in some form or another (even if they don’t refer to it directly as licensing). Depending on the state, a potential therapist may be able to work a supervised entry-level position without requiring any licenses, although even this sort of position usually requires an associate license. Another state-dependent qualifier is whether students need a graduate-level degree to begin working with clients, and whether or not they can begin the licensing process while they’re still in school. On top of the state regulations, there is also a national board exam known as the National MFT (AMFTRB), which is only offered four times per calendar year (like other entrance exams such as the LSAT, GRE). Students must submit their official transcripts before being allowed to take the exam.

Supervisory requirements are set by each state; all of which require a significant amount of paperwork while doing a residency, with regular evaluations done by one’s supervisor. Some states may require the paperwork to be notarized. The process also requires thorough verification of character and professional fitness, professional and legal background, and any medical or mental conditions that could impair one’s ability to practice. Licensure can sometimes be issued with a restriction of some kind, such as a “with corrective vision” stipulation on your driver’s license. This is considered a permanent license, but will still need to be renewed periodically.

There are restrictions of jurisdiction when it comes to being licensed to practice. Some states limit the hours of practice allowed by a licensed therapist whose primary residence is in another state. Moving to a new state requires that students update their licenses to reflect their new residency. While some may require students to begin the process entirely from the start, some allow for a process known as an endorsement, which allows them to apply for transfer to a new jurisdiction and maintain their credentials. When looking to become an LMFT, it is important to research the appropriate credentials for your region. If potential students are completing their education or are working towards their degree at an accredited institution, it is likely that they will have resources to help guide them towards what they need, if not through their coursework then through academic or career advising.

American Psychological Association

Students may be familiar with the American Psychological Association (APA), a scientific and professional organization with more than 115,000 members composed of researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students representing the field of psychology. Similarly, there is an organization for the subfield of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), with membership not being equal to licensing. These organizations can be an invaluable resource in assisting through the process, as well as helping you to network with others in the field.

Counselors will also look at the behavior of individuals in relationships within the context of broader relationship patterns, looking at the complex roles of positive behavior, cognitions, and emotions in relationship functioning. One’s relationships are affected by the environment in which they exist, with well-being impacted by nuanced elements of reality such as family systems, community influences, and life circumstances. Because of this, it’s important for a counselor to take a contextual approach when trying to make sense of a client’s needs and motivations. Understanding an individual’s (or couple’s) reality makes the job of modifying cognitions, addressing emotions and individual psychopathology, and instating interventions for environmental demands that much easier.

CBT - cognitive behavioral therapy

One of the major approaches used by therapists is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), an evidence-based approach aimed at challenging and replacing maladaptive constructs with healthier reality-based constructs. Many people are put off by therapy, simply wanting a quick fix that will alleviate their discomfort like salve to a wound, such as seeking a prescription for an anti-depressant. CBT is a process that over time helps one to heal and grow from the inside out, in many ways similar to the effects of physical exercise on a muscle over time, you are literally retraining the brain.

Personality psychology

Personality psychology has an important role in therapy involving couples or family members, even in the workplace. As an LMFT, therapists will likely find that using constructs about individual personality differences can be helpful in resolving conflict between people seeking therapy, as a major role is to help couples identify and comprehend their idiosyncrasies, any personal issues, or potential psychopathologies that might be at play.

Different people have different ways of experiencing the world. Identifying these differences and working to understand them can be one way of resolving conflict and improving relationships between individuals or also in a group (family). Variation in the way one processes information, experiences stimuli, along with many other factors, can influence the way one interacts with others. So, it follows that when two or more individuals come together, their cocktail of similarities and differences leads to the unique chemistry that exists between two people. It then also follows, that you can learn to identify their traits and observe how they mesh or clash.

As with any field of psychology, there is a lengthy path of education, training, and licensing that one must go through to become a professional in the field. LMFT is a subspecialty focus more on group dynamics than personal pathologies, but inevitably there is an overlap. Students who are interested in pursuing a career as an LMFT, begin to consider what steps they need to take in order to successfully reach their goals.

Top Universities for a degree as a family therapist

Nova Southeastern University

University of Colorado (Anschutz Medical Campus)

University of Nebraska (Lincoln Campus)

University of Maryland

California State University (Northridge)


This subsect of mental health care pays higher and lower than some of the other disciplines, with the median salary in 2017 being $49,500. However, the salary has significantly increased to anywhere between $80,000 and $100,000 as of 2021. The cause for the increase in salary is due to the fact that this field has shown efficacy in treating mental and emotional disorders, distress and conflict in relationships, and improving the functioning of the couple or family unit. However, most cases are considered short-term therapy, usually only consisting of 12 sessions, with 65.6% of cases completed within 20 sessions. While for some people a therapeutic relationship may last a lifetime, seeing an LMFT is often more of a temporary stint. Marriage-related and family issues are very common, hence there will be a consistent demand for marriage and family therapists, making it a more lucrative field of study.

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