Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) vs. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapy-Associate (LMFT-A)

Pursuing licensure as a marriage and family therapist is an investment over several years where you would have to successfully complete several steps along the way. A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist-Associate (LMFT-A) both practice within the specialty of Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) within mental health and are progressive licensures that have varying privileges you would earn as you advance in your career as a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT). Below is a review of the similarities and differences between the two licensures. 

What is an LMFT?

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs) is a masters-level licensure you would obtain upon successful completion of the requirements as an LMFT-A. Your scope of practice, including areas of treatment, populations of focus, work environments, and job duties, typically remains the same. The major difference between an LMFT-A and an LMFT is that an LMFT is an upgraded license where you would be able to independently practice without the need for state-required clinical supervision. 

What Is an LMFT-A or Associate Marriage and Family Therapy (AMFT)?

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist-Associates (LMFT-A) is the initial licensure you would apply for as an MFT upon graduation from an accredited graduate MFT program. This is a probationary license obtained upon graduation that enables clinicians to work in the field as a therapist under supervision, to accrue the needed hours to then become fully licensed as an LMFT which requires no supervision in practice. LMFT-As are trained in psychological approaches in assessing, diagnosis, treatment planning, and interventions within a variety of therapeutic settings, mainly focusing on couples, individuals, and families, from a family systems approach. LMFT-A’s can practice in settings including private practice, hospitals, in-patient and outpatient treatment centers, schools, and rehabilitation centers, given that they are receiving supervised clinical experience. 

Differences and Similarities Between LMFTs and LMFT-As

What does an LMFT do?

LMFTs and LMFT-As maintain a therapeutic focus on the individual’s and family units’ functioning and means of improving their level of adaptive functioning. The following are common work environments of MFTs according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

  • Individual and family services (29%)
  • Offices of other health practitioners (24%)
  • Self-employed workers/private practice (13%)
  • Outpatient care centers (11%)
  • State government (excluding education and hospitals) (7%)


Job Outlook and Salary

The field of mental health is constantly growing in its versatility within specializations and the improvement in awareness amongst the general public. MFTs in general have also seen steady growth over the last few years which is projected to increase by 14% over the next decade according to BLS, much higher than other occupations in the United States. LMFTs specifically has seen steady growth over the last few years according to the Department of Labor Statistics, where there is a projected growth of 16% in the next decade with median annual pay for MFTs nationally is $49,880, with hourly rates at an average of $24.00, with salaries ranging from $37,050 – $96,520.  Typically, pay rates increase with experience and level of licensure from an LMFT-A to an LMFT.  

How to Become an MFT

The first step in pursuing a career in MFT is figuring out the best educational institution that fits you. It is important to choose a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) or the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Most programs ensure their program requirement structure meets the guidelines and requirements set by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT). This governing body sets the guidelines for accreditation bodies which prepares students with meeting the education and training requirements for licensure. 

While completing the necessary coursework which lays the theoretical foundation for practice as a clinician, your clinical training is a vital part of the preparation for licensure. This training is completed through a clinical practicum (internship) requirement where you would have to undergo 12 semester hours of a practical training internship at an external site. This is an opportunity of working in a real-world clinical setting. Upon accruing the required hours by your program and other credentials, you would then be able to take the state or national licensing examination set by the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB). The licensure you would obtain at this point would be as an LMFT Associate (LMFT-A) which is a probationary license status until you accrue 3000 clinical supervised hours. It is a requirement to have a board-approved supervisor on file when applying for an LMFT-A license and as part of upholding the state and national requirements, you would meet with your clinical supervisor to staff cases and seek guidance on modes of treatment. Most states require at least four hours of clinical supervision per month as a condition of continued licensure as an LMFT-A. 

Upon completing the required supervised clinical and supervision hours as an LMFT-A you would then reapply for full licensure as an LMFT. Upon obtaining this upgraded licensure, you would be able to practice as an MFT independently without the board requirement for supervised practice. If you do decide to further your educational career to a doctoral degree, you may have the advantage of being dually licensed as a psychologist and as an LMFT. Within the specialty of MFT, the highest level of licensure is that of being an LMFT, and typically individuals pursue doctoral education in MFT to enter the field of academia where they would teach and conduct academic research on top of clinical practice. 

Where can MFTs Practice?

The growing demand for mental health professionals comes with an increased need for MFTs in all mental health clinical environments. MFTs can practice in work settings similar to any mental health clinician to include private practices, in-patient residential facilities, outpatient mental health treatment centers, hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centers, academia, non-profit organizations, and research centers. Pursuing a doctoral degree offers better opportunities, higher wages, and an even wider range of job availability including teaching, academic research, and clinical training supervision.  

Is Being an MFT the Right Fit?

A career in marriage and family therapy consists of a demanding and strenuous process that requires passion, discipline, and commitment to the field. Beyond what education and training can provide, an unsaid prerequisite to being an exceptional MFT is your own level of emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills. The uniqueness of MFTs in having to engage several individuals simultaneously and work towards the collaborative improvement of a family unit is uncommon among other mental health professionals. Finding a work environment and area of interest within the field is comparatively abundant with the flexibility and variety this field offers. So, it is not difficult to find the perfect fit for your work style and areas of interest. 

A career in MFT consists of rigorous education and training. It requires a willingness to introspect, and a true passion for helping people achieve the best version of themselves. As you move forward in your search for the program and career that is the right fit for you, be assured that an education and career in marriage and family therapy is unparalleled. While the field of mental health is challenging in many ways, it can be one of the most fulfilling jobs in the sense of personal and professional growth. 


American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists

Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education

Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs

National Board of Certified Counselors