Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs): What it Means to be in the Field

There are a variety of master’s-level licensures and credentials you could pursue as a mental health clinician. A Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) is the umbrella term to describe differently licensed therapists under the specialty of marriage and family therapy such as Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). Highlighted below is an overview of the field of MFT and the career outlook of LMFTs specifically. 

What Is an MFT?

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) are mental health professionals that focus primarily on family dynamics, interrelationship issues, and the general aspects of family and relationship functioning. MFTs can practice in various settings, including private practice, hospitals, inpatient and outpatient treatment centers, schools, and rehabilitation centers, and focus primarily on the individual’s needs and community support to ensure continuity of care. MFTs encompass LMFT-Associate and LMFT licensures, which are progressive levels of licensure you would earn as you advanced in your career. “Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist” (LMFT) is the specific designation given to licensed clinicians within the field of MFT. This licensure is obtained as a master’s-level clinician and involves extensive education and training to obtain and maintain licensure.

Job Overview of MFTs

What does an LMFT do?

LMFTs focus on therapeutic interventions designed to be brief and solution-focused where the therapist and client/s collaboratively set and work towards goals over the course of ten to twelve sessions. The clinical focus of treatment is how individual psychological functioning affects the family system. 

Job Outlook and Salary

The demand for MFTs is projected to increase by 14% over the next decade according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which can be attributed to the destigmatization of mental health, increases in awareness, and a push for seeking qualified professional help. LMFTs specifically have 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. As of 2021, the median annual pay for MFTs nationally is $49,880, with hourly rates at an average of $24.00 and salaries ranging from $37,050 to $96,520. 

How to Become an MFT

In preparation to pursue licensure as an MFT, you would have to account for three major areas: education, clinical training, and the licensure process. 

Choosing the right program comes with many considerations including location, cost, faculty, and resources. However, one of the most important considerations for the right program includes whether it 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). An accredited institution adheres to the standards and guidelines set by the national board of MFT which is the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT). This is an advantage for students as the accredited program is designed in a way that prepares you with a strong educational foundation and credentials to easily obtain licensure upon graduation. 

The second imperative step is clinical training. During the course of your chosen program, you will be required to complete a clinical practicum or internship. This can be viewed as a residency where you would receive first-hand supervised clinical experience. Generally spanning 12 credit hours, you will accrue the necessary hours required by your program and state to be eligible to file your licensure application. 

Upon obtaining the necessary coursework and practica hours, you would then sit for and have to successfully complete the national licensing examination governed by the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB). The recommended preparation time for this examination is approximately three months, and a passing score is a requirement to be able to apply for licensure. 

Once you have all the necessary prerequisites for the licensure application, you will proceed with obtaining licensure from your state. The various state boards and relevant information can be found here. The initial licensure obtained as an MFT will be that of a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist-Associate (LMFT-A), which is a probationary license until you obtain the required hours to upgrade to LMFT status. On an LMFT-A license, you would have to complete 3000 supervised clinical hours, of which 1500 would include direct therapeutic services with individuals and families, and the other half would include indirect services consisting of things like paperwork, documentation, and clinical consultation. 

Upon completing the required supervised clinical 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. 

Is a Career in MFT Worth it?

As you progress in your educational and vocational career, being an MFT, though specialized, opens up a broad array of contributions to mental health. Most MFTs enjoy the ability to work with and help multiple people within the family unit and be a part of their progress. The population you would work with may require assistance with enhancing life satisfaction, which includes helping the family overcome major life decisions, which could range from financial issues, marital discord, child or parent substance use, bereavement, or career changes. In addition to conducting therapy, you could also extend your contribution to the field by being an educator and conducting research that would enhance existing modes of treatment or the understanding of interpersonal dynamics that would have far-reaching implications. 

An MFT has the freedom of choosing from a vast availability of work environments and demographics that they connect to the most, which is not easily available in many other careers. The best indicator of this as the right career choice for you is if you have the passion and drive to make a long-lasting contribution to the field as a clinician and to impact people’s lives. Being a mental health provider is challenging in many ways, but the implications and change you can offer makes being a part of the field one of the most fulfilling careers you could pursue. 


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