What is an AMFT?

Kacy Kaiser

Written by Kacy Kaiser

M.S. in School Counseling | Long Island University

Updated & Fact Checked: 02.15.2024

Relationships are at the core of our mental health.  Their importance in our lives as social beings has never been more evident than in recent times. Relationships are not static, and they will change over time.  These changes can impact our mental health, and we may need support to overcome the relational challenges we face. One specific discipline in mental health is now dedicated to training therapists to help people create happier and healthier relationships.  Marriage and family therapists work to help people enrich their lives through meaningful and happy relationships.

An Associate Marriage and Family Therapist is the title someone obtains as they get practice as a therapist, hoping to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). Training to become a marriage and family therapist requires many hours of study and clinical experience.  After a prospective therapist completes their studies and accumulates hours toward licensure, they can work as an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, or AMFT. 

Training Requirements to be an AMFT:

Achieving AMFT status is a necessary step toward becoming an LMFT.  Associate Marriage and Family Therapists are highly trained counselors meeting their final requirement for state licensure. Once an AMFT completes their clinical work experience hours, they can apply to become an LMFT and work independently as a therapist.  The final step for licensure in most states requires a set number of work experience hours supervised by an LMFT or related provider.  

AMFTs have already completed many years of study and internship experience before they can start clinical work experience under the supervision of an LMFT.

How to Become an AMFT

Steps to becoming an AMFT 

To help people have thriving relationships as an MFT, you must first take steps to become an AMFT.  Once you have completed your state’s required clinical work experience hours, you can apply for licensure.  However, before applying to become an AMFT, there are several steps you must first achieve.

The steps to becoming an AMFT are as follows:

  1. Obtain a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, Mental Health, or a related field.
  2. Complete a Master’s degree program in either Marriage and Family therapy, Couples Therapy, Mental Health Counseling, or a related field.
  3. Complete the required internship hours for your Master’s program.
  4. Pass the National Licensing Exam for MFT’s. 
  5. Get Fingerprinted
  6. Find an MFT or related provider (like a Psychologist or Social Worker) to supervise your clinical work experience hours. 

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor’s degree in a Related Field

A Marriage and Family Therapy license requires a master’s degree level of education.  To enroll in a master’s degree program, you must complete a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as psychology, sociology, philosophy, counseling, mental health, or social work. Most master’s degree programs require proof of completion of a bachelor’s degree with a 3.0 grade point average or higher. This requirement ensures the student is prepared for the master’s level study.

Step 2: Complete a Master’s degree program in MFT or a related field.

It is best to enroll in an accredited program. COAMFTE accreditation signifies that the program adequately prepares students to work as Marriage and Family therapists. It is a way of ensuring you are properly trained, and your investment in your education is worthwhile. 

Some states will allow students from programs in related fields like social work, psychology, or mental health counseling to sit for the MFT licensing exam. However, if you know you want to work primarily as a Marriage and Family Therapist, it is best to obtain a degree from a specific MFT master’s program. 

Step 3: Complete the required internship experience.

As a precursor to the clinical work experience hours, students in a master’s degree program are required to complete an internship.  As an intern, the master’s degree student is not licensed and must have more direct supervision than clinical work experience hours requires. 

Step 4: Pass the National Licensing Exam for MFT’s

The Association of Marital & Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) is the national licensing exam for MFTs. Most states accept it, and must be passed before you can apply for AMFT status. 

Step 5: Get Fingerprinted

To obtain a license in any state, you must complete a background check via fingerprinting. This service will check for a criminal history.  Some states have pathways for prospective therapists with a past criminal record to successfully apply for licensure.  There are extra steps to complete.  Check with your state’s licensing board for more details. 

Step 6: Find a supervisor for your Clinical Work Experience

The final step in obtaining your Associate MFT certification is to provide the governing board with the name of the fully licensed MFT who has agreed to supervise your work experience hours. 

Each state’s department that oversees the licensure of marriage and family therapists provides stipulations outlining the number of hours one needs to complete for licensure.  The supervisor and AMFT must ensure that they supervise direct and indirect client contact.  

The requirement of clinical work experience hours supervised by a licensed MFT ensures that a practitioner is fully ready to ethically and effectively work with people and families. 

What’s the difference between an AMFT and a LMFT?

  1. Licensing: 

An LMFT is fully licensed, can work independently as a therapist, and supervises AMFTs in training.  AMFTs hope to achieve licensing after accumulating work experience hours under the supervision of an LMFT.

  1. Abilities and Skills:

AMFTs and LMFTs have completed a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.  Both have the training and skills to work with couples, families, and individuals to improve relationship dynamics and recurrent themes.  While LMFTs are generally more experienced, all AMFTs and LMFTs use their skills in listening, advising, and supporting clients to be effective therapists. 

  1. Work Settings and Pay:

AMFTs and LMFTs work in a variety of settings.  AMFTs can only work in settings in which they can be supervised by an LMFT, which means they cannot work independently in private practice.  Once an AMFT becomes a fully licensed LMFT, they can open their own private therapy office.

Salaries for therapists vary greatly by state as well as by work setting.  Therapists in private practice tend to earn higher wages.  LMFTs usually earn higher wages than AMFTs due to their experience and ability to work privately.

Why Get Certified as an AMFT?

Obtaining your state’s certification as an AMFT is the last and most important step in becoming a fully licensed MFT. Your clinical work experience is an opportunity to put all your years of study into practice and begin the rewarding journey of helping people and families. 

As an AMFT, you are working with training wheels.  Your supervisor is there to support you and help guide you as you find your style of therapy and best practices. Working as an AMFT will be challenging and fulfilling as you learn about yourself through your work helping others.

How Can an AMFT help you?

AMFTs are a great option for anyone looking for marriage and family therapy but want to save on the cost.  AMFTs are inexperienced, but that does not mean that they do not have the training and therapeutic skills to be effective counselors.  

AMFTs are at the start of their career and thus are likely to be younger, have fewer clients, and have more flexibility with scheduling.  

Typical Salary for an AMFT

AMFTs are just beginning their career and, thus, can expect to make the lowest salary or hourly wage for therapists in an area.  The salary of an MFT can vary greatly based on where they live and what type of setting they work in.  The US Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps data on the wages of MFTs by state.  The national mean salary for MFTs is $63,330.  Use the data on the US Bureau of Labor Statistics webpage to see what the mean salary is in your state.

If you want to work with individuals, couples, and families, you can have a rewarding career as a Marriage and Family Therapist.  AMFTs are in the final step of this journey and get practical, hands-on experience while getting support from an experienced and licensed MFT.  Enroll in an MFT program in your area and start your helping journey today.