How to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT)

Why Become a Marriage and Family Therapist

Becoming a marriage and family therapist (MFT) is an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives, relationships and overall mental health while pursuing a rewarding career that promises opportunity and growth in an ever-evolving field.

As an MFT, you will integrate your interest in psychology, human development and interpersonal relationships with supporting families, couples and individuals through the highlights and challenges of life.  

If you are searching for a purpose-filled career that allows you to make a lasting impact on clients’ mental health, well-being and and interpersonal relationships then pursuing a career as a marriage and family therapist may be a suitable professional path for you.

What Is a Marriage and Family Therapist?

As defined by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), a marriage and family therapist, also known as a marriage and family therapist, is a “mental health professional trained in psychotherapy and family systems, and licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couples, and family systems.”

Necessary Skills You’ll Need to Be a Marriage and Family Therapist

To be an effective MFT, you must be a competent communicator. Successful therapists are skilled in active listening; have a keen level of attentiveness while evaluating the client and their best therapeutic approach; and can distill complex emotions, relationships and psychological terms into simplified concepts for their clients to understand.

Along the same line, MFTs must possess strong interpersonal skills. In your work with individuals, couples and families, you will create a safe and supportive environment for clients to sort through their challenging and stressful situations. Recovering from past traumas, learning to cope with mental health struggles and rebuilding relationships are not linear. Helping your clients navigate these challenges requires empathy and patience as they work toward progress.

Grounded in family systems theory, MFTs must embrace a systemic view of human behaviors and mental health problems. Human strengths and challenges always occur in various ecological contexts (e.g., family, community, society, culture and developmental stages). MFTs help clients resolve their concerns by changing their problematic patterns.

Strong problem-solving and conflict-management skills are also needed to become a competent MFT. Relationships are complex, and disagreements will arise during a therapy session. As a therapist, your responsibility is to maintain a calm and constructive atmosphere and model how to resolve conflict. Therapists can also provide insight by anticipating and helping clients work through conflict by providing practical therapeutic approaches.


A family of three in therapy.

MFT Education Requirements

The first step to becoming a marriage and family therapist is earning an undergraduate degree. It is common for students to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology, social work or other social sciences since these fields often overlap with mental health professions.

Most states require a master’s degree to become a licensed and practicing MFT. Prospective therapists should find a marriage and family therapy or marriage and family therapy graduate program that fits their personal and professional interests and state licensing requirements.

MFT programs are designed to prepare prospective therapists with the hands-on training, essential coursework and supervised clinical experience needed to secure required licensure and to be effective mental health professionals.

Obtaining Required Marriage and Family Therapist Licensure

Because they work with families, couples or individuals who are dealing with complex mental health or relational matters, it is critical for MFTs to be appropriately educated and licensed. The nature of a marriage and family therapist’s job can be complicated, and, if inadequately trained, the results of their work can be consequential. All states require MFTs to obtain licensure, which helps to ensure therapists practice safely and ethically.

While licensure requirements differ from state to state, general requirements typically include:

  • obtaining a master’s degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Education (COAMFTE);

  • completing the minimum requirement of post-degree supervised clinical practice hours as a Limited Permit or Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist; 

    • The designation of practicing as a Limited Permit or a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist depends on the state in which you are earning your post-degree clinical hours. Additionally, the requirements for post-degree clinical hours will vary by state. 

  • passing a state-recognized exam;

  • enrolling in continuing education coursework.

Review the Association of Marriage and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) state-by-state licensure comparison.

A couple's young son speaks in a therapy session.

What Does a Marriage and Family Therapist Do?

Once you’ve obtained the required licensure, you are ready to practice as an MFT. A marriage and family therapist’s primary responsibility is to support individuals, couples and families as they work through relational struggles, manage emotions and learn to cope with mental health issues, past traumas and everyday challenges. MFTs undergo extensive training to assess and treat mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.

Marriage and family therapy is often solution-focused. They equip their clients with achievable goals and therapeutic practices to help improve their overall long-term well-being. With their knowledge of family roles and human development, MFTs also help their clients better understand themselves, their relationships and how the two intertwine. 

Marriage and family therapists’ general responsibilities include: 

  • guiding clients through challenging situations, interpersonal matters and major decisions;

  • providing strategies and practices to navigate complex circumstances;

  • connecting clients with professional services and resources to improve their care;

  • collaborating with health care and mental health professionals and family members to ensure clients receive quality care and stay on track; 

  • maintaining confidential client records and files.

A married couple in therapy.

Where Do Marriage and Family Therapists Work?

A marriage and family therapy career offers the opportunity to impact families and individuals in all types of environments. While many MFTs work in private practices, they can also practice in schools, health care facilities and inpatient and outpatient treatment centers.

Marriage and Family Therapist Career Outlook

With a growing focus on mental health, the career outlook for marriage and family therapists is promising. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the employment growth for marriage and family therapists to increase by 14 percent over the coming decade, which translates to an estimated 6,400 new jobs annually.

Earning Potential for MFTs

The BLS reports that a marriage and family therapist’s median annual salary is $49,880. However, the earning potential for therapists varies from $37,050 to $96,520. Often, the facility and location where a therapist works determines their salary. For instance, therapists employed by state government facilities earn approximately $77,960, while those working for outpatient care centers earn about $57,930.

A family in group therapy.

Prepare for Your MFT Career — Earn Your Master’s Degree at Iona University

Iona University offers a Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy, which ensures students are prepared to become licensed therapists and begin working with families to improve their emotional well-being and relational health.

Iona’s Marriage and Family Therapy degree is one of only five programs in New York State accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). Our curriculum blends courses in psychology, family studies, relational sciences and fields of therapy to provide students with extensive training that prepares them to care for and work with their future clients. 

During their time in the marriage and family therapy program, students gain essential hands-on learning by completing 500 hours of supervised clinical experience hours, counseling individuals, couples and families. CFT graduate students can work in the Iona Family Therapy Center, our on-site student training clinic, and other clinical placements in the local area.

Request more information to keep learning about our MS in Marriage and Family Therapy degree.

Take the Next Step to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist 

With a Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy, you play an influential role in helping people improve their relationships, work through mental health challenges and navigate the complexities of life together.
Ready to begin your graduate education journey at Iona? Apply to the MS in Marriage and Family Therapy.

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