Marriage and family therapists (MFTs) are experts in supporting individuals, couples and families with mental, social, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral issues. Patients seek out MFT care for issues ranging from simple conflicts to life-changing events like divorce, abuse, and loss.
Marriage and family therapy is a viable and high-demand career path in the psychology field. It is an ideal occupation for those with a passion for helping support individuals and families through the complexities of human relationships. What’s more, becoming an MFT does not require education beyond the master’s level in most states. This means becoming an MFT is more easily attainable than other practicing careers in the psychiatric or psychological disciplines that require a doctoral degree.
While it is up to states to determine the exact path to an MFT certification, the Association of Marriage and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) is a national organization that plays a strong role in monitoring and supporting the field of marriage and family therapy. Not only does the AMFTRB produce and maintain the Marriage and Family Therapy National Exam, but it also plays an active role in other areas relevant to the field like legislative policy, continuing education, and interstate license portability.
How to Become a Certified Marriage and Family Therapist
Becoming an MFT looks differently depending upon the state where you wish to practice; that said, most states require candidates to:
hold a minimum of a master’s degree in either marriage and family therapy or a relevant mental health field such as psychology
complete a supervised internship that meets specific qualifications for hours of experience and types of practice in the field
pass a state-mandated examination (typically the MFT Exam created and assessed by the AMFTRB)
obtain a state-issued license by applying to the relevant state board of examiners
The entire process from beginning a master’s program in marriage and family therapy to obtaining a license typically takes 4 years of full-time study. While this includes supervised clinical hours that count towards state-mandated field experience, the process may be longer or shorter depending upon the clinical hour requirements of the licensing state.
It is also worth noting that preparing for and passing a state-required licensing examination may require additional time. For instance, if you do not pass the MFT Exam on your first try, the soonest you will be able to register and retake the exam is 3 months later.
Number of post-degree client contact hours – Some states require 1,000 of direct client contact, while others require over 1,500. Idaho, for example, requires 2,000 postgraduate direct client contact hours within a two-year window.
The breakdown of these hours varies, as well; many states require to complete these hours in a number of specific types of therapeutic settings like one-on-one therapy, group therapy, and couples therapy.
Ratio of supervised to non-supervised clinical hours – While all post-graduate client contact hours must be documented, they don’t all need to be directly supervised. States vary in how much supervision is required as part of the required MFT clinical experience hours.
Who qualifies as a supervisor – Some states have very strict qualifications for who constitutes an acceptable supervisor for MFT practicum hours. Other states are more relaxed. It is important that candidates for MFT certification do their due diligence to ensure their supervisor meets the relevant thresholds of experience and credentials.
Reciprocity across state lines – Each state is free to accept or reject an MFT license issued in another state. The AAMFT works to try to promote license portability and make it easier for certified MFTs to relocate without having to complete redundant coursework, supervision, or other qualifying efforts. However, some states are more flexible than others are.
Fees – Each state sets its own price for issuing and renewing an MFT license.
Professional Development for Marriage and Family Therapists
Once licensed, MFTs must satisfy continuing education (CE) requirements to maintain their credentials. These professional development (PD) expectations help ensure that practicing MFTs remain abreast of current best practices in the field and are fully equipped to deliver the highest quality care to their patients.
As with initial licensure, these requirements vary by state. The biggest discrepancies are how much CE is required and the timeframe MFTs have to satisfy said requirements.
Thankfully, there are plenty of avenues for an MFT to stay on top of their CE obligations.
Becoming a licensed MFT does require jumping through a fair amount of hoops, but the end result is a rewarding career in a lucrative and growing field focused on supporting people with their most important relationships. The fact that the profession includes a commitment to ongoing education is a reassuring sign that the field itself will continue to grow, evolve, and thrive to best meet the needs of patients well into the future.