Couples and families face unique problems, which is why they often seek out help from marriage and family therapists. These professionals are trained to deal specifically with interpersonal issues that arise in individuals, couples, families, and groups. Get a better idea of what marriage and family professionals do, where they work, and how much they earn in this overview of this exciting profession.
What Do Marriage and Family Therapists Do?:
Marriage and family therapists assess, diagnose, and treat mental illness and psychological distress within the context of the marriage and family systems. The professionals provide counseling services in several different areas including premarital counseling, relationship counseling, child counseling, and separation and divorce counseling.
Some of the typical tasks that a marriage and family therapist might perform on a regular basis include:
- Diagnosing and treating mental disorders
- Conducting psychotherapy with individuals, couples, and families
- Developing treatment plans
- Helping clients develop new interpersonal communication skills
- Collecting information about clients through self-report inventories, interviews, observations, discussions, and formal assessments.
So what makes marriage and family therapists different from other kinds of therapists? While they offer psychotherapy and attend to mental health issues, they focus more on how family dynamics impact psychological health. On a daily basis they might deal with numerous different client issues such as self-esteem, self-harm, depression, anxiety, grief, anger, and relationship problems.
In addition to providing client services, many professionals in the field spend time marketing their services, particularly if they work in private practice. Completing paperwork and dealing with insurance companies also takes up a significant portion of a therapist's time. When working with a client, therapists need to maintain accurate case progress notes, keep a record of evaluations, and note any recommendations for further treatment.
Where Do Marriage and Family Therapists Work?:
Family therapists work in a range of employment areas including outpatient care centers, individual and family services, local and state governments, and the offices of other healthcare providers. Other common work settings include private practices, inpatient mental health facilities, schools, universities, and health clinics.
Since marriage and family therapists often have to adapt to their clients schedules, working evening and weekend hours is not uncommon.
As of May 2011, the median annual salary for marriage and family therapists was $46,240. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the highest paying industries for this profession include:
- State government - $62,150 (median annual wage)
- Local government - $56,870
- Home health care - $55,830
- Hospitals and other medical settings - $54,700
Training and Educational Requirements:
The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) suggests that the minimum training to become a marriage and family therapist includes a master's degree plus two years of supervised clinical experience. After completing these educational requirements, therapists must also pass state licensing exams.
In addition to the basic training and educational requirements, it is important for professionals to have the characteristics that will allow them to succeed in the job. Compassion and empathy are vital, as are strong listening, organizational, problem-solving, and communication skills. Therapists need to help their clients feel able to trust and share their innermost thoughts and feelings. They also need to be able to keep track of case notes and other paperwork and manage billing and insurance claims, which is why organizational abilities are essential. Marriage and family therapists also collaborate with others including family members and health care professionals, so strong communication skills are a must.
Comfort with different technologies can also be helpful. Marriage and family therapists often utilize a range of technology tools including videoconferencing, accounting software, multi-line telephone systems, spreadsheet software, email, and medical software.
As of May 2011, there were an estimated 33,100 marriage and family therapists employed in the United States. The Occupational Outlook Handbook suggests that the projected job growth for the profession will grow at a rate faster than the average through the year 2020. They project an estimated 41 percent growth between the years 2010 and 2020.
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Bureau of Labor and Statistics. (2012). Marriage and family therapists. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-2013. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211013.htm
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists. Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/mental-health-counselors-and-marriage-and-family-therapists.htm