A doctorate degree in marriage and family counseling will allow therapists to take their career to the next level. While becoming a marriage and family therapist (MFT) only requires the completion of a master’s degree, many therapists opt to earn their doctoral degree to achieve specific professional goals.
If you are a therapist currently practicing in a clinical setting and are looking to expand your credentials in a particular branch of marriage and family counseling, there are a wide range of great doctoral programs to research. However, before you start looking at schools, you should have a good idea of your specific academic and professional goals, so that you can find the school with the best professors, curricula, and practicum experiences that will meet your needs.
There are also online doctoral programs that allow professionals who are employed full time to work on their degree whenever and wherever it is most convenient for them, though doctoral students are usually required to visit campus for specific responsibilities.
What is a Marriage and Family Counseling Degree?
A marriage and family counseling degree gives students a theoretical understanding of counseling and therapeutic practices for individuals and family units in a clinical setting.
The curriculum for a marriage and family counseling degree primarily focuses on psychology courses, though there are a number of other subjects that can complement a marriage and family counseling education.
Types of courses that you will take in a marriage and family counseling degree program include:
- Psychology: Courses like Foundations of Psychotherapy, Developmental Psychology, and Systematic Approaches to Family Therapy are psychology courses that specifically geared toward marriage and family counseling setting.
- Statistics: Courses such as Introduction to Research will give students the hard skills needed to conduct research and analyze data that reveal trends in family therapy.
- Communication: Understanding how to help people directly explain their difficult feelings with each other, and how to communicate your understanding in a way that is respectful of all parties.
- Ethics: As a licensed therapist there are multiple, competing, ethical considerations that you will have to balance, such as when personal information is private or shareable.
- Pharmacology: Understanding medicinal approaches to psychology, as well as behaviors that associated with medicinal side effects, is necessary for therapists to have a grasp of.
Additionally, most marriage and family counseling degree programs will provide their students with a practicum opportunity that gives them a chance to apply their academic studies to a professional setting.
Students should be aware that marriage and family counseling degrees can concentrate in specific areas, especially if you are earning a graduate-level degree. Concentrations include medical family therapy (for families dealing with illness), military family therapy, and family systems therapy.
Why Get a Degree in Marriage and Family Counseling?
A degree in marriage and family counseling are useful for getting students ready for a career as a therapist who deals specifically with the dynamics of family units. However, the benefits of earning a degree in marriage and family counseling are not only professional.
Classes in behavioral psychology and family dynamics will provide students with an understanding of interpersonal relationships that will enrich their lives in a number of ways, including:
- Giving them the ability to make decisions and interact with their own family and friends by using logic as opposed to emotion, which can be particularly useful in fraught situations.
- Providing helpful mentorship and relationship counseling for people who respect your opinion and come to you for advice.
- Increasing your empathy by considering the viewpoints of different people in difficult familial roles.
If cultivating these skills feel essential in and of themselves, then a degree in marriage and family counseling will have endless benefits in your life. Beyond these interpersonal benefits, a degree in marriage and family counseling will provide you with stable job opportunities in any location in the United States.
Additionally, as marriage and family counseling is a profession that is designed to help other people instead of increasing personal wealth, there are many scholarships, flexible programs, and assistance available for students looking to apply to a marriage and family counseling degree program. Students should be aware that there are options for online marriage counseling programs that make it especially convenient for students to earn their degree.
What Accreditation Should a Marriage and Family Counseling Program Have?
When researching schools one of the first things that prospective students should look for is proper accreditation. Accreditation ensures that students will receive an education that meets industry standards, which will qualify them for licensure as a therapist upon graduation.
If you do not yet have your license, it is particularly important that you find a program that meets the requirements of your state board, which often includes accreditation from one of the two most respected accreditation bodies for marriage and family counseling programs, which are:
- Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy (COAMFTE): COAMFTE was started in 1974 and is recognized by both The Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the Association of Specialized and Professional Accreditors (ASPA).
- Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Programs (CACREP): CACREP was founded in 1981 and accredits a variety of graduate degree counseling programs in addition to marriage and family therapy.
If you are already licensed as a therapist, you should check the institutional accreditation of the college or university where you are looking to apply, ensuring that your degree is valid. Fortunately, there are many good options for accredited marriage and family counseling programs, including online Ph.D. programs which offer the highest level of academic training in flexible formats. If any of the programs interest you, be sure to follow the links to the schools’ websites to check their accreditations, and request more information.
What Kind of Jobs Can I Get With a Degree in Marriage and Family Counseling?
A degree in marriage and family counseling will provide graduates with many good job opportunities, as the field is projected to grow by 23% over the next decade. A degree in marriage and family counseling gives professionals the options of a variety of different specialized clinical practices. Types of therapists that commonly have degrees in marriage and family counseling include:
- Couples Therapy: Therapists that help reconcile relationship differences between married couples and non-married couples, by helping them to communicate in constructive ways.
- Medical Family Therapy: Therapists that help families that have one or more family members with a chronic illness that affects their daily life, by showing other family members how to care for the sick, and how the sick can appreciate and assist their family.
- Child and Adolescent Therapy: Therapists that help parents provide support for their children, whether their problems be emotional, mental, or other.
- Military Family Therapy: Therapists that help the family members of military personnel deal with the absences and potential dangers that their loved ones face in their line of duty.
- General Family Therapy: The most versatile type of marriage and family counseling, general family therapy helps all kinds of family foster supportive dynamics that create a happy and stable home life.
If you think you would be suited for any of these specializations, a degree in marriage and family counseling will put you on the right path. While researching therapist degree programs, you should be sure to search for a program that offers the specific type of curriculum that will build skills you are hoping to use in your career.
What Can I Do With a Doctorate in Marriage and Family Counseling?
While entering into the professional field of therapy only requires the completion of a master’s degree, earning a doctorate degree can open up a number of different career paths for graduates A doctorate in marriage and family counseling is the highest level of academic degree awarded in the field.
Doctoral graduates in family and marriage counseling have many different applications for their degree, beyond just continuing to practice in their clinical setting with additional credentials.
- Research: As a doctoral student you can learn quantitative and qualitative research methods for analyzing family systems, mental disorders, and medication efficacy, among other areas. These skills can help you succeed in a research setting, allowing you to make groundbreaking innovations into the field of marriage and family counseling.
- Specialization: Doctoral candidates can choose to specialize in a particular area of marriage and family counseling, such as medical, adolescent, or therapy for a particular demographic. Your specialization will help differentiate you from others within your field.
- Teaching: With a doctoral degree in marriage and family counseling, you will be qualified to teach and train potential therapists at any level of academia.
What is the Average Marriage and Family Therapist Salary?
The average annual marriage and family therapist salary is $48,790 per year, though there are a wide variety of variables that can cause that number to fluctuate. There are currently 41,500 marriage and family therapists employed in the United States, and that number is expected to grow by 23% over the next decade, so there will be no shortage of employment opportunities. Some factors that can affect your salary as a marriage and family therapist include:
- Level of Education: Therapists who have earned their Ph.D. degree, and specialize in a certain area of marriage and family counseling, can expect to earn more than therapists who only have their master’s degree.
- Location: Practicing in a large urban market will allow therapists to earn more money than their counterparts in rural and suburban ones.
- Employer: Whether you work for a large institution such as a hospital, prison, or counseling agency, or have your own private practice, the specific environment in which you work can be a major factor in your annual salary.
- Experience: Marriage and family therapist graduates who are just out of college can expect to earn less than they will with five or ten years of experience.
If you have an idea of the specific clinical context in which you would like to work, you can get a better feel for how competitive the job market is, and whether this will lead to an increased salary. The average salary of some jobs that are similar to marriage and family therapy are:
- Mental Health Counselor: $43,300
- Social Worker: $47,980
- School and Career Counselor: $55,410
- Psychologist: $77,030
What Kind of Licensing or Certification is Required to Work in Marriage and Family Counseling?
All marriage and family counselors are required to earn their Marriage and Family Therapy License, which takes many different steps. While specific requirements can vary by state, licensing procedures typically include:
- Earning a master’s or doctoral degree from an accredited institution, including supervised clinical experience.
- Pass a background check attesting to your moral character.
- Register for your license, which sometimes requires paying a fee, and/or getting your application notarized.
Depending on the state in which you are applying, there may be some additional requirements such as a jurisprudence test. Fortunately, most of your professors will be able to help you with the licensing procedure.
Should I Join Any Associations for Working in Marriage and Family Counseling?
There are a number of reasons why practicing therapists would join a marriage and family counseling association. Beyond networking opportunities, keeping up to date with contemporary research, and getting referrals, particular associations give their members a variety of benefits.
While there is an abundance of general therapy associations, there are also some associations specific to marriage and family counseling, such as the International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors (IAMFC), or if you are working in the United States, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). Benefits for members of the AAMFT include:
- Online Continuing Education: AAMFT has their own online learning system called Teneo, which provides discounts for members on hours of online education in various topics and specialties, which can translate to credit towards an online doctoral program.
- Legal Consultation: There are a variety of circumstances when therapists are forced to contact legal authorities, and AAMFT members receive free legal consultation for issues in their marriage and family counseling clinical practices.
- Ethical Advisory Opinions: There are many ethical gray areas in marriage and family counseling, including when to decide that someone is a potential danger to their loved ones and society, and when legal action needs to be taken. The AAMFT ethical advisory board will help you navigate these situations in ways that allow you to avoid liability and provide your patients with the best possible support.