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How to Become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage and family therapy is a successful, evidence-based field that is expected to grow over the next decade. Learn more about how to become an MFT therapist today.

Unlike traditional psychotherapy, marriage and family therapy focuses on the relationships that exist between the self and others.

Marriage and family therapists (MFTs) emphasize core change within a system involving multiple people, rather than focusing merely on external (and often temporary) behavioral change within an individual. MFTs are trained in a variety of psychotherapeutic approaches and can treat a broad range of clinical problems with both individuals (e.g., depression or anxiety) and families (e.g., marital difficulties, child-parent relationships, or multiple generations at once).

Employment for MFTs is expected to grow by 23 percent by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Additionally, MFTs who are also Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) can further set themselves apart from other candidates.

If you’re interested in becoming a marriage and family therapist, you’re likely wondering how to make this dream a reality. Follow along below to learn how to become a licensed marriage and family therapist.


How to become a licensed marriage and family therapist

*Specifications may vary by state*


1. Bachelor’s Degree (4 years)

The first step in becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist is to complete your bachelor’s degree.

Although most MFT degree programs accept students with any major, it is recommended that you complete various prerequisite courses, such as:

  • Research methods
  • Counseling fundamentals
  • Human development

These courses are typically available through psychology programs.

During your bachelor’s degree, you’ll also have the opportunity to complete field experience that can help you get into graduate school down the road.


2. Master’s Degree (2-3 years)

After completing your bachelor’s degree, candidates must receive their master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, or a similar degree, such as Clinical Psychology with a marriage and family therapy specialization. This will enhance your knowledge of common family issues, including:

  • Depression
  • Death
  • Domestic abuse
  • Sexuality

Coursework for a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy will likely address multicultural counseling, couples therapy, and more.


3. Doctoral Program (3-5 years)

Although pursuing a doctorate degree is not necessary, receiving your Ph.D. or MFT can further your preparation for teaching additional family therapy methods. Also, completing your doctorate can allow you to complete the required clinical hours for licensure while also providing you the opportunity to research more complex counseling techniques.


4. Clinical Experience (2 years)

In order to become a licensed marriage and family therapist, you’ll need to complete at least 3,000 hours of clinical experience.

Although many master’s, Ph.D., and Psy.D. in marriage and family therapy programs include clinical experience within the curriculum, most states require additional post-graduation hours as well, including a set number of hours with couples, children, or families.


5. Licensing Exams

After completing all education and clinical experience requirements, future marriage and family therapists must take both the MFT Clinical Exam and a state-specific MFT Law & Ethics Exam.

The MFT Clinical Exam is typically a four-hour, multiple-choice exam that tests candidates on their knowledge of MFT through areas of theory, treatment, evaluation, and more.

The MFT Law & Ethics Exam is typically a two-hour multiple-choice exam that tests candidates on their knowledge of ethical standards and local laws relevant to the practice of marriage & family therapy.

The practicing license is typically valid for two years. After that period passes, therapists must continue to receive continuing education credits (CEUs) through workshops, courses, and programs in order to renew for another two years.


Are you interested in learning more about marriage and family therapy? Now that you know the steps you need to take in order to become a licensed therapist in MFT, it’s time to begin researching programs you’d like to apply to. Learn more about marriage and family therapy programs available at The Chicago School by visiting our program page, or you can fill out the information below to request more information.


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