Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) – Career, Salary & State Licensure

Therapy can be a critical component to helping individuals overcome mental illness, process a difficult life event, or learn how to cope with daily circumstances. However, it is rare that people who access therapy are completely alone and often therapy can involve essential people in the client’s life such as parents, kids, spouses, or partners. While many therapists can include other people in treatment, marriage and family therapists (MFTs) can be the key to holistic treatment and long-term client success in meeting emotional goals.

Marriage and family therapists are specialized counselors who help clients tackle their emotional wellbeing within the context of their relationships. While therapy might include multiple people, family systems and relationships can be managed and improved even if just one person attends the sessions. MFTs can diagnose disorders such as anxiety, depression, alcoholism, eating disorders, and behavior issues. They also can provide effective treatment in the form of cognitive behavior therapy, psychotherapy, and structural family therapy.

Day-to-day duties for marriage and family therapists vary but often include meeting with clients, diagnosing mental disorders, offering therapy to individuals and couples, providing referrals, educating clients on new skills to improve their relationships, and maintaining client records. Typical places of employment include hospitals, clinics, social services, government agencies, and outpatient centers.

Becoming a marriage and family therapist takes years of education and training, as well as a state-issued license. Continue reading to learn about education requirements and check out a detailed state-by-state guide of licensing requirements.

How to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Obtain a GED (Four Years)

Completing high school or a GED is the first step towards becoming a marriage and family therapist. Students can prepare for this career while still in high school by focusing on courses such as psychology, social sciences, English, and math. Advanced placement (AP) classes are also a good idea because students can earn college credits before graduating from high school and improve their college applications.

Step 2: Complete a Bachelors’ Degree (Four Years)

Most master’s programs require applicants to have earned a bachelor’s degree, making this a necessary step in this career. Typical majors include psychology, sociology, social work, and education, although students from any major can become marriage and family therapists.

Volunteering or working in agencies that serve families and children can help boost graduate school applications and provide valuable experience to prepare for this career.

Step 3: Obtain an Advanced Degree (Two to Eight Years)

A master’s degree in marriage and family therapy is required in all 50 states to become a marriage and family therapist. These programs vary in length and content, so students should familiarize themselves with their state curriculum requirements to ensure they take all the required coursework. Most programs will include a practicum or internship as well.

Students should ensure the program they are attending is at least regionally accredited, if not nationally accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). All states require applicants to have completed their education at an accredited institution and many states recognize COAMFTE accreditation as meeting all the coursework requirements.

Step 4: Apply for Initial State Licensure (Timeline Varies)

An associate or provisional license is required in most states for applicants who have not completed their supervised work experience. Applicants will have to meet all the educational requirements, arrange for supervision, complete an application, and pay an application fee.

Step 5: Complete Supervised Practice (One to Three Years)

Supervised work experience as a marriage and family therapist is required in all 50 states. The number of hours varies by states and can be as low as 1,000 and as high as 3,000. Board approval of supervision is often required.

Step 6: Pass State Licensing Exam (Timeline Varies)

All states require candidates to pass an exam for a marriage and family therapist license. The most common exam required is the Marriage and Family Therapist National Examination offered by the Association of Marriage and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB). This 180-question four-hour exam covers six domains of marriage and family therapy practice. The cost to take the exam is $350.

Some states also required candidates to take jurisprudence exams to demonstrate competency in state laws surrounding marriage and family therapy.

Step 7: Apply for a State License (Timeline Varies)

Once exams, supervised work experience, and education have been completed, candidates may apply for a marriage and family therapist license from their state. States typically require extensive documentation, including official transcripts, letters of recommendation, test scores, background checks, and supervisor verification of work supervision. Applicants will also have to pay an application fee as well as a licensing fee.

Keep reading to learn about each state’s specific requirements for MFTs.

What Do Marriage and Family Therapists Do?

Marriage and family therapists work in hospitals, clinics, social service offices, government agencies, outpatient centers, schools, and private practices. Job duties vary based on place of employment, but typical responsibilities include:

  • Meeting with families, couples, and children to assess needs and goals
  • Talking with clients to help them process their emotions around difficult situations
  • Diagnosing mental disorders
  • Providing guidance to help clients make decisions about their lives
  • Making referrals to healthcare providers or social services
  • Educating clients in new techniques to use change behavior or improve relationships
  • Assisting clients in improving their family system
  • Maintaining client records

How Much Do Marriage and Family Therapists Make?

Marriage and family therapists earn $54,590 per year on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019). Pay varies based on education, experience, and place of employment. The percentiles for wages are:

  • 10th percentile: $32,070
  • 25th percentile: $37,740
  • 50th percentile (median): $49,610
  • 75th percentile: $64,630
  • 90th percentile: $87,700

Marriage and Family Therapist Professional Associations & Resources

  • The Association of Marriage and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB)
  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT)
  • International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors (IAMFC)
  • National Council on Family Relations (NCFR)
  • International Family Therapy Association (IFTA)
  • The American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA)
  • The Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)

Licensing & Certification Requirements By State for Marriage and Family Therapists

State Licensing Authority Eligibility & Details Renewal Requirements
Virginia Virginia Board of Counseling

The Virginia Board of Counseling crdentials Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Residents (LMFT Resident)

LMFT Resident candidates must:

  • Graduate from a regionally accredited marriage and family therapy master’s program of at least 60 semester (or 90 quarter credits), including a 600-hour internship
  • Find a supervisor for supervised work experience and complete a Supervisory Contract agreement
  • Complete an application
  • Pay $65 application fee
  • Complete a National Practitioners Data Bank (NPDB) self-query

Full LMFT candidates must already hold an LMFT Resident license and must:

  • Complete 3,400 of supervised work experience, including no less than one hour of supervision for every 40 hours of work experience (2,000 hours must be face-to-face client contact and 1,000 of those hours must be with couples or families; hours completed as part of the master’s internship in excess of the 600 required hours may be counted, up to 300 hours)
  • Pass the AMFTRB
  • Submit a completed application
  • Complete another National Practitioners Data Bank (NPDB) query
  • Pay $175 application fee

LMFT Resident licenses expire annually and cost $30 to renew.

As part of the renewal, LMFT Residents must attest that their supervised work experience is still in effect and that they have completed three continuing education hours in ethics.

LMFTs must renew their licenses online annually by completing the application and paying the $130 fee.

LMFTs are required to complete 20 hours in continuing education, two of which must be in ethics. LMFTs are not required to submit this information to the board; however, random audits are performed, so counselors must keep careful records.

Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about counseling careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.