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How to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist

In order to become a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), you must earn a bachelor’s degree, complete a master’s in marriage and family therapy (MFT) program, and meet the licensure requirements for the state in which you intend to practice. States typically require 1,500-4,000 hours of post-graduate internship experience, and a passing grade on a state licensure exam for those intending to become LMFTs.

What is Marriage and Family Therapy?

Marriage and Family Therapy is a professional counseling specialization that focuses on helping couples and families manage and overcome emotional, behavioral, and mental health issues, including relationship problems, grief and trauma, anger management, childhood developmental disorders, and substance abuse. MFT’s receive general training in the theories and practices of professional counseling, and in using the tools of psychotherapy with individuals, couples, and groups. In addition, they undergo specialized training in the dynamics of family systems, and in how various mental health issues impact marriage, parenthood, and other family relationships.

How to Become a Licensed MFT (LMFT)

MFTs are licensed in the state they practice, and each state sets its own standards for licensure. However, all 50 states require candidates for MFT licensure to hold a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, or a master’s in counseling with specialized coursework in counseling couples and families. The main prerequisite for admission to a master’s in MFT or counseling program is a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university. Some master’s programs may prefer applicants who have completed introductory undergraduate coursework in psychology or another behavioral science.

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT) offers voluntary accreditation to schools offering master’s in MFT programs. The AAMFT’s Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) maintains accreditation standards for these programs, which include coursework in the following areas: psycho-social development across the lifespan; mental health diagnosis and treatment; legal and ethical issues in marriage and family therapy; and the clinical treatment of individuals, couples, and families. COAMFTE also mandates at least 500 hours of supervised clinical experience as part of an internship or practicum.

After completing a master’s in MFT program or the equivalent, candidates for licensure must then meet state requirements for supervised clinical experience, which ranges from 1,500-4,000 hours. Many states mandate that a certain number of these hours involve direct client contact. MFTs must then pass a state licensure exam and fulfill any additional requirements, like a criminal background check, before formal licensure. The licensure exam used in most states is the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards’ Examination in Marital and Family Therapy.

For licensed professional counselors (LPCs) who want to become LMFTs, there are post-graduate clinical training programs that provide specialized training in marriage and family therapy. These post-graduate programs are designed for students who already hold a master’s in counseling, social work, psychology, nursing, or another mental health profession. There are also MFT doctoral programs for those aiming to teach at the college level or do institutional research in the field of marriage and family therapy.

Steps to Becoming a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited four-year college/university with some coursework in the behavioral sciences.
  2. Find out what the specific requirements are for licensure as an MFT are in the state you intend to practice as an LMFT.
  3. Earn a Master’s in MFT that meets state requirements, including any provisions for a supervised practicum and/or internship.
  4. Apply for MFT intern licensure in the states that have this provision.
  5. Complete roughly two years (1,500-4,000 hours) of post-graduate clinical internships and residencies.
  6. Submit to a criminal background check if the state requires it.
  7. Pass the Examination in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a state jurisprudence exam in the states that have this requirement.

MFT Internships and Residencies

All states require MFTs to undergo supervised, on-site training at an approved clinical counseling facility in order to qualify for licensure. The AAMFT estimates that most MFTs should expect to complete roughly two years of supervised clinical experience, which can range 1,500-4,000 hours, before applying for licensure. Some states provide a provisional MFT intern license to master’s program graduates who are working toward the completion of their internship/residency requirements.

Additional State Licensure Requirements for MFTs

Passing a state licensure exam is usually the last step to becoming an LMFT. Each state has its own application process, which generally involves submitting of school transcripts and internship reports, and paying a licensure examination fee. Many states also require candidates to submit to a criminal background check. In addition to passing the state licensure exam, some states administer a state jurisprudence exam, which tests a candidate’s knowledge of applicable state laws pertaining to counseling and marriage and family therapy.


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