How to Become a Family Therapist

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There are more than 50,000 family therapists treating individuals, couples, and families across the United States. The path to licensure is neither easy nor quick. The Federal government has designated marriage and family therapy as a core mental health profession along with psychiatry, psychology, social work and psychiatric nursing. A total of 48 states regulate the profession by licensing or certifying marriage and family therapists.

How to Become a Family Therapist

Go to college. Family therapists typically come from many different backgrounds. However, if you are in college now or considering college and becoming a family therapist is your goal, a psychology or social work major makes the most sense. But if you have completed psychology with another major, don't despair. You can learn psychology in graduate school.

Go to graduate school. Your major is much more important at this stage. You cannot go wrong if you major in Clinical or Counseling Psychology. Some schools even offer a specialty in Family Therapy or Marriage and Family Therapy. This is helpful, but not necessary for your career success.

Take as many Family Therapy classes as possible. Make sure you prefer this model to the individual counseling model. Make sure you are comfortable practicing this type of therapy, because it is not for everyone. A family therapist must be comfortable in volatile situations and must be comfortable using themselves as instruments of change as they attempt to unbalance a family system.

Read the pros and find a mentor. By now you should have read the classics by Murray Bowen, Salvador Minuchin, and Charles Fishman. Do some reseacrh into attending one of the family therapy institutes in y our area for additional training and the ability to watch family therapy being done. Find someone along the way that can be your mentor and provide you with guidance as you begin to work toward your licensure.

Get experience. Do an internship at a facility with at least one family therapist on board who has agreed to supervise you. Make sure this person is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. After you graduate, plan on doing two additional years of full-time work before you can sit for your licensure exam.

Get licensed. After you have completed your two years of post-degree supervised clinical experience you can take your national licensing exam conducted by regulatory boards of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).

About the Author

Alison Healey is a a full-time psychotherapist, professor of abnormal psychology, and freelance writer and editor who resides in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Before a career change, she spent the past seven years writing financial articles for Thomson Corporation in New York City.