Marriage & Family Counseling Degree Programs

Newlyweds kissing.
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Updated on Feb 1, 2021

Earning a marriage and family counseling degree provides you with the opportunity to work with married couples and families who are trying to repair their relationships. Through therapy sessions, you will open the lines of communication between individuals so they can have more productive discussions. It many instances, counselors help couples avoid divorces.

What is Marriage and Family Counseling?

Marriage and family counseling is a psychology subspecialty that uses family systems theory, principles and techniques to work with families, individuals and couples. They attempt to modify their clients’ perceptions and behaviors and enhance communication and understanding among family members. Their role is to help stabilize familial relationships and prevent family and individual crises.

The support that families and married couples lend to each other during times of hardship can be an uplifting guide through the maze of life, but even the closest individuals may have problems that require outside assistance. Behavioral issues in children and adolescents are only one factor that can put a strain on the family unit. Emotional issues and poor habits can also get in the way. To help navigate these pitfalls, more people are turning to qualified marriage and family counselors to help deal with inner conflicts and turmoil, so that the focus of life can get back to enjoying and helping each other.

What Does a Marriage & Family Counselor Do?

Counselors for marriage and family issues do not focus on relationship participants individually. Rather, they prescribe treatments within the context of the family or marriage unit. By analyzing and evaluating the roles of each person within the family, it becomes easier for marriage and family counselors to see where issues occur and schedule a plan of attack for finding long-lasting solutions.

For example, as a child moves from adolescence into puberty, hormonal changes can cause a variety of conflicts as the child struggles to find an individual identity. Marriage and family counselors can help parents to understand the changes their children are going through, and can recommend parenting techniques to break down the generation barrier that exists.

Other issues for which a marriage and family counselor may offer advice or treatment include bereavement, domestic violence, anger management, infertility, infidelity, sexual dysfunction, and substance abuse. Additionally, counselors can treat mental health issues such as depression.

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What Qualifications Do I Need to Earn a Degree in Marriage and Family Counseling?

Before you apply for a master’s degree program in marriage and family counseling, you should obtain a bachelor’s degree. No specific major is required. However, you should have completed courses in human development and should have some knowledge concerning the fundamentals of counseling. Many people who study psychology or sociology decide to pursue a marriage and family counseling degree.

How do I Become a Marriage and Family Therapist?

Following undergraduate studies, a marriage and family counselor can earn a master’s degree with just two to three years of coursework. Primary areas of study for marriage and family counselors include human sexuality, human growth and development, group therapy and counseling theories.

Additional studies are needed for adolescent psychology, marriage and family systems, and principles and techniques of counseling. Marriage and family counselors also learn how to deal with substance abuse issues and how to apply theories of psychotherapy to patients. One or more elective courses must accompany the state-sponsored curriculum.

While requirements vary from state-to-state, most will require that you follow your marriage and family counseling degree with a practical internship under the guidance of a practicing counselor before an independent practice may be pursued. These can be earned by volunteering with charitable organizations, private practices, or other agencies that offer mental health services. You must be supervised by a licensed marriage and family counselor, psychologist, or social worker. This internship can take a half-year or more to complete during the student’s final year of study.

What Can I Do With a Marriage and Family Counseling Degree?

After you graduate with a degree in marriage and family counseling, you can pursue a job that is related to marriage and family therapy, as well as a variety of  other areas in counseling. For instance, with appropriate licensure, your degree can prepare you to hold a position as a substance abuse counselor, school counselor, or mental health counselor.

Where Do Marriage and Family Counselors Work?

Marriage and family counseling professionals can work in a multitude of settings. For instance, they can work in a private practice, an adoption agency, a school, or community health center, or a similar organization.

Licensing and Certification Requirements for Marriage and Family Counselors

When formal education is completed, you must pass an exam to become licensed. For a specialty certification, you will need to take a test through the National Board for Certified Counselors.

What Accreditations Should Programs for Marriage and Family Counseling Have?

It is essential to pursue a degree through an accredited program. Since regional accreditation standards are often more rigorous than national standards, many students will require regional accreditation. An acceptable program must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy (COAMFTE) to be eligible for MFT licensure.

In some states, the Council Accreditation of Counseling and Related Programs (CACREP) plays the same role as the COAMFTE. CACREP is well-respected, and it is the preferred accrediting agency for other disciplines of counseling.

Certain CACREP-accredited programs have other coursework requirements. Some programs prepare students to receive a dual license as a professional counselor and a marriage and family therapist.

Can I Study for a Degree in Marriage and Family Counseling Online?

It is possible to pursue a marriage and family counseling degree online. From a distance, curriculum will provide you with the necessary theoretical background to offer counseling services. Online studies offer a flexible way to achieve this type of career goal.

As with a conventional in-person college experience, it is essential to choose an accredited educational outlet. Pursuing an online degree provides the convenience of learning anywhere and at any pace. After finishing the material, you can earn your degree and will be prepared to pass the certification exam.

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What does a marriage and family counselor do?

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