Do I Need a Masters in Counseling to Be a Marriage Counselor?

Updated June 27, 2023

Explore what a job as a marriage and family counselor entails, and begin on your journey to become qualified for this rewarding profession. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Marriage counselors help couples, married or not, deal with conflicts and issues that can arise from being involved in a romantic relationship. If you are pursuing a Bachelor's in Psychology, you may be wondering if you need to earn your Master's degree in counseling before you can become a licensed therapist in your state. The basic answer to this question is yes, but you need to understand what education is actually required for licensure in your state before you enroll in a Master's degree program. Here is your straightforward guide to understanding which path you should take to become a Marriage and Family Therapist.

Minimum Educational Requirements to Become a Marriage Counselor

When you meet with your college counselor, you will quickly discover that you can take several different routes to make your way to the same destination. Some of these educational paths will open up new opportunities that other paths will not. On the other hand, some of the paths that you can travel will take longer to complete. This is what you need to keep in mind when you are comparing your options to become a marriage counselor.

The minimum educational requirement to apply for licensing to become a marriage and family therapist is a Master's degree. Professionals applying for licensing may possess a Master's degree in Psychology, Counseling, Family Therapy, or a related mental health field as long as the degree was obtained from an accredited facility approved by the Commission of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. The Commission on Accreditation will accredit all of the Master's programs and even the doctoral programs in the United States to determine which programs teach the clinical skills and academic skills necessary to counsel couples. Anyone with dreams or aspirations to become a marriage counselor will need a Master's degree at a minimum to achieve their career goals.

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Determining Which Educational Path is Appropriate for You

As a student, it is your responsibility to meet with a college counselor and discuss all of your options to become a marriage counselor. While a Master's degree is the minimal requirement to apply for a license to become a marriage counselor, this is not the right path for every person. Depending on your short-term and long-term goals, it may be in a student's better interests to pursue a doctorate. It will take a graduate student about 2 to 3 years to complete a graduate program, and about 3 to 5 years to complete a doctoral program. One of the major differences between the two is that students can enter a doctoral program immediately after completing the bachelor degree program. Master's programs require on-the-job experience as a training therapist before you can actually take the MFT licensing exam.

A Master's in Counseling or a graduate-level program with a focus in psychology will satisfy licensing requirements, but you must consider what your goals in the field are before you decide which route to take. Identify which route will lead you to the best opportunities and become the marriage counselor you have dreamed of becoming in a time where demand for these therapists are high in demand.

Fulfilling the Clinical Experience Requirements

The professional experience requirements, which must be done in a clinical setting, will vary by state. It is very important to check with your state’s Board of Licensed Professional Counselors to find out how many hours of clinical supervision you need to sit for a state licensing exam. Many states require you to have between 2400 and 3000 clock hours of on-the-job experience under the supervision of a LPC. You must have face-to-face supervision for a majority of the time, and these requirements will be laid out in detail by the Board. It is important to check directly with the board for these requirements while you are still studying for a Bachelor’s degree.

Taking the National Licensure Exam

All Licensed Professional Counselors are required to sit for a national licensing exam before they are eligible to practice. You will need to schedule the date in advance, pay the testing fee, submit documentation to prove that you meet the requirements to sit for the exam, and pass the test. Once you pass the test and a background check, your license will be issued and you will officially be a Family Counselor. You can also take a certification exam through the National Board for Certified Counselors if you want a specialty certification.

There will always be a need for Licensed Professional Counselors. If you would like to enter this field, the first step is enrolling in a reputable program. Be sure to choose an accredited program acknowledged by the American Psychological Association, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a family counselor.

Employment Outlook

There are different reasons why the employment outlook for a marriage and family therapist is good. First, national legislative changes have forced insurance providers and health care organizations to expand mental health services and increase coverage options. These laws include the Affordable Care Act, the Mental Health Parity Act and the Addiction Equity Act. Second, more and more psychology students are turning to specializations and graduate-level work for better employment stability and salaries.

Third, more and more family therapists are self-employed professionals who work in private or group practices. This type of collective career shift is occurring because society, businesses and the government recognize the important benefits of therapeutic counseling from well-trained professionals. Fourth, the traditional social stigmas and negative connotations associated with therapy are weakening as more couples openly seek assistance for working out family and marital problems.

Average Annual Salary for Marriage Counselors

There are approximately 29,060 marriage and family therapists employed across the United States to treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of relational systems. In delivering their specialized services to individuals, couples, partners, and families, marriage counselors earn an average annual wage of $51,690, which is equivalent to making $24.85 per hour. While the bottom 10% in the profession earn less than $29,980 each year, the top 10% of marriage counselors with the most experience bring home more than $78,580 annually. At the highest level of the field, marriage counselors have the potential to make a top pay of up to $120,000 each year.

Salary Potential According to Practice Setting

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary of a marriage counselor will vary slightly based on his or her place of practice. The highest percentage of marriage therapists are employed in individual and family services, where they earn an annual mean salary of $45,160. Marriage counselors who are employed at residential care facilities, community clinics, and emergency relief services typically earn significantly less than average at around $39,900 each year. However, marriage counselors can bring home much more than others in the field by obtaining employment in the state government, home healthcare services, or local government, where they can earn $65,840, $56,920, and $56,850 respectively.

Marriage Counselor Salaries by Location

Geographic location also plays a prominent role in how large or small a marriage counselor’s total yearly earnings will be as well. In the United States, the top-paying state for marriage and family therapists to seek employment is New Jersey, which boasts a very high average wage of $71,250 each year. Since there are a limited number of marriage counselors working in Wyoming and Nevada, both of these states feature very high salary potential at an average of $64,270 and $59,750 annually. Furthermore, the top-paying metropolitan area is Raleigh-Cary, North Carolina, where marriage counselors break the bank with $80,310 each year.

Overall, becoming a marriage counselor is an excellent idea for graduate students who have received a calling to collect the emotional and financial rewards of helping couples navigate through the complex challenges that come with relationships. In order to start receiving the salary of a marriage counselor, you will need to earn a master’s degree related to marriage and family therapy from an accredited institution and receive state licensure to practice.

Non-Traditional Methods of Marriage and Family Counseling

Individuals with a marriage and family therapy degree are becoming more interested in utilizing non-traditional marriage and family counseling modalities. In recent years, a growing number of people from all walks of life have become more interested in non-traditional courses of counseling for marriage and family issues. Many counselors incorporate different types of counseling options into the range of services offered to their clients.


Hypnotherapy is classified as an alternative or non-traditional practice. Through hypnosis, a therapist makes direct suggestions to a client as a means of addressing and removing certain roadblocks that interfere with a relationship. A person may suffer anxiety, that affliction negatively impact marriage or family life.

Hypnotherapy has been increasingly utilized when it comes to individual therapy and counseling. Oftentimes, hypnotherapy has been utilized to assist a client in addressing issues like anxiety, depression, and PTSD. With increasing frequency, it is being used with clients in need of family and marriage counseling assistance.

An alternative type of hypnotherapy is known as the Erickson modality. This type of hypnosis utilizes what is known as a natural state which allows a client the ability to tap into their inner consciousness. The theory is that natural resources exist that a married couple or members of a family can access to improve the health of a relationship.

Neuro Linguistic Psychology

Neuro Linguistic Psychology is another form of non-traditional counseling. NLP is considered a simple alternative to change behavior as part of an effort to improve marital and family relationships.

NLP integrates a variety of disciplines that include neurology, linguistics, cybernetics, psychology, and systems theory. Underpinning NLP is the science behind the brain codes experience and learning. NLP is said to permit a person dealing with marital or family issues the ability to unwrap those problems and come to a better understanding of them. Armed with this information, once issues are identified, a married couple or family are in a better position to address and strive to resolve these challenges.

Hawaiian Huna

Hawaiian Huna has been incorporated into some family and marriage and family counseling practices. Hawaiian Huna is drawn from traditional Hawaiian healing practices and has a strong spiritual basis. Underpinning Hawaiian Huna is the individual empowerment of individuals seeking marriage or family counseling. Through this empowerment, each person involved in marriage or family therapy is able to positively affirm their needs while working with others to accommodate their own. Ancient healing practices like Hawaiian Huna are becoming more widely used, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Meditation and Guided Visualization

Guided imagery is a form of meditation. Through guided imagery, a person focuses on specific images or ideas. These images or ideas become the focal point of the meditation process itself.

Guided imagery meditation is becoming more regularly utilized in family and marriage counseling settings. Guided imagery meditation is proving to be not only effective but practical when it comes to clients involved in marriage or family counseling. A prime reason for this is because guided imagery is readily adaptable to involve multiple people in the meditative process at the same time.

Art Therapy

Art therapy itself is nothing particularly new on the counseling scene. It is becoming utilized in family and marriage counseling settings than historically has been the case.

At its essence, art therapy is designed to utilize images and thoughts, as expresses through artistic endeavors, to access unconscious elements of the mind. The ability to access these resources is thought to be productive in working on issues arising in a marriage or family setting.

Websites for Family Therapists

Most family therapists spend a great deal of their time working directly with family members who are struggling to handle a crisis or need help improving their communication skills, but that is only part of the job. In order to be as effective as possible, they must also stay abreast of developments in the field, work to expand their knowledge base and be willing to explore new techniques. These five websites offer valuable resources for both aspiring and practicing family therapists.

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy

A professional association for people who work or hope to launch careers in the field of marriage and family therapy, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy has more than 50,000 members in the United States, Canada and various other countries. Its website offers members of the public information about family therapy and tools for locating a therapist. Professionals will find educational and professional development resources, licensing and accreditation information, and postings regarding job prospects. Networking opportunities and chances to engage with professional peers are also available.

Launched in 2007 by Noah Rubinstein, a licensed marriage and family therapist, is one of the internet’s top therapist directories. Its approach is twofold, and the website reflects this duality. For the layman, it offers useful information on healthy psychotherapy practices. For therapists, it provides data regarding training programs and offers a surprisingly varied assortment of links to professional resources. Membership is open to both students and professionals, and it comes with several benefits, including access to online continuing education courses and marketing webinars for therapists and counselors. Qualified members can also pursue the possibility of client referrals.

American Psychological Association

The American Psychological Association is the world’s largest association of psychologists with more than 117,000 members, so it is unsurprising that its website offers tons of handy resources to therapists in a variety of fields, including family therapists. Visitors to the website will discover basic information on a wide range of psychology topics, links to applicable publications and databases, reports about news and events, and information on funding, conducting and publishing research. There is also a code of ethics for professionals working in the field and a career board designed to help employers and job seekers make professional connections.

The National Council on Family Relations

A leading professional association for those interested in a multidisciplinary approach to understanding families, the National Council on Family Relations was founded in 1938. Today, its membership includes professionals from more than 35 countries, and its website offers a plethora of resources. There are several publications to explore and links to professional resources, including continuing education opportunities and job boards. Visitors will also be able to read about events and happenings in the field and explore information about the council’s Certified Family Life Educator program.

Therapist Aid

Therapist Aid is an excellent place for mental health professionals to find useful tools. The website offers free worksheets, guides and videos on an extensive array of topics that were specifically designed for therapists to use with their patients. Visitors to the website will also find scores of free articles that discuss a wide range of mental health topics. In addition, there are listings for relevant books and games, which are available for purchase. Professionals hunting for resources to utilize in their practice can sort the site’s offerings by type of material, the demographic it is intended for or the topic it covers.

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