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Are Family Therapists Required to be Licensed?

All states require family therapists to earn a license by meeting certain education and experience requirements. These are usually a master's degree in their field and a long period of supervised clinical practice. All licensure requirements will slightly vary by state, but they will likely be modeled after the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy's standards and recommendations.

Education Requirements

A family therapist will need to complete a master's program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of the Marriage and Family Therapy Education of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (COAMFTE). Those who earn this specific type of degree will generally be credited with approximately 500 hours of client contact and 100 hours of one-on-one contact with an approved supervisor. Most applicants earn a master's degree in family therapy, or they alternatively earn a master's degree in the behavioral and psychological sciences. These degrees should include some of the following areas of study: research, psychopathology, marital therapy, family systems, applicable laws and human development. Clinical activities are designed to prepare students for couple and family therapy in professional settings. Students are exposed to the basic clinical skills needed to engage, assess, help and treat clients.

Related Resource: The Top 10 Low-Cost Online Master's Degrees in Marriage and Family Therapy

Supervised Postgraduate Experience

Most states will require a family therapist to complete a minimum of one to two years of full-time marriage and family therapy. This should result in at least 3,000 hours of experience with 1,000 hours being direct client contact. Most states require around 500 work hours related to the diagnosis and treatment of families and couples. They also require around 200 hours of work under the supervision of an approved leader. 100 of these hours being must be one-on-one mentoring and the other 100 hours can be group supervision. A qualified supervisor will have at least five years of clinical experience and a marriage and family therapist (LMFT) license. Most postgraduates complete their supervised internships in hospitals, private clinics and mental health organizations. Some programs include clinical practicums during every year of the graduate degree program.

State Example

The most populous state in the country is California, which has approximately 40 million residents. California often leads the country in implementing grounding breaking laws and standards. The State of California requires family therapist applications to possess an accredited doctor's or master's degree from a qualifying degree granting institution. All applicants must receive anywhere from seven to 15 hours of training regarding aging, human sexuality, child abuse reporting, partner abuse detection and substance abuse dependency. Applicants must also complete at least two semester units of psychopharmacology, state law, professional ethics and psychological testing. Applicants must also complete over 100 weeks of supervision and 3,000 hours of supervised work experience. Readers should note that California's standards are higher than most other states.

Family therapists must have a legal license in order to practice psychological therapy, treatment and counseling. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) offers a convenient search tool to find licensure state regulations here.