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Marriage and Family Therapists

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Career Overview

Many problems between spouses and families are easier to solve when there's a neutral third party giving advice and facilitating discussion. In these cases, marriage and family therapists are consulted to help manage emotional problems and find solutions to repair the damaged relationships.On the surface, marriage and family therapists might appear to just listen to their clients describe their problems, ask straightforward questions, and offer a simple solution. Counseling is a very important part of the job and it may seem very easy, but it's actually a lot more complicated that it may seem. Rather than just letting your clients vent and yell at each other, you must help them learn how to communicate and relate with each other in healthy ways. As the neutral third party, you're able to point out problems or behaviors that they might not have noticed or realized. Once they actually see and accept the issues that they're facing, then you can help them develop strategies to improve their situation, and guide their decision-making for the future.One of the lesser-known parts of the job is being able to recognize signs of mental disorders, such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and specific phobias. Not only do you have to be incredibly observant to pick up on these signs, you also must be able to piece them together and figure out which disorder it is. Ignoring symptoms or making an improper diagnosis could negatively impact your treatment and the client's recovery. But in many cases, simply pointing out that someone in the marriage or family has a mental disorder will often help start them on the healing process.Unfortunately, not every problem has a healthy solution and not every mental disorder can be resolved. In those situations, you just have to do your best to help them manage their problems and find the best ways to cope with them. But if a job as complicated as this seems simple on the outside, it's because the solutions for a lot of these problems are simple. It's just your job to help them realize that.

Salaries and Job Outlook*

2013 Median Annual Pay
Number of Jobs in 2013
Projected Growth Rate
National
$48,790
42,880
20.2 %
Virginia
$48,010
850
 

Education and Training

Degrees Required:
Master's Degree in Psychology, Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy, or mental health related fields License

Marriage and family therapists require quite a bit of education before they can start working. First, you need to earn your bachelor's degree. It's better to choose something related to mental health or social work, but there aren't any exact degree requirements. Regardless of what you end up choosing, you'll have what you need to enter a master's program. This is where it does count, since you'll need your master's in marriage and family therapy, or other relevant fields like psychology or social work. In this program, you'll learn how to recognize mental and social disorders, counseling strategies, and how marriage and family relationships work.After you earn your master's, you'll need to rack up 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience in order to take a state-recognized exam and get your license. You'll also have to keep taking continuing education classes each year to keep your skills and knowledge fresh.

 
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Valued Traits & Abilities

Analytical Skills
Communication Skills
Detail Oriented.
Patience

Career Opportunities

So maybe you're interested in the idea of giving therapy and helping people, but the idea of married couples and families just isn't your cup of tea. And that's okay, because those aren't the only groups of people that need help. You could branch out and choose to focus on a group of people that's more to your liking.

Mental Health Counselor

Think of mental health counselors as more generalized marriage and family therapists. Rather than focusing on just married couples and families, they treat individuals and larger groups as well. Some even work with specific groups of people, such as college students, children, or the terminally ill.

Work Environment

Marriage and family therapists work full time, and often have to work evenings and weekends to accommodate clients with jobs or responsibilities during the day. Most work in private practice and mental health centers, but it isn't uncommon to see them in hospitals and colleges as well.It can sometimes become stressful or even difficult trying to work with people who are in damaged relationships. Sometimes, your patients may break out into arguments or full blown screaming matches. No matter how frustrated you might get, you must always calm them down and continue on with the session.

* Source: BLS Data - 2013