Marriage and Family Counselors work closely with couples and families with mental health issues. Marriage and family counselors work closely with children, adolescents, adults, and families facing a multitude of issues. Marriage and family counselors focus on identifying family issues, like mental health disorders, addiction, and trauma, to provide clients with appropriate means of support and counseling.
Marriage and family counselors work closely with individuals, families, couples, and groups to apply family systems theories, principles and techniques to identify and treat mental and emotional disorders. Marriage and family counselors assist clients in the modification of perceptions and behaviors to improve communication, resolve conflict, and increase understanding among family members or individuals. Marriage and family counselors assist in the prevention and treatment of family or individual crises. Marriage and family counselors concentrate on a clients’ interactions within existing environments while devising means of improving a clients’ communication skills and interpersonal relationships. Marriage and family counselors also refer clients to appropriate psychiatric resources, research within the marriage and family psychology field, and teach courses in human development.
Preparation to become a marriage and family counselor begins far before beginning educational training. Persons with innate personal qualities of non-judgment, openness, and strong communication skills who possess insightful compassion often find success as marriage and family counselors. A future marriage and family counselor must be able to not only listen to a clients’ painful personal secrets, but also must maintain confidentiality while distinguishing between judgment and advising. Persons seeking employment in the field of marriage and family counseling also must have the ability to effectively handle and alleviate job related stress.
Education to become a marriage and family counselor begins while a student is still in high school. High school students who excel in courses like psychology to better understand human development and emotions, English to sharpen communication skills, sciences (including biology,) and health, may find success as a marriage and family counselor. Volunteering as a peer counselor, speaking with a high school guidance counselor, and referring to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy also assist students in finding training programs following high school and gaining experience.
Upon graduating high school, acceptance at traditional colleges and universities or online colleges in marriage and family therapy programs, sociology, or psychology, begins formal studies. Most marriage and family counselors must possess a masters degree or bachelors degree with job experience as well as fulfilling state determined licensure and certification requirements. Earning associates degree with a background in human services, education, or psychology often enables a student to further educational pursuits in the field of marriage and family counseling. First year students must apply their personal best in core course requirements including math, science, and English. Second year students enrolled in psychology, social services, education gives individuals a general background to either find entry level employment as social workers to gain work experience or go on to pursue a bachelors degree. Bachelor degree programs further a students’ educational background in marriage and family counseling, education, psychology, or human services often allows candidates to further a professional goal to become a marriage and family counselor. A bachelor degree program specializes studies in psychology, introduction to counseling, philosophy, education, sociology, statistics, gender studies, religious studies, human development, as well as core course requirements in communications, foreign language, and mathematics, often allow students successful completion of a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science program. A four year B.A. or B.S. degree provides and educational foundation to further specialize educational requirements in pursuit of a graduate degree or to pursue a career as a substance abuse counselor or social worker to gain work experience.
To complete studies to prepare for a career as a marriage and family counselor, a student must complete a masters degree program or even a doctoral degree program. Courses of study are frequently grouped in specialized fields of study including multicultural counseling, group counseling theory and practice, counseling in community settings, diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, research in counseling and development, introduction to family counseling, marriage counseling, substance abuse conseling, sexuality and mental health, substance abuse or addictions counseling, rehabilitation, gerontological counseling, advanced family counseling, and professional, ethical, and legal issues in marriage and family counseling. Graduate degree programs also involve extensive training in a family practicum and/or internship programs usually completed in two semesters. Many masters degree programs require a research and program, supervised clinical experience in counseling, as well as extensive professional ethics training. Most masters degree programs at accredited colleges require a 48 to 60 semester hour time investment. Some employers hire counselors with bachelors degrees and offer tuition assistance to complete graduate degree programs, workshops, and training. State certification or licensure after successful completion of a masters degree and an internship program is often the final step to becoming a marriage and family counselor. Registration with the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards or AMFTRB allows applicants’ credentials, education, and experience to be examined and qualified for testing. A candidate who successfully passes certification exams per state requirements may then practice as marriage and family counselors or to further educational pursuits to attain a doctoral degree. A marriage and family counselor also must continue yearly education credits depending upon state requirements to maintain licensure. The National Board of Certified Counselors also grants general practice credentials regarding specialty certifications including but not limited to school, clinical mental health, and addiction counseling.
Attaining a doctoral degree in family therapy, after completing core educational requirements requires a typical time investment of 4 or 5 years. A doctoral degree furthers specialization in the field of marriage and family counseling allowing candidates employment as supervisors, teachers, researchers, or advanced clinicians. Doctoral program requirements vary by college or university. Fufilling requirements in personality and advanced counseling theories, seminars in counselor education and consultation procedures, individual or supervised research, ethics, statistics, completion of a doctoral dissertation allows students successful completion of a doctorate program. Passing certification and licensing exams through the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) and/or through the National board of Cerified Counselors ensures success as a top qualified marriage and family counselor.