Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)

If you are looking for a rewarding career within the field of helping others, then pursuing an education and license to practice marriage and family therapy might be for you. Marriage and family therapists are helpful for identifying issues that can arise within family systems. They use their knowledge of psychotherapeutic practices and recovery strategies to help better the lives of families, individuals, children, and couples. LMFTs work in a variety of locations including private practice settings, hospitals, psychiatric units, and more. 

What Does a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Do?

A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) is a mental health professional dedicated to helping clients navigate complex mental health struggles and family issues. LMFTs work with individuals, couples, and families to improve communication and address a wide range of issues.

Issues Addressed by LMFTs:

LMFTs are equipped to handle a variety of concerns, including:

  • Mental health issues: Depression, anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia, and more.
  • Addiction and substance abuse: Support and recovery processes.
  • Domestic violence and child abuse: Providing necessary intervention and support.
  • Marital issues: Infidelity, separation, and other relational conflicts.
  • Eating disorders: Anorexia, bulimia, and related conditions.
  • Chronic physical conditions: Addressing the mental distress associated with long-term physical ailments.

Comprehensive Training and Responsibilities:

LMFTs undergo extensive education and training that covers family counseling and individual psychotherapy. This enables them to assist with a wide range of issues beyond those listed above.

Additional Tasks Performed by LMFTs:

Aside from direct client interactions, LMFTs also engage in essential administrative and professional activities, including:

  • Communicating with insurance companies: Ensuring coverage and handling claims.
  • Marketing their practice: Building their client base through various marketing strategies.
  • Collecting payments: Managing billing and payments.
  • Documenting client progress: Keeping detailed records of therapy sessions and client developments.
  • Continuous education: Attending training sessions and seminars to stay updated on the latest in mental health care.

By addressing these aspects, LMFTs ensure comprehensive care and support for their clients, enhancing their overall well-being and family dynamics.

Why Do We Need Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists?

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs) play a crucial role in improving the functioning and emotional health of individuals and families, which in turn enhances societal well-being. Recent data published by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy reveal that nearly 90% of clients reported significant improvements in their emotional health, while 75% also experienced better physical health.

Impact on Clients’ Lives:

  • Improved Work Performance: The majority of clients found that their functioning at work improved.
  • Enhanced Child-Parent Relationships: Studies showed a 73.7% improvement in child behavior and better performance in school, along with an increased ability for the child to get along with others.

Success Factors of Marriage and Family Therapy:

Marriage and family therapy is successful due to its brief, solution-focused approach with specific, attainable goals designed with an “end in mind.” Research indicates that it is as effective, if not more so, than standard treatments for various issues addressed by therapists.

Therapy Structure and Sessions:

  • Average Sessions: An LMFT typically sees a family or individual client for about 12 sessions on average.
  • Session Types: Approximately half of the treatments are one-on-one, while the other half involves marital couples and/or families.

How to Become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)

If you have determined that a career as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) is right for you, you might be wondering how to achieve this goal. The LMFT degree is a master’s program that prepares graduates to become licensed professionals capable of identifying and diagnosing mental health and interpersonal issues among individuals and families.

Steps to Becoming an LMFT:

1. Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

Before applying for an LMFT degree program, you need to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Ideally, this degree should be in fields such as:

  • Psychology
  • Counseling
  • Sociology
  • Social Work

These areas of study will prepare you for the advanced coursework in a master’s program.

2. Apply to a Master’s Program in Marriage and Family Therapy

Once you have your bachelor’s degree, you can apply to a master’s program. The application process generally includes:

  • Maintaining Good Academic Standing: Typically a GPA of 2.0 or above or completing 60 semester units.
  • Completing the Program Application: Requirements may include:
    • A professional resume
    • A personal statement
    • Two to four letters of recommendation from personal or professional references
    • An interview with program heads
  • Fulfilling Prerequisites: Be aware of and complete any necessary prerequisites as outlined by your chosen university.

3. Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

Some programs may require the GRE for admission, though this practice is gradually decreasing. Many schools now consider a combination of your GPA and personal statement instead of a GRE score.

4. Earn Your License

Earning your LMFT license involves several key steps:

  1. Complete Supervised Clinical Hours:
    • Postgraduate Supervision: After earning your master’s degree, you must complete a required number of supervised clinical hours. This typically ranges from 2,000 to 4,000 hours, depending on state regulations. These hours must be supervised by a licensed professional.
  2. Pass the Licensing Exams:
    • National Exam: You will need to pass the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) exam. This standardized test assesses your knowledge and competency in marriage and family therapy.
    • State-Specific Exams: Some states may require additional exams specific to state laws and regulations governing the practice of marriage and family therapy.
  3. Apply for State Licensure:
    • Submit Application: Complete the application process for licensure in your state, which typically involves submitting proof of your education, supervised clinical hours, and exam scores.
    • Background Check: Many states require a criminal background check as part of the licensure process.
  4. Continuing Education:
    • Ongoing Requirements: Once licensed, you must fulfill continuing education requirements to maintain your license. This involves completing a certain number of educational hours periodically to stay updated on the latest practices and research in the field.

By following these steps, you can embark on a rewarding career as an LMFT, helping individuals and families improve their emotional health and interpersonal relationships.

LMFT Curriculum and Coursework

Once you have entered a master’s in marriage and family therapy degree program, you can expect to be in the program for about 2 years and 60 credits full time, although there are some options in some programs that can take 3 years and/or allow students to go part time. The LMFT degree program is rigorous and comprehensive, and you can expect the coursework to typically include classes such as: 

  • Child development
  • Sociology
  • Ethics and law
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Therapeutic theory 
  • Social justice issues 
  • Psychopathology
  • Family therapy
  • Cultural competency
  • Intersectionality
  • Trauma-informed care
  • Case Management
  • Psychology
  • And more topics. 

Within those courses, you will gain skills such as critical thinking, real-world analysis, understanding, and application of family issues, and decision making skills. You will also learn about things that could affect your clients directly, such as legal and ethical standards that you should follow as a marriage and family therapist. 

After you have completed all 60 units and two years of your master’s LMFT degree program, you will then apply for graduation at your university. At around the same time, you will be registering as an associate marriage and family therapist, which will give you the opportunity to meet the requirement for licensure that involves working a certain number of hours under a licensed practitioner. After you have done so, you will be able to take the LMFT exam for a chance at licensure to become an LMFT officially. 

LMFT Licensure Requirements 

While the LMFT licensing process can differ depending on the state, each candidate will need to have graduated from an accredited MFT program and have met the requirements that are necessary for licensure that have been established by your state board.

This generally takes about two to three years. There are many options for earning your degree, including in-person, online, and/or hybrid courses. Graduating from a COAMFTE or CACREP accredited program is vital to your success, as it ensures that your program has met certain quality assurance standards. Once you have obtained your master’s degree, you will need to complete the following steps:

  1. Register as an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (AMFT). Each state has a different program through which you can apply, and your MFT program may have more information on the requirements for this process before graduation. 
  2. Complete a livescan (fingerprinting) and criminal background check. 
  3. Complete required hours of supervised experience. This is an important step, as it gives you real-world experience with clients under the supervision of a licensed practitioner. The purpose of this step is also to give you the opportunity to problem-solve and reflect with your supervisor in order to confidently go into the field once you are licensed. The number of hours needed varies by program, but it usually runs between 2000-4000 hours of supervised practice. Some programs allow you to complete part of the hours while you are still in school. 
  4. Pass the clinical exam for MFT licensure. You will need to take a state-recognized exam to obtain licensure in the state you wish to practice. In order to prepare for the exam, the Handbook for Candidates is available as a comprehensive roadmap to the exam process. This handbook is recommended by the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB). 
  5. Earn your official marriage and family license in the state of your choice. 

As mentioned, however, the LMFT state requirements can differ. For example, Florida requires only 1,500 hours of supervised experience, while California requires 3,000. Both require these hours to be done within two years, and both require a bachelor’s degree plus a master’s or PhD. Meanwhile, Kansas requires 4,000 clinical hours. All states require students to take the national Examination in Marital and Family Therapy

LMFT Salary & Career Outlook

Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for a licensed marriage and family therapist was $49,880 in 2021. The lowest 10 percent of workers earned less than $37,050 annually. Conversely, the highest 10 percent earned more than $96,520 annually. Per the BLS, the top industries in which marriage and family therapists worked in 2021 includes:

  • State government (excluding education and hospitals). The average pay for these positions was $77,960 annually. 
  • Outpatient care centers. The average pay for these positions was $57,930 annually. 
  • Offices of other health practitioners. The average pay for these positions was $49,630 annually. 
  • Individual and family services. The average pay for these positions was $48,340 annually. 

The pay for LMFTs can vary somewhat depending on which state you live. For example, as of 2022, the average annual salary for the following states is listed below:

  • California: $81,616
  • New York: $73,139
  • Florida: $66,802
  • Texas: $59,701
  • Oregon: $88,141

The job outlook for marriage and family therapists is faster than average for all occupations at 14 percent and with 6,400 openings projected each year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that many of the job openings are likely to occur from workers transferring occupations, retiring, or otherwise exiting the job force. 

LMFT vs Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

At first glance, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) and a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) may seem very similar. However, there are some key differences that are worth exploring to help you determine which direction you may want to take your career. 

An LCSW is a specialized type of social worker that is state-certified to diagnose and treat issues related to mental, emotional, and behavioral health through the development of treatment plans for individuals, families, couples, and other groups. While this is very similar to an LMFT, an LCSW also spends significant time researching and referring clients to other resources. LCSW’s are distinguished from entry-level social workers due to having earned their master’s degree and state certification, which gives them the knowledge and ability to provide mental health care to clients.

Learn More: LCSW vs LMFT

A master’s degree is required for both an LMFT and an LCSW. The main difference between an LCSW and an LMFT is that the former focuses primarily on mental health disorders, especially in school, while the latter focuses on relationship issues. Otherwise, they are similar in that they both use therapeutic techniques with similar clients. Licensed clinical social workers can expect a job growth of about 12 percent through 2030, which is faster than average for all occupations. Similarly, the job growth for LMFTs is also faster than average at 14 percent. LCSW’s earn a little more on average than LMFT’s annually, at about $50,390 in 2021. 

An individual in either career has the option to open their own private practice. Additionally, when applying for work, they may find that many agencies are willing to hire an LMFT if they need an LCSW, or vice-versa. There is a lot of flexibility within this career when deciding on where to work, whether it’s a government agency, private practice, hospital, or anywhere else that needs a mental health professional.

Similar Degree Comparison: MSW vs MFT

LMFT vs LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor)

LMFTs and licensed professional counselors (LPC) both treat populations that have mental health struggles, but the main difference is the issues being treated. LMFTs tend to focus on issues that arise in the dynamics surrounding marriage and family, while LPCs will likely treat mental health issues that stem from a wide variety of causes. Both LMFTs and LPCs help their clients live happier lives and improve their mental health. In order to do so, they utilize similar skills, such as empathy, communication, problem-solving, and listening skills. Additionally, they might both work in similar environments such as private practice, outpatient facilities, or hospitals.

To practice counseling, a licensed professional counselor must earn a graduate degree in mental health counseling. Then, much like an LMFT, they must complete 2000-3000 clinical hours under the supervision of a licensed counselor. Afterwards, they can apply for licensure. 

The main difference between the two programs are the courses that students take in their graduate programs. Students in the marriage and family therapy programs can expect to take courses focused on family systems and couples therapy, which may include child counseling, human sexuality, trauma, and grief. Meanwhile, students in the mental health counseling program will likely learn about behavioral development on a biological, community, and organizational basis, as well as theories of psychopathology, and other systems.  Both programs teach students about law and ethics, how to conceptualize cases, mental health disorders, and research methods. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for a LPC is projected to grow 22% through 2031, which is much faster than average for all occupations. The median annual wage for an LPC in 2021 was about $48,520. 

Both LMFTs and LPCs can expect their jobs to be both rewarding and stressful at times, as they often have heavy caseloads and not enough resources to meet demand. However, they can also expect their jobs to be rewarding as well, as they are able to help clients through difficult situations and provide emotional support.

Learn more about other licensures by checking out our social work and counseling licensure page.  

Scroll to Top