If you are interested in becoming a marriage and family therapist, you will first have to complete the process of an associate marriage and family therapist (AMFT). This is an important part of the journey towards beginning your own therapeutic practice and confidently stepping out into the world of helping others through complex mental health issues and family conflict. The benefits of this position are that you have the extra support of a licensed practitioner to oversee your training, and you can learn from and reflect upon any difficulties that you may encounter with a more experienced professional. 

What is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (AMFT)?

An associate marriage and family therapist is someone who is hoping to become a licensed marriage and family therapist once they have obtained enough hours in order to do so. Part of the process of becoming licensed is gaining work experience directly in the field face-to-face with clients. Every state has different requirements to become a licensed therapist, but all 50 require hopeful future therapists to complete a certain number of hours as an associate MFT to become independently licensed. To become an AMFT, you will already have received your bachelor’s degree, master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. 

How to Become an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist

There are several steps before becoming an associate marriage and family therapist who is earning hours towards licensure as an independent therapist. Below is a guide outlining how to get started. 

  1. The first step towards becoming an associate marriage and family therapist is earning your social work bachelor’s degree. If you choose not to study social work in undergrad, you will want to earn this degree in something that will help you succeed in graduate school, such as psychology, sociology or another related field. It’s important to try and keep up a good GPA during this time to increase your chances of being admitted to the master’s degree program of your choice. 
  2. Next, you will want to apply for marriage and family therapy master’s degree programs accredited by COAMFTE or CACREP. Choosing an accredited university ensures that your program has met the standards of high quality education set by your state’s education board. This application process itself has multiple steps that take preparation. Although the applications may vary depending on the university, you can expect a few general consistent expectations, which may include:
    1. Submitting a professional resume that details your educational and/or work experience.
    2. A personal statement or essay. The university will provide the prompt and details.
    3. Several letters of recommendation from professional references. These are often professors from your undergraduate courses. 
    4. An interview held at the university you wish to attend. 
  3. Be prepared that you may have to complete some extra prerequisite work before starting your master’s in marriage and family therapy program depending on the requirements for entry. Being aware of these ahead of time can help you complete them ahead of time if possible. 
  4. Once you have been admitted into the master’s degree in marriage and family therapy program, you will study many subjects related to mental health and family issues as well as therapeutic theories and many more subjects. The goal of each program is slightly different, but they all tend to have a similar goal to help students develop cultural competency, awareness, empathy, and critical thinking skills. It will be very important for you to learn about trauma-informed care within the program and how to approach situations that you may or may not have experienced in your own life. Along with those topics, you will also be learning about the legal and ethical standards you will need to adhere to as a therapist to protect your clients and as guidelines for yourself.
    1. Note: Your master’s degree program generally takes about two years, or 60 units. Some schools allow you to participate in a fast-track program if you have significant work experience or received your bachelor’s degree in something that they find to be relevant and significant. Additionally, some programs allow you to take the MFT program over three years. This depends on the university. 
  5. Once you have graduated, you will need to complete several steps to begin the process of becoming an associate marriage and family therapist.
    1. Complete registration as an AMFT. The registration process varies by state.  
    2. Complete a livescan fingerprinting process and pass a criminal background check. 
  6. You will then begin your required hours of experience under the supervision of a licensed marriage and family therapist. As previously mentioned, this step allows you to reflect and problem-solve with your supervisor so you will be a confident therapist entering the field upon licensure. Each state has different requirements, but generally, you will need to complete between 1500-4000 supervised hours. 

AMFT vs LMFT: What’s the Difference?

While both AMFTs and LMFTs help families, individuals, children, and couples using therapeutic techniques and problem solving strategies, the main difference is that a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist is licensed, while an AMFT is not. This can be an important difference, as it can mean that the LMFT has gone through the 1500-4000 or so hours of supervised work experience and graduated from their master’s degree program and has the capability to supervise an AMFT, while the AMFT is still in the process of earning their work experience hours. 

However, some individuals take this to mean that an AMFT is too inexperienced to see them when they are seeking a therapist, when this couldn’t be further from the truth. AMFTs have the benefits of having the most up-to-date education, passion for the subject, a fresh perspective, and likely have similar traits as their more experienced LMFT peers. The skills AMFTs and LMFTs must have include compassion, listening skills, organizational skills, interpersonal skills, speaking skills, and more. While some of that can be taught or improved in school, some of it comes naturally, and an AMFT is just as likely to be a perfect fit as a therapist for someone as an LMFT would be. 

AMFT Salary & Career Overview

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that marriage and family therapists made a median annual wage of $49,880 in 2021. The lowest 10% of MFTs earned less than $37,050 and the highest 10% earned more than $96,520. 

The top industries where MFT’s work include:

  • State government (excluding education and hospitals). MFTs in these positions made a median wage of $77,960 in 2021. 
  • Outpatient care centers. MFTs in these positions made a median wage of $57,930 in 2021. 
  • Offices of other health practitioners. MFTs in these positions made a median wage of $49,630 in 2021. 
  • Individual and family services. MFTs in these positions made a median wage of $48,340 in 2021

Employment for marriage and family therapists is projected to grow much faster than average at 14 percent. If you take on a career as an AMFT, and later, a LFMT, you can generally expect to work full time. 

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