Marriage and family therapy is a distinct professional discipline with graduate and post graduate programs. Three options are available for those interested in becoming a marriage and family therapist: master’s degree (2-3 years), doctoral program (3-5 years), or post-graduate clinical training programs (3-4 years). Historically, marriage and family therapists have come from a wide variety of educational backgrounds including psychology, psychiatry, social work, nursing, pastoral counseling and education.
The Federal government has designated marriage and family therapy as a core mental health profession along with psychiatry, psychology, social work and psychiatric nursing. Currently all 50 states support and regulate the profession by licensing marriage and family therapists with the remaining states in the process of obtaining licensure laws.
The regulatory requirements in most states are substantially equivalent to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Clinical Membership standards. After graduation from an accredited program, a period – usually two years – of post-degree supervised clinical experience is necessary before licensure or certification. When the supervision period is completed, the therapist can take a state licensing exam, or the national examination for marriage and family therapists conducted by the American Association for Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards. This exam is used as a licensure requirement in most states.