Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists Do[About this section] [To Top]

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists help people manage and overcome mental and emotional disorders and problems with their family and other relationships. They listen to clients and ask questions to help the clients understand their problems and develop strategies to improve their lives.

Duties of Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists typically do the following:

  • Diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders, such as anxiety and depression
  • Encourage clients to discuss their emotions and experiences
  • Help clients process their reactions and adjust to difficult changes in their life, such as divorce and layoffs
  • Guide clients through the process of making decisions about their future
  • Help clients develop strategies and skills to change their behavior and to cope with difficult situations
  • Refer clients to other resources or services in the community, such as support groups or inpatient treatment facilities

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists use a variety of techniques and tools to help their clients. Many apply cognitive behavioral therapy, a goal-oriented approach that helps clients understand harmful thoughts, feelings, and beliefs and teaches how to replace them with positive, life-enhancing ones. Furthermore, mental health counselors use cognitive behavioral therapy to teach clients to eliminate unwanted and damaging behaviors and to replace them with more productive ones.

Although some disorders can be overcome, others need to be managed. With the latter, mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists help the client develop strategies and skills to minimize the effects of their disorders or illnesses.

Many mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists work in private practice. They must spend time marketing their practice to prospective clients and working with insurance companies and clients to get payment for their services.

Mental health counselors provide treatment to individuals, families, couples, and groups. Some work with specific populations, such as the elderly, college students, or children. Mental health counselors deal with a variety of issues, including anxiety, depression, grief, low self-esteem, stress, and suicidal impulses. They also help with mental and emotional health issues and relationship problems.

Marriage and family therapists work with individuals, couples, and families. Unlike other types of mental health professionals, they bring a family-centered perspective to treatment, even when treating individuals. They evaluate family roles and development, to understand how clients’ families affect their mental health. They treat the clients’ relationships, not just the clients themselves. They address issues, such as low self-esteem, stress, addiction, and substance abuse.

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists coordinate patient treatment with other professionals, such as psychiatrists and social workers.

Work Environment for Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists[About this section] [To Top]

Mental health counselors hold about 134,500 jobs. The industries that employ the most mental health counselors are as follows:

Individual and family services 21%
Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers 17
Residential intellectual and developmental disability, mental health, and substance abuse facilities 12
Hospitals; state, local, and private 11
State and local government, excluding education and hospitals 9

Marriage and family therapists hold about 33,700 jobs. The industries that employ the most marriage and family therapists are as follows:

Individual and family services 30%
State and local government, excluding education and hospitals 23
Outpatient care centers 15
Offices of other health practitioners 8
Nursing and residential care facilities 6

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists work in a variety of settings, such as mental health centers, substance abuse treatment centers, hospitals, and colleges. They also work in private practice and in Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), which are mental health programs that some employers provide, to help employees deal with personal problems.

Working with and assisting clients with a variety of emotional and mental problems may be stressful.

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists occasionally may travel to meet clients and patients.

Mental Health Counselor and Marriage and Family Therapist Work Schedules

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists generally work full time. Some counselors and therapists work evenings and weekends in order to accommodate their clients’ schedules.

How to Become a Mental Health Counselor or Marriage and Family Therapist[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists near you!

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists are typically required to have a master’s degree and a license to practice.

Mental Health Counselor and Marriage and Family Therapist Education

To become a mental health counselor or a marriage and family therapist, applicants typically need a master’s degree in psychology, clinical mental health counseling, marriage and family therapy, or a related mental health field. A bachelor’s degree in most fields is acceptable to enter a master’s program.

Counseling programs prepare students to recognize symptoms of mental and emotional disorders and to use effective counseling strategies. Marriage and family therapy programs teach students about how marriages, families, and relationships function and how these relationships can affect mental and emotional disorders.

Many employers prefer to hire counselors who have graduated from programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs

Mental Health Counselor and Marriage and Family Therapist Training

Candidates gain hands-on experience through postdegree supervised clinical work, sometimes referred to as an internship or residency. In training, they learn to provide family therapy, group therapy, psychotherapy, and other therapeutic interventions, under the supervision of a licensed counselor.

Licenses

All states require mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists to be licensed in the state in which they practice. Licensure requires a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of postdegree supervised clinical experience, sometimes referred to as an internship or residency. In addition, counselors and therapists must pass a state-recognized exam and complete annual continuing education classes.

Contact information for state boards regulating mental health counselors is available through the National Board for Certified Counselors.

Contact and licensing information for marriage and family therapists is available through the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards.

Important Qualities for Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists

Compassion. Counselors and therapists often work with people who are dealing with stressful and difficult situations, so they must be compassionate and empathize with their clients.

Interpersonal skills. Being able to work with different types of people is essential for counselors and therapists. They spend most of their time working directly with clients and other professionals and must be able to encourage good relationships.

Listening skills. Good listening skills are essential for mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists, both of whom need to give their full attention to their clients to understand their problems, values, and goals.

Organizational skills. Good organizational skills are especially important for counselors and therapists in private practice, who must keep track of payments and work with insurance companies.

Speaking skills. Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists need to be able to communicate with clients effectively. They must express ideas and information in a way that clients can understand easily.

Mental Health Counselor and Marriage and Family Therapist Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for marriage and family therapists is $48,040. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,510, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $78,920.

The median annual wage for mental health counselors is $40,850. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,030, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $66,930.

The median annual wages for marriage and family therapists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

State and local government, excluding education and hospitals $63,960
Offices of other health practitioners 47,910
Outpatient care centers 46,640
Individual and family services 42,580
Nursing and residential care facilities 42,430

The median annual wages for mental health counselors in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

State and local government, excluding education and hospitals $47,610
Hospitals; state, local, and private 45,080
Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers 40,670
Individual and family services 39,310
Residential intellectual and developmental disability,
mental health, and substance abuse facilities
34,590

Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists generally work full time. Some counselors and therapists work evenings and weekends in order to accommodate their clients’ schedules.

Job Outlook for Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists is projected to grow 19 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Employment of mental health counselors is projected to grow 20 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment of marriage and family therapists is projected to grow 15 percent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for all occupations. Growth is expected in both occupations as more people have mental health counseling services covered by their insurance policies.

The number of individuals who have access to health insurance is expected to continue to increase because of federal health insurance reform. The law requires insurance plans to cover treatment for mental health issues in the same way as other chronic diseases. This will increase access to prevention and treatment services to more people who were previously uninsured, did not have these services covered, or found treatment to be cost-prohibitive. Mental health centers and other treatment and counseling facilities will need to hire more mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists to meet this increased demand.

In addition, the number of military veterans needing and seeking mental health treatment is expected to increase over the next decade. The federal government, community clinics, and local hospitals will need to expand their mental health counseling staff to provide timely and effective treatment for veterans and active duty personnel.

Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists Job Prospects

Job prospects are expected to be good for mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists, particularly in rural areas or other communities that are underserved by mental health practitioners.

Employment projections data for Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists 168,200 199,600 19 31,400
Mental health counselors 134,500 160,900 20 26,400
Marriage and family therapists 33,700 38,700 15 5,000


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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