A therapist is a witness to their client’s life and provides insight into their story. As a therapist, you’ll play an essential role in accommodating the well-being of a family through stressful life events. According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), family therapists treat over 1.8 million people at any given moment. The plethora of people dependent on family therapists is a tremendous responsibility.
The path to becoming a family therapist is just as significant as the job itself. If you want to become a family therapist, you should prepare yourself accordingly. Everyone’s journey may be different, but the following guide contains the basics of what it takes to be a family therapist. It includes:
- Undergrad and post-grad education
- Developing your skillset
- Selecting a practicing work environment
It is important to lay the foundations of your career to have a rewarding work experience, and here’s how to do that.
Undergrad And Post-Grad Education
Marriage and family therapists come from diverse educational backgrounds like nursing, social sciences, education, and counseling. Since most of the psychology graduate programs admit students with any background, what you choose to major in your bachelor’s degree won’t be much of an issue. You can choose to study psychology or communications to help develop your career path. However, becoming a marriage and family therapist has largely to do with getting your master’s degree from an accredited program for marriage and family counseling. The course ensures quality marriage and family therapy education and prepares you to acquire your license as a family therapist.
When you choose your specialization as a family therapist, you work with a narrower population of clientele, but it is more effective in achieving positive outcomes. If you are an expert in a specific area, you can standardize and streamline your therapy process, which builds your reputation as a therapist. Your specialization can make you more efficient in dealing with specific stressors present in your clients’ lives. Some specializations you can choose from are:
- Child-parent relationships
- Substance abuse in adolescents
- School counseling
- Couple therapy
Each specialization caters to a specific type of problem clients want help with. Instead of expanding your field of interest, you should narrow it down to your favored specializations to provide better services.
Developing Your Skillset
Your skills make you a proficient therapist and determine your success in the professional field. You should focus on developing specific characteristics and skills in yourself if you choose to become a family therapist. The following qualities will help you become a better therapist:
Your client’s trust in you is a major factor in determining the success of a session. If you don’t seem approachable and trustworthy, your clients will be less likely to open up and communicate. Creating a positive relationship with your clients is essential because your client needs to believe you’re here to help them.
Integrating the core conditions of counseling into your personality can be helpful to make you a good therapist. Other than that, you can be more trustworthy if you genuinely care for your clients. Their well-being should matter to you, and you should always stress maintaining confidentiality.
- Good communication
Your therapeutic communication can set the pace of your sessions and create a safe space for your clients. Good communication is not just about speaking appropriately but also about active listening.
You should be free of judgment and communicate for the sake of understanding your clients. The smallest change in communication style can impact the client’s progress, view of self, and potential. So it’s extremely important to be careful about what you say and how you say it.
- Setting boundaries
As a family therapist, you should be able to distance yourself from your clients. You should keep in mind that you have a professional relationship with them and be able to step away. If you’re always available for your clients, it can cause them to become reliant on you, which can hinder the therapy process. A lack of boundaries can also make you overly invested in a case and cause you to burn out.
You should let your clients know that you’re fully available for them during sessions. However, they can’t communicate with you outside of therapy unless it’s an emergency. Take the time you need to recover from the strain of therapy and practice self-care.
After you complete your master’s, you’ll need a license to become a fully independent family therapist. Though, before you get your license, you’ll need to undergo supervised clinical experience. It lasts roughly 1-2 years, and you need to fulfill 2,000-4,000 hours of service.
The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy’s Clinical Fellow membership standards can give you an idea about the regulatory requirements if you’re looking to practice as a family therapist in the United States.
Once you have met all the requirements to qualify for a professional license, you’ll need to pass the Marriage and Family Therapist National Examination, which the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) conducts. The examination is approved in most states, but you have other options like the NCE (National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification), and NCMHCE (National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination)
Selecting A Practicing Work Environment
Once you become a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), you can choose where you want to utilize your skills. You can either choose to open your private clinic or practice in a hospital, substance abuse centers, or in schools.
The job opportunities for family therapists are expected to increase by 16% by 2030 (as mentioned by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), so the possibilities for your chosen field are only expected to grow.
It is a big investment to become a family therapist, but no investment is too big if you’re following your passion. Relationships are sacred, and any job that works on promoting harmony in them is highly rewarding. Whenever you’re in doubt about the next step to take, this guide will be here to plan, prepare, and help you become a family therapist.