What is a family counselor? Well, a family counselor is a mental health professional that provides counseling services to individuals, couples, family units, and children. Basically, this professional counsels family members, both individually and together. The purpose of a family counselor is to help family members resolve conflicts, and improve family dynamics. A certified family counselor is a mental health professional that has passed the state’s certification exam(s), and fulfilled the state’s certification requirements (i.e. education, training, and previous experience in the field). A family counselor seeks certification as a way to reassure clients that he/she is qualified to treat a variety of family-based issues.
Many colleges and universities offer master’s programs in marriage and family therapy, family counseling, and clinical psychology. These programs prepare future family counselors to work in the field. Graduate-level counseling and psychology programs combine lecture-based curriculum with “real world” experiences. For those who wish to further their education, doctoral programs are also available. Doctoral programs in family counseling, clinical counseling, and marriage and family therapy focus on research, consultation, academics, and practice.
Related: Guide to Counseling Careers
What are the Job Duties of a Certified Family Counselor?
As a certified family counselor, you may perform the following job duties:
- Diagnose and treat mental, psychological, and emotional disorders (i.e. manic depression/bipolar disorder, anxiety, and clinical depression).
- Encourage clients (individuals and families) to identify their emotions, and acknowledge their experiences.
- Teach clients how to accurately process their reactions so they can improve their behaviors.
- Help clients properly adjust to life changes (i.e. new additions to the family/babies, divorce, empty nest, aging, layoffs, illnesses, etc.).
- Teach clients how to make wise and beneficial financial, life, personal, educational, parenting, and relationship decisions.
- Teach clients how use positive coping strategies and skills to change their behaviors, and cope with challenging situations.
- Work with other medical and mental health professionals (i.e. psychiatrists, nurses, physicians, and social workers) to develop client treatment plans.
- Refer clients to other medical professionals and community resources (i.e. support groups, and/or residential treatment centers).
What are the Requirements for a Certified Family Counselor?
To become a certified family counselor, you will need to first earn a high school diploma/GED, and bachelor’s degree (B.A.), preferably in a mental health field (i.e. psychology or counseling). It is important to note that you do not have to major in one of the above mentioned fields at the undergraduate level, but you will need to choose one of these fields, if you want to ultimately become a certified family counselor. Moreover, you will not be able to enroll in any mental health program, if you have not earned a bachelor’s degree in some field. During your program, you will be required to complete coursework, and internships in your chosen field.
Master’s Level Courses
Most master’s degree family counseling, clinical counseling, marriage and family therapy programs usually require 2 to 2.5 years of full-time study. These programs typically focus on counseling practices, family therapy approaches, and counseling theories.
Some of the courses you will take, while in a family counseling, or similar graduate program include:
- Ethical Standards in Counseling
- Abnormal Psychology
- Sexuality, Gender & Ethnicity Issues
- Marital/Couples Therapy
- Substance Abuse
Most states require that family counselors be licensed before practicing; however requirements vary, depending on the location. Every state requires that an individual complete a master’s program in a mental health field (i.e. clinical counseling, marriage and family and therapy, or family counseling), a certain number of clinical internship hours in their chosen field, and successfully pass the licensure exam, before providing counseling services to clients (i.e. individuals and families).
If you would also like to receive certification in the family counseling or a related field, you will need to successfully pass the certification exam (administered by the American Association of Marital and Family Therapy), and fulfill all certification requirements (i.e. master’s degree and clinical hours).
It is common for many certified family counselors (master’s level) to seek a doctorate (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in the field. These programs are designed for family counselors that are interested in administrative and/or academic positions (i.e. research or college-level teaching). Most doctoral programs are geared towards specific areas of interest such as: psychotherapy, family psychology, child psychology, etc. Before you can enroll in a family psychology doctoral program, you will need to obtain a master’s degree in family counseling, marriage and family therapy, or clinical counseling. Your doctoral program will consist of: advanced coursework, a dissertation/research study, and clinical hours in your chosen field (supervised internship).
Some of the courses you may take, while in your program include:
- Group Counseling
- Research Methods
- Advanced Family Therapy Theories
- Child and Adolescent Therapy
- Family Therapy Approaches
How Much Does a Certified Family Counselor Earn?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014), as a mental health counselor or marriage and family therapist (i.e. certified family counselor), you can expect to earn approximately $41,000, per year. If you fall in the lower 10%, you can expect to earn approximately $26,000, but if you fall in the upper 10%, you can expect to earn approximately $66,000 or more, per year (bls.gov).
What are the Opportunities for Advancement for a Certified Family Counselor?
The career outlook for certified family counselors is good. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014), this industry should see a 29% increase in jobs by the year 2020. This growth will stem from an increasing need to reunify families, and resolve family-of-origin issues. It will also stem from an increasing acceptance of counseling as a way to improve relationships, manage mental health conditions, and solve problems (bls.gov).
- How to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist
- How to Become a Family Social Worker
- How to Become a Family Psychologist
- How to Get a Counseling Psychology Degree Program
- Association of Marital and Family Therapy. (2014). Marital and family therapy. Retrieved from http://www.aamft.org/iMIS15/AAMFT/
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2014). Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/mental-health-counselors-and-marriage-and-family-therapists.htm#tab-1