How to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist in California [Updated for 2024]

Last Updated: June 26, 2024

Marriage and family therapists (MFTs) play a crucial role in helping individuals, couples, and families navigate life’s challenges and improve their relationships.

If you are considering a career as an MFT in California, this guide will walk you through the necessary steps to become a licensed professional, including the education, experience, and examination requirements.

By following these steps, you will be well on your way to a rewarding career in marriage and family therapy.

What are the Requirements to Become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) in California?

Educational Requirements

To become an LMFT in California, you will need a minimum of a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, counseling psychology, or a related field from a regionally accredited institution. Your program must include specific coursework mandated by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS), covering topics such as human development, psychopathology, couples and family therapy, and professional ethics.

Supervised Experience

After completing your master’s degree, you will need to acquire 3,000 hours of supervised experience before becoming eligible for licensure. This experience must include at least 1,700 hours of direct counseling with individuals, couples, families, or groups, and a minimum of 150 hours working in a hospital or community mental health setting. The remaining hours can include a combination of counseling, client-centered advocacy, and supervision.

Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (AMFT)

You will need to register as an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (AMFT) with the BBS before you start accruing supervised experience. To register, you must submit a registration application, official transcripts, and a processing fee.

Licensure Examinations

Once you have completed your supervised experience, you will need to pass two examinations to become a licensed MFT in California: the California Law and Ethics Exam and the California Clinical MFT Exam.

California Law and Ethics Exam: This examination covers California laws and ethical standards related to the practice of marriage and family therapy. You will need to pass this exam before you can take the California Clinical MFT Exam. The BBS will send you information about the exam once you’re eligible, and you will have to pay an exam fee.

California Clinical MFT Exam: The California Clinical MFT Exam assesses your knowledge of marriage and family therapy principles and your ability to apply them in clinical situations. You will need to pass this exam within one year of being notified of your eligibility. If you don’t pass within this timeframe, you will need to retake the Law and Ethics Exam before attempting the Clinical Exam again.

Application for Licensure

After passing both examinations, you can apply for your MFT license. You will need to submit a completed application, along with the required fees and supporting documents, such as official transcripts, proof of supervised experience, and exam scores, to the BBS. Once your application is approved, the BBS will issue your MFT license.

Continuing Education and License Renewal

To maintain your MFT license in California, you must complete 36 hours of continuing education every two years. This should include courses in law and ethics, as well as other topics relevant to the practice of marriage and family therapy. You will also need to renew your license biennially by submitting a renewal application and fee to the BBS.

What are the Requirements for MFT Licensure by Endorsement in California?

Licensure by endorsement, also known as licensure by reciprocity, allows professionals licensed in one state to obtain a license in another state without going through the entire licensing process again.

To apply for licensure by endorsement as an MFT in California, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Out-of-State Licensure: You must hold a current, active MFT license in another U.S. state, and your license must have been obtained by meeting requirements equivalent to those in California.
  • Education: You must have a master’s or doctoral degree in marriage and family therapy, counseling psychology, or a related field from a regionally accredited institution. Your degree program must meet the educational requirements set forth by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS), including specific coursework in areas such as human development, psychopathology, and couples and family therapy.
  • Experience: You must have completed a minimum of 3,000 hours of supervised experience, including at least 1,700 hours of direct counseling with individuals, couples, families, or groups. If your out-of-state experience does not meet California’s requirements, you may need to complete additional supervised experience in California as an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (AMFT).
  • Examination: You must have passed a licensure examination similar to California’s MFT licensure exams in the state where you are currently licensed. Additionally, you will need to pass the California Law and Ethics Exam, which covers California laws and ethical standards related to the practice of marriage and family therapy.
  • Application: Submit a completed application for licensure by endorsement to the BBS, along with the required fees and supporting documents, such as official transcripts, proof of supervised experience, out-of-state licensure verification, and exam scores.
  • Background Check: You may be required to undergo a criminal background check, including fingerprinting, as part of the licensure by endorsement process in California.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California?

The time it takes to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) in California varies depending on several factors, including your educational background, the duration of your supervised experience, and how quickly you complete licensure requirements.

Here is an approximate timeline for becoming an LMFT in California:

  • Education: Obtaining a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, counseling psychology, or a related field typically takes about 2-3 years of full-time study. Some programs may offer part-time or accelerated options, which can affect the duration of your education.
  • Supervised Experience: After completing your master’s degree, you need to acquire 3,000 hours of supervised experience. The time it takes to complete this requirement depends on the availability of supervised positions and the number of hours you work each week. It generally takes about 2-3 years to complete the required supervised experience.
  • Licensure Examinations: After completing your supervised experience, you will need to pass two examinations: the California Law and Ethics Exam and the California Clinical MFT Exam. The time required to prepare for and pass these exams can vary depending on your test preparation and scheduling.
  • Application for Licensure: After passing both examinations, you can apply for your MFT license. The time it takes for the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) to process your application and issue your license can range from a few weeks to several months, depending on factors such as application volume and the completeness of your submitted materials.

Considering these factors, the entire process of becoming a licensed MFT in California can take anywhere from 4 to 7 years, or even longer if you pursue your education or supervised experience on a part-time basis. It’s essential to plan accordingly and stay organized throughout the process to help ensure a smooth transition into your career as an MFT.

How Much Does an LMFT Make in California?

The salary of an LMFT can vary based on factors such as experience, geographical location, work setting, and level of specialization. As of March 2024, the average annual salary for LMFTs in California is around $95,847.

Entry-level LMFTs typically earn lower salaries, while experienced therapists with a proven track record and specialized skills can command higher salaries. Additionally, LMFTs working in urban areas with a higher cost of living, such as San Francisco or Los Angeles, may earn more compared to those working in rural areas.

LMFTs can work in a variety of settings, including private practice, hospitals, community mental health centers, schools, and government agencies. The work setting can also influence the salary range, with some settings offering higher salaries and benefits than others.

What Can an MFT Do in California?

In California, an MFT is qualified to provide a range of mental health services to individuals, couples, families, and groups. MFTs focus on treating issues related to relationships, family dynamics, and mental health, employing a holistic approach to help clients navigate life’s challenges and enhance their overall well-being.

Some of the tasks and services that an MFT can perform in California include:

  • Assessment and diagnosis: MFTs are trained to assess, diagnose, and treat a wide variety of mental health disorders, relationship issues, and emotional concerns that may be affecting individuals, couples, and families.
  • Psychotherapy and counseling: MFTs provide individual, couples, family, and group therapy using various therapeutic modalities, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and solution-focused therapy, to address clients’ unique needs and concerns.
  • Crisis intervention: MFTs can offer crisis intervention services to help clients facing acute emotional distress or challenging life situations, such as relationship conflicts, grief and loss, or traumatic experiences.
  • Prevention and education: MFTs can develop and deliver educational programs, workshops, and support groups to promote mental health awareness, teach coping skills, and prevent mental health issues in various settings, such as schools, community organizations, and healthcare facilities.
  • Consultation and collaboration: MFTs may collaborate with other mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers, to ensure comprehensive and coordinated care for their clients. They may also consult with educators, physicians, and legal professionals regarding client issues.
  • Supervision and training: Experienced MFTs can provide supervision and training to Associate Marriage and Family Therapists (AMFTs) or other mental health professionals seeking guidance and professional development.
  • Research and program development: MFTs may engage in research activities to contribute to the knowledge base of the field, develop evidence-based interventions, and improve mental health services. They may also be involved in the development, implementation, and evaluation of mental health programs and services.
  • Advocacy: MFTs can advocate for their clients and the profession at the local, state, and national levels by participating in professional organizations, lobbying for mental health policy changes, and raising public awareness about mental health issues.

MFTs in California work in various settings, including private practice, hospitals, community mental health centers, schools, government agencies, and non-profit organizations. Their scope of practice and the services they provide may vary depending on their specific roles, work settings, and areas of expertise.

What is the Job Outlook for MFTs in California?

The job outlook for MFTs in California and across the United States is generally positive. Employment of MFTs is projected to grow due to the increased demand for mental health services and the recognition of the importance of mental health for overall well-being.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of marriage and family therapists in California is expected to grow by 7% from 2022 to 2032, which is much faster than the average growth rate for all occupations.

In California, MFTs may find job opportunities in various settings, such as private practices, mental health clinics, hospitals, government agencies, schools, and non-profit organizations. Additionally, the increasing need for mental health services due to factors like the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing awareness of mental health issues may contribute to the demand for MFTs.

However, it’s important to note that job outlooks can change over time and are influenced by various factors, such as the economy, regional needs, and funding for mental health services.

How Many Practicum and Internship Hours are Required by California?

In California, the practicum and internship hours required for an MFT license vary depending on the educational program and the specific degree obtained. However, the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) has established minimum requirements for practicum experience as part of an MFT educational program.

According to the BBS, MFT students must complete a minimum of 225 hours of supervised practicum experience during their master’s or doctoral degree program. This practicum experience should include at least 150 hours of direct counseling experience with individuals, couples, families, or groups. Students must also receive an average of at least one hour of direct supervisor contact for every five hours of client contact.

In addition to the practicum, MFT students must complete a total of 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience to become licensed in California. These hours can be accumulated as a combination of pre-degree practicum hours and post-degree supervised experience.

What is the Difference Between MFTs and LPCCs in California?

In California, MFTs and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCCs) are both licensed mental health professionals who provide counseling and therapy services. However, there are some differences in their educational background, scope of practice, and areas of specialization. Here is an overview of the main differences between MFTs and LPCCs in California:

Educational Background

As mentioned above, MFTs typically have a master’s or doctoral degree in marriage and family therapy, counseling psychology, or a related field. Their education focuses on relationship dynamics, family systems, and the mental health issues that arise within these contexts.

LPCCs hold a master’s or doctoral degree in professional counseling or a related field. Their education emphasizes individual counseling, group counseling, and career counseling. LPCCs are trained to provide mental health services across the lifespan and to a diverse range of clients.

Scope of Practice

MFTs specialize in treating mental health issues, emotional concerns, and relationship problems that affect individuals, couples, and families. They use a systemic approach to address interpersonal dynamics and help clients navigate challenges in their relationships and family life.

LPCCs provide a broad range of mental health services, including assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental and emotional disorders. They work with individuals, groups, and organizations, addressing various issues such as anxiety, depression, stress management, career development, and life transitions.

Areas of Specialization

While MFTs and LPCCs may both provide individual, group, and family counseling, MFTs are particularly focused on the dynamics of relationships, marriage, and family systems. LPCCs, on the other hand, have a broader focus that includes individual counseling, career counseling, and helping clients address mental health concerns that may not necessarily be related to relationships or family dynamics.

Supervised Experience Requirements

In California, both MFTs and LPCCs are required to complete 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience before they can become licensed. However, there are some differences in the specific requirements for each profession. For instance, MFTs must have at least 1,750 hours of direct counseling experience with individuals, couples, families, or groups, while LPCCs are required to have at least 1,750 hours of direct counseling experience with individuals or groups.

Despite these differences, both MFTs and LPCCs are committed to helping clients improve their mental health and well-being. Depending on their specific training and expertise, they may work with a diverse range of clients, addressing various mental health issues and life challenges. In some cases, MFTs and LPCCs may collaborate to provide comprehensive mental health services to their clients.

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