What are the Requirements for Family Counselor Certification – Degree Guide [2024]

Last Updated: June 26, 2024

What is a Family Counselor?

A family counselor is a mental health professional that provides counseling services to individuals, couples, family units, and children.

Counselors in this field can help families in identifying the root cause of problems, discussing them and working together to form an action plan to overcome them.

Sometimes the biggest benefit to families is the improvement in communication – a family counselor helps families develop healthy communication channels where everyone can have their say and feel that they are being listened to.

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.

What are the Job Duties of a Certified Family Counselor?

There is literally no topic that may be off limits when it comes to family counseling sessions. As a family counselor, you should be prepared to deal with some tough and interesting subject matter.

There will be discussions, potentially, of sex, lies, marital infidelity, and other problems. You may have to work with families from a blended background or single parent homes. Just as families come in all shapes and sizes, so, too, do the problems that they deal with.

You may face discussions of teenagers wanting to rebel or help someone to deal with the grief of losing a family member. For that reason, you must be prepared as a family counselor to hear it all and be able to handle it well. Further, you must be willing to deal with potentially unconventional or non-traditional families as well.

Aside from the aforementioned blended family, the traditional male and female relationship structure is becoming part of many different family compositions. Family counselors today must be ready to face non-traditional families such as single parent families, those of mixed racial heritage, extended families, and multiple partner relationships.

Not everyone is prepared for this variety before entering the field but it is something that should be considered by you in order that you are better prepared to be the best family counselor that you can be.

In general, 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?

Educational

Bachelor’s Degree

To become a certified family counselor, you will need to first earn a high school diploma/GED, bachelor’s degree (B.A.), preferably in a mental health field (i.e. psychology or counseling) and master’s degree.

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 Degree

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

License

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).

Certification

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).

Advanced Education

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

What Skills and Qualities are Needed for a Family Counselor?

A family counselor is usually warm and inviting, and capable of gaining their clients’ trust. This individual should be objective and should have an outside view of the situation. A family counselor should never play favorites with one client over the other, and shouldn’t form an opinion of the situation without knowing the whole story.

A trained professional has solid instincts and many years of education and training to back them up. Family counselors should be dedicated to helping their clients figure out what is in their best interest, whether that involves staying together or being apart. The goal isn’t necessarily to keep couples together, but instead for couples to decide on whatever is healthiest in their situation.

A family counselor must be good at performing a cost-benefit analysis, meaning that s/he has to know how to weigh the pros and cons of a situation or relationship effectively. This person has to keep any information that she or he hears in a counseling session completely confidential, or they will lose their license to practice, (unless the clients sign a waiver stating that their counselor is allowed to disclose if someone is in danger, or if they need to discuss the situation with other people who work in the same field).

A good counselor should also be firm, and should keep a professional distance from their clients. This means they can’t get too emotionally involved in whatever situation is happening, and they need to be skilled at taking care of themselves emotionally. Saying no is just as important as saying yes.

How Much Does a Certified Family Counselor Earn?

As of February 2024, as a certified marriage counselor, you can expect to earn approximately $130,000, per year. If you fall in the lower 10%, you can expect to earn approximately $37,000, but if you fall in the upper 10%, you can expect to earn approximately $180,000 or more, per year,

What are the Opportunities for Advancement for a Certified Family Counselor?

The career outlook for marriage and family therapists is good. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics this industry should see a 14% increase in jobs by the year 2030.

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.

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