Increased mental health awareness is leading to demand for therapists to serve couples and families. Could a career as a marriage and family therapist be a good investment for you?
Do you wonder why people are the way they are? Or do you constantly find yourself consoling friends and helping them work through personal struggles?
If so, then you should consider a career path in counseling and mental health, a field that the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts will grow by almost 30 percent over the next seven years. U.S. News & World Report recently reported that marriage and family therapist positions are expected to grow by 41 percent by 2020, which makes it a very hot job to consider.
As the general public becomes more comfortable with the idea of accepting help from therapists to resolve conflicts, particularly those that stem from the home, family and marriage therapists are in greater demand than ever before.
What is marriage and family therapy and what do licensed therapists do?
Marriage and family therapy is a discipline of mental health, much like social work, psychiatry and psychology.
But people who study and become licensed in this field, called licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs), learn to address client needs and challenges in the context of multiple, and often overlapping, relationship, societal and cultural systems. LMFTs are specially trained to resolve conflict, emotional and cognitive disorders in a variety of situations and to do so in a holistic, all-encompassing way.
Dr. Tracy Todd, Executive Director of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), explains that this therapy is founded upon “the idea that we are all shaped by the relationships that make up our own individual existence” and therefore should treat problems from a relationship system-context. Why not just treat the problems of the individual seeking help? Todd says, “treating outside of that [relationship] context fails to address the person as a whole.”
LMFTs may work with one person at a time, or multiple, as families and couples may attend therapy to work through a challenging event or emotions together, such as a death in the family, relationship tension, substance abuse, anxiety and depression.
Why is this occupation growing?
Recent studies have shown that approximately one in five Americans experience some type of mental illness each year, yet most do not receive treatment. High costs, negative stigmas about seeking outside help, and restricted access to mental health practitioners are major reasons for this. But the stigma toward treating mental illness is shifting, in part due to government policy and greater cultural acceptance of therapy.
The Affordable Care Act and 2008 Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act require that all new insurance policies in individual plans, employer-sponsored plans, Medicaid, and those sold on the federal health exchange include coverage for mental and behavioral health treatment. Heightened access and awareness combined with knowledge that the costs of not treating behavioral health are high for employers are leading to an increased need for mental health counselors.
“As the stigma of mental health continues to be reduced, and more and more of the public are exposed to the positive benefits of therapy, there will be an increased need for mental health professionals,” Todd said. AAMFT has noticed an increase in the number of student memberships and pre-licensure memberships in the past couple years, which underscores the idea that stigmas are changing and people feel that mental health is just as important as physical health.
What career paths are available for LMFTs?
AAMFT, which represents over 50,000 marriage and family therapists, finds that while most LMFTs work in private practice (either on their own or in a small team), there has been an uptick in the number of LMFTs working in employee-assistance programs in private companies, public organizations and educational facilities.
Leanne Juzaitis, a Baltimore-based LMFT, works as a mental health therapist at an inner-city school and oversees a caseload of more than 30 children. She pursued this path after realizing that “no problem exists in isolation…[I] wanted to be able to get to the root of problems rather than just the surface [to learn how they are] created, maintained, and function in larger systems.” She works with children one-on-one and with their families on a weekly basis.
While her job can be stressful and emotionally draining (she often helps children who are exposed to violence, death and poverty), she loves “being able to be a neutral party that can help someone understand their feelings” and is “inspired by the resilience of people, especially children.”
Todd became a LMFT in 1989 and practiced privately for almost 20 years before joining AAMFT’s leadership team. He was motivated to pursue this path when he learned that “the systemic benefits of [therapy] and the ripple effect of how the benefits can be realized through the entire system in which an individual lives and works” were powerful catalysts to create positive change.
How do I become a LMFT?
Most mental health therapy careers require graduate-level study (a master’s degree is the minimum, though doctorate degrees are common) and supervised sessions with patients before being licensed. At least two years of clinical supervision are required to become a licensed marriage and family therapist due to the increased focus on marriage and family systems.
AAMFT is developing multiple programs for emerging and new professionals to make the licensure process less burdensome to new therapists. It offers a leadership symposium and career development training tracks, which “develop the critical skills necessary to recognize success quickly.” Additionally, AAMFT works on initiatives that focus “on licensure portability and reciprocity (between states) to allow for a more unified and transferable career path.” AAMFT also posts open job positions, information about accreditation and educational programs on their website.
Mental health occupations are on the rise and the need for family and marriage therapists leads the pack. If you’re drawn to helping others and like to understand problems in terms of systems and contextual situations, then this career path may be for you.
Meghan Bollenback (@megbollenback) “retired” at the ripe age of 27 from her corporate career after running operations and real estate for a healthcare startup. She is now a writer and creative professional based in Washington, D.C., exploring the written word through food, business, and her love of storytelling.