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Marriage and Family Counselor Job Description, Career as a Marriage and Family Counselor, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training College

Salary Median—$38,980 per year

Employment Outlook Very good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Marriage and family counselors provide therapy for people who wish to solve emotional conflicts. Their goal is to modify people's perceptions and behavior, improve communication, and prevent individual and family crises. Counselors work in mental health centers, clinics, hospitals, social service agencies, and private practice.

Therapy usually consists of talk sessions, lasting about an hour. Using techniques learned in classrooms and in fieldwork, counselors guide their clients through a series of conversations that reveal their clients' anger, fears, and needs. When couples are considering divorce, for instance, counselors work to uncover the underlying reasons for the divorce and discover whether reconciliation is possible.

Marriage counselors usually speak with a husband and wife at the same time, although they may have some sessions with them separately. They may also counsel groups of married couples, groups of husbands, or groups of wives. Family counselors work with entire families or with individual family members, using similar methods of therapy.

Counselors' work may vary by place of employment. Those in private practice, for example, may specialize in one or two kinds of problems. They may refer clients to other counselors if they determine that their clients' problems are outside their areas of expertise. Counselors who work in clinics may work in teams, consulting each other on appropriate therapy techniques. Some clinics employ counselors with special qualifications to take on the most difficult cases.

Education and Training Requirements

Requirements for marriage and family counselors typically include master's degrees in counseling, two years or three thousand hours of supervised clinical experience, and state-recognized exams. Counselors must adhere to ethical codes and standards and complete continuing education requirements every year. Courses in sociology, social work, psychology, and modern foreign languages are helpful.

Getting the Job

Job seekers can apply directly to local agencies, hospitals, and clinics. Those who wish to work for government agencies should take the necessary civil service tests. Many students make future job contacts while doing fieldwork for courses in social work and psychology. School placement offices, professional journals, newspaper ads, and job sites on the Internet are other sources of employment leads.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Marriage and family counselors can become self-employed or work as directors of departments or agencies. They can also advance by earning doctorates or by taking additional postgraduate courses. Experienced counselors may become trainers and teachers of new counselors.

The employment of marriage and family counselors is expected to grow faster than the average for all jobs through 2014. Demand for therapists should grow as more people become comfortable seeking professional help for personal and family problems. More employers are also offering employee-assistance programs that provide counseling.

Working Conditions

Counselors work in offices where they can speak with their clients in private or in groups. Working hours vary because many counselors combine part-time jobs in social service agencies with private practice. Agency work, especially in marriage counseling, often includes two or three evenings of work each week because many clients work during the day. Counselors in private practice can regulate their own schedules; they may have some evening and weekend sessions.

The work can be very demanding. Counselors must always give their complete attention to their clients' difficulties.

Earnings and Benefits

Pay scales vary considerably. Starting salaries for beginning counselors employed by public agencies or clinics range from $25,000 to $30,000 per year, depending on educational background. In 2004 the median salary of marriage and family counselors was $38,980 per year. The most experienced counselors earned more than $65,080 per year. Experienced counselors in private practice usually have the highest earnings.

Where to Go for More Information

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
112 S. Alfred St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
(703) 838-9808

American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists
PO Box 1960
Ashland, VA 23005-1960
(804) 752-0056

Benefits for counselors employed by government agencies or other large public or private organizations usually include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw and Public Service