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Is a Ph.D. Required to Be a Marriage and Family Counselor?

Candidates interested in working as a marriage and family therapist often wonder if a Ph.D. is necessary to become a marriage and family counselor. Marriage and family counselors must have at least a master’s degree but are not required to have a Ph.D. While some candidates choose to pursue a doctoral degree for whatever reason, it’s not a requirement for licensure. Here is some information on what it takes to become a marriage and family counselor as well as any requirements should a candidate choose to earn a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Counseling.

Education Requirements for Marriage and Family Counselors

To earn the marriage and family counselor degree, an individual must have at least a master’s degree from an accredited college. Provided the student already has a bachelor’s degree, the program should take between two and three years to complete. The student completes many major-related courses and will complete supervised clinical education to obtain hands-on training.

These are typically in the form of a residency or internship. They study areas like group therapy, family therapy, therapeutic interventions and psychotherapy. Marriage and family counselors must be licensed in all the states. To be eligible for licensure, the candidate must earn the master’s degree, complete from 2,000 to 4,000 hours (varies by state) of supervised clinical education and pass the state-recognized certification exam

Why Some Pursue the Ph.D.

Although not required, many choose to pursue a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Counseling. If the candidate already has a marriage and family counselor degree and/or is already working as a marriage and family counselor, he or she may be accepted right into the doctoral program. Marriage and family counselors may choose the Ph.D. for various reasons including:

  • interest in teaching marriage and family counselors
  • Interest in supervising marriage and family counselors
  • Desire to perform research
  • Desire to work in academic
  • Wish to explore a certain area or concentration of marriage and family counseling

According to the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education, there are more than 25 doctoral programs for this field. There are also various online programs. The Ph.D. program does not need to be accredited if the student is already licensed.

Requirements for the Ph.D. for Marriage and Family Counselors

In addition to the hours of internships and clinical education required to earn the master’s degree, candidates must also complete 1,000 hours of internship to earn the Ph.D. If the student already possesses the master’s degree, he may be able to get credit for 500 of the hours, although this varies by school.

The student may also be required to complete a research-based dissertation in addition to the research project completed while earning the master’s degree. The dissertation is often based on any specific area of marriage and family counseling that may interest them.

For instance, they may study issues of conflict resolution in certain populations or complexities in today’s technological society or exploring controversial issues within relationships. There are very different areas of study within the field of marriage and family counseling.

Career Outlook for Marriage and Family Counselors

Marriage and family counselors work with individuals, couples and families and continue to be very much in demand. In fact, of all the counselors and therapist out there, marriage and family counselors are expected to see the best job growth according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, who project a 23 percent job growth between 2016 and 2026. The bureau also reports an annual wage of $54,150 was earned by these professionals as of May 2018.

When asked why they joined the field of marriage and family counseling, most state they did it so they could be in a position to help couples and families stay together and lead as happy lives as possible. Earning a Ph.D. can be even more beneficial because the counselor can work in almost any area of specialization he or she wishes to pursue.

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