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How do I Become a Family Counselor?

By D. Jeffress
Updated May 17, 2024
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A family counselor is a licensed mental health professional who helps families overcome difficult circumstances in order to live happy, productive lives. Counselors mediate family discussions and attempt to open up lines of communication between family members. The nature of the job requires a person to have a strong understanding of psychology and sociology principles, as well as practical knowledge of successful counseling strategies. To become a family counselor, therefore, a person must usually obtain at least a master's degree and spend up to two years training under experienced professionals.

A high school student who may want to become a family counselor can prepare by enrolling in advanced science, mathematics, and psychology courses. Such classes introduce students to the principles of scientific research techniques, data analysis, and paper writing, activities that will be commonplace in college classrooms. High school graduates often apply to colleges and universities which have strong psychology and counseling departments.

An undergraduate who wants to become a family counselor may choose to major in psychology, sociology, human services, or counseling. Some schools offer four year bachelor's degree programs specifically in family counseling. A student who wants to become a family counselor may choose to take a broad range of classes, from statistics to English to religious studies. Having a strong understanding of science, communication, and humanities prepares a future counselor for interactions with clients who may have very different backgrounds. Upon completion of a bachelor's degree program, students typically face strong competition for admissions into accredited master's programs.

Master's degree programs usually last two to three years, and involve extensive classroom and practical training. Students are instructed on different counseling techniques and taught how to handle crises or emergency situations. They may have the opportunity to sit in on family counseling sessions to observe professionals in action. Many students are required to conduct research and write thesis papers regarding some aspect of family psychology and counseling.

Once a master's degree is obtained, a person may begin working under the supervision of licensed counselors. A new professional must usually complete at least two years of supervised counseling work before becoming eligible for licensure. Individual states and countries administer written licensing exams for new family counselors, which test a person's understanding of ethics, confidentiality, and counseling strategies. In most cases, meeting educational, training, and licensing requirements is enough to become a family counselor. Some employers prefer to hire counselors who have gained additional certification by a nationally recognized organization, such as the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By gravois — On Apr 25, 2012

What are the best undergraduate schools for becoming a family counselor? The article mentions that there are dedicated programs for family counseling in some undergrad schools but most of the places I have been looking don't have them.

By summing — On Apr 25, 2012

What I am about to say might sound controversial or off kilter but I think it is true. Anyone thinking of becoming a counselor should have some experience with family strife in their own life. It does not necessarily have to have been with your own family but it should have been close to you.

Good family therapy requires both objectivity and empathy. It is easy to teach the objectivity, but it is really hard to teach the empathy. Most of the best counselors I have known were able to draw on their own experiences to make their therapy more personal and relevant.

This is not to say that you can't become a good counselor if you had a happy family. It just helps to know where people are coming from.

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