A person can become a family therapist by completing education to be licensed as a counselor/therapist and by studying and practicing the specifics of family therapy during formal education and before and after licensing. Some therapists are generalists, preferring to work with a wide variety of clientele and others prefer to specialize in one area. Those who want to become a family therapist primarily need to pay careful attention to education and experiences during licensure, as these can help direct a career toward specializing in working with families and couples.
Education is the first goal for the person who wants to become a family therapist. People will first need a bachelor’s degree before attending graduate school and they’ll need to decide what master’s or doctorate they’d like to achieve. A Phd/PsyD in psychology, MA or MS in marriage and family therapy, or a Master’s in social work are classic choices.
Only the psychology degree requires a doctorate. To become a family therapist there isn’t necessarily an advantage of one degree over another. Yet those studying psychology might want to achieve a PsyD because it may be more focused on clinical practice.
While completing graduate school, taking electives is one way of exploring interest to become a family therapist. There are many schools of thought regarding the best way to providing counseling to families. Social workers tend to study family systems therapy, but all degree candidates can study other theories on how to best aid families. Since couples can be defined as a “family,” taking electives that cover couples therapy is recommended.
Most graduates need to complete about 1500-3000 supervised hours before getting licensed. People should seek out job placements offering opportunities to practice what they’ve learned about family therapy. Good places to look for work include agencies that serve or counsel families regularly. Some of these are state agencies and others may be privately based. Though ideal, it isn’t always possible to specialize at this point, and if people can’t find work that is only tailored to families, they should at least look for work that will occasionally allow for practicing with families.
While completing licensure hours, participating in workshops about family therapy, reading as much as possible on the subject, and watching any relevant tapes/DVDs can also be more useful. Experience can be the best teacher. Still, therapists in training benefit from significant exposure to past and present theory on how to best help families in the therapeutic setting.
Such learning to become a family therapist shouldn’t stop with obtaining a license, and it may be impossible to initially have a practice that only works with families, without another independent income source. The learning process continues and fortunately most therapists have continuing education requirements that can be filled by studying family therapy more in a variety of settings. Gradually, as knowledge and experience increases, along with reputation, people can become known primarily as family therapists, allowing them to fill their practice with people interested specifically in this area.