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What is an LMFT? Your guide to this psychotherapy career

December 06, 2019 by University of Massachusetts Global

More Americans are seeking mental health treatment than ever before. Four in every 10 American adults have seen a therapist at some point in their lives. It helps that nationwide initiatives to support mental health services are continuing to grow and evolve. To further support the cause, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services named marriage and family therapy as one of the five core mental health professions.

Marriage and family therapy is unique among behavioral health disciplines in that it focuses on understanding a client’s symptoms and diagnoses within the context of their relationships. As a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), you’d have the opportunity to help individuals and families overcome barriers that might come between them and a healthy way of living.

So, what is an LMFT? Join us as we explore the ins and outs of this impactful career path, including the typical on-the-job duties and what to expect from this field in the coming years.

What is marriage and family therapy?

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) explains that this specialization broadens the traditional emphasis on the individual by also acknowledging the impact a client’s relationship networks can have on his or her well-being. LMFTs take a holistic approach to health care, emphasizing the long-term well-being of individuals and those within their support systems.

Mental health professionals in this realm are trained in psychotherapy. They are licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage, couples and family systems. An LMFT’s scope of practice is outlined as follows:

  • They can diagnose mental disorders.
  • They can provide psychological treatment for individuals, families and groups.
  • They cannot administer or interpret psychological tests.
  • They cannot diagnose or treat physical conditions.
  • They cannot prescribe medication.

In their day-to-day work, LMFTs help clients process their reactions to changes and circumstances in their lives. The goal is to help people develop strategies and skills to alter their behavior and cope with difficult situations. LMFTs use a variety of techniques when working with clients. Among the most common is cognitive behavioral therapy. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) explains this treatment is a goal-oriented approach that helps clients understand harmful thoughts, feelings and beliefs while teaching them how to replace them with positive ones that can enhance their lives.

The range of clinical issues LMFTs treat is vast. The list includes depression, anxiety, marital problems, drug abuse, alcoholism, obesity, dementia, individual psychological problems and conflicts between parents and children. So what's the difference between general practice therapists and those with a license in marriage and family therapy? 


While therapists typically treat clients individually — LMFTs focus on the relationships that may influence a person’s behavior or well-being.

What is the career outlook for LMFTs?

AAMFT data maintains that there has been a 50-fold increase in practicing LMFTs since 1970. At any given time, these therapists are treating more than 1.8 million people across the country. Clients reportedly walk away from their marriage and family therapy experiences with improvements in productivity, relationships, emotional health and social interactions. 

Research shows that LMFTs have high rates of patient satisfaction. Functional improvement is also quite high among clients, even though treatment doesn’t tend to last all that long. In fact LMFTs average 12 sessions per client. Even though the focus is on a person’s relationship networks, about half the treatment provided is one-on-one.

The significant increase in people seeking behavioral health services means that the growth in the marriage and family therapy field is flourishing. Available positions are projected to grow 22 percent by 2028 — that’s more than four times the national average for all occupations. The BLS also reports the median annual salary for LMFTs is $50,090, with the potential to earn more than $80,000 annually.

Professionals in this field commonly work in private practices, although positions are also available in the following work environments:

  • VA centers
  • Inpatient facilities
  • Hospitals and clinics
  • Schools
  • Universities
  • Social services agencies
  • Courts
  • Prisons
  • Research centers
  • Community health centers

It’s also true that many therapists will work evenings and weekends to accommodate their clients’ schedules.

How do you become an LMFT?

If you’re eager to make an impact and become an LMFT, the most common path into the field is earning a Master of Arts in Psychology. The next step is completing at least two years of post-degree supervised clinical experience. The period of live supervision by experienced marriage and family therapists makes an LMFT’s training unique among other behavioral health disciplines.

All states require marriage and family therapists to be licensed. This will generally involve passing the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards’ Marriage and Family Therapy National Exam. The BLS also notes that LMFTs must complete annual continuing education classes throughout their careers.

Make an impact with a behavioral health career

You can see there’s a pretty simple answer to the question, “What is an LMFT?” They’re vital therapists for many people. But despite the growing demand for the types of services LMFTs provide, the nation is experiencing a severe shortage in mental and behavioral health professionals. If you feel called to dedicate your career to helping preserve or restore the mental and emotional well-being of those in your community, a career in marriage and family therapy could be the perfect path for you.

Now that you know more about these therapists and how to become one, what are you waiting for? Get started on your path toward a career that will allow you to support the needs of individuals, couples and families. Learn more about pursuing this career by visiting University of Massachusetts Global’s Master of Arts in Psychology page.



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