All states require both mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists to have a master’s degree and a license to practice.
A master’s degree in counseling or marriage and family therapy is required. A bachelor’s degree in most fields is acceptable to enter a master’s-level program.
Counseling programs prepare students to recognize symptoms of mental and emotional disorders and to use effective counseling strategies. Marriage and family therapy programs teach students about how marriages, families, and relationships function and how they affect mental and emotional disorders. Both programs typically require a period of supervised experience, such as an internship.
Mental health counselors must be licensed. Licensure requires a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. In addition, counselors must pass a state-recognized exam and complete annual continuing education classes. Contact information for state regulating boards is available through the National Board for Certified Counselors.
Marriage and family therapists must be licensed. Licensure requires a master’s degree and 2 years of supervised clinical experience. Like counselors, marriage and family therapists must pass a state-recognized exam and complete annual continuing education classes. Contact information for state regulating boards is available through the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards.
Compassion. Counselors and therapists often work with people who are dealing with stressful and difficult situations, so they must be compassionate and empathize with their clients.
Listening skills. Good listening skills are essential for mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists, both of whom need to give their full attention to their clients to understand their problems and values.
Organizational skills. Good organizational skills are especially important for counselors and therapists in private practice, who must keep track of payments and work with insurance companies.
People skills. Being able to work with different types of people is essential for counselors and therapists, who spend most of their time working directly with clients or other professionals and must be able to encourage good relationships.
Speaking skills. Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists need to be able to communicate with clients effectively. They must express ideas and information in a way that clients can easily understand.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition