What Is Family Counseling?

Family counseling is a counseling specialization focusing on familial dynamics and relationships. Read about counseling requirements and earning potential.

portrait of Marisa Upson
by Marisa Upson

Published September 19, 2022

Edited by Desiree Cunningham
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What Is Family Counseling?
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Family counseling helps family members resolve conflicts, learn effective communication skills, and create a better home environment.

From 2018-2019, about 32,200 graduates received master's degrees in counseling, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Family counseling is a popular specialty for those in the field.

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The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy reports a 50-fold increase in marriage and family therapists since 1970. These therapists treat over 1.8 million people at any given time.

Some specialize in working with couples, families with children, or families experiencing substance misuse disorders. Professionals like marriage and family therapists, clinical social workers, and psychologists may provide family and marriage counseling.

Continue reading to learn more about this counseling profession, including how to become one, job demand and trends, plus potential salary and careers.

What You Need to Know About Family Counseling Job Demand and Salaries

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 14% job growth for marriage and family therapists from 2021-31. This amounts to about 9,100 job openings yearly and is much faster than the average employment growth for all occupations. These professionals work in different settings, including mental health centers, medical centers, hospitals, schools, and government agencies.

Marriage and family therapists earned a median annual salary of $49,880, with the top 10% making over $96,520. Those who worked for state governments earned some of the highest-paying salaries, with median wages of $77,960.

Experience also increases earnings. According to Payscale, licensed marriage and family therapists with 1-4 years of experience earned an average salary of $55,000, while those with 10-19 years of experience make $65,000 as of August 2022.

5 Popular Family Counseling Careers for All Interests

Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage and family therapists treat various conditions, including stress, low-self esteem, depression, and alcoholism. They may treat these conditions in the context of familial relationships, such as addressing marital or couple issues and child-parent problems.

These therapists require a master's in marriage and family therapy or a related field and 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. All states require licensure.

Median Salary
$49,880

Projected Job Growth
14% growth from 2020-2030


Clinical Social Worker

Clinical social workers may provide counseling and other social services to families, couples, and children. In addition to therapy, they connect families with community services that can assist with housing, healthcare, employment, and other challenges they may face.

These professionals typically require a master's in social work, supervised clinical experience, and state licensure.

Median Salary
$50,390

Projected Job Growth
9% growth from 2020-2030


School Counselor

School counselors work in K-12 settings. These counselors receive training in mental health challenges and working with children and their families in school settings. They may help students develop social and academic skills and offer support for challenges they may face at home or school.

These counselors typically require a master's degree in school counseling or a related field, a period of supervised experience, and state certification.

Median Salary
$60,510

Projected Job Growth
10% growth from 2020-2030


Clinical Director

Clinical directors manage the daily tasks in a clinical counseling setting. These settings include hospitals, outpatient care centers, and social service agencies. They oversee an organization's hiring, training, and scheduling. They may also ensure the quality of care, manage budgets, and raise funds.

Clinical directors need a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Some positions require a master's in social work or a related field.

Average Salary
$69,620 (August 2022)


Psychologist

Psychologists can work as part of a healthcare team in medical facilities. They may also work in school settings or private practice. A few different types of psychologists that provide family psychotherapy include clinical, counseling, developmental, and school psychologists.

Most clinical and counseling psychologists need a doctoral degree in psychology, and most states require licensure.

Median Salary
$81,040

Projected Job Growth
6% growth from 2020-2030

How to Become a Family Counselor

While clinical positions typically require a master's degree and licensing, entry-level positions are available. For example, applicants may qualify for a position as a juvenile counselor after earning a bachelor's in counseling, psychology, criminal justice, or a related field and gaining experience.

Some top online bachelor's in counseling programs can also prepare graduates for roles as social workers and substance abuse counselors.

Those looking to become a marriage and family therapist need a master's in marriage and family therapy or a related field. All states require licensure and 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. To become a family counselor, you must pass a state-specific exam and complete yearly continuing education requirements. Learn about the difference between certificates, certifications, and licenses.

Students may also continue their education and earn a doctorate in family counseling. A doctoral degree opens the door to research and postsecondary teaching opportunities.

Before delving into the profession, consider the soft skills required in family counseling. These include empathy, strong communication, and analytical thinking.

How Long Does It Take to Get Into Family Counseling?

Earning a bachelor's in counseling or marriage and family therapy typically takes about four years. Accelerated online programs may allow students to earn their degrees in three years. Other ways to graduate from college early include earning college credits in high school and testing out of introductory-level college courses.

Most counseling positions require a master's degree. These take about two years, though some schools offer accelerated programs that allow students to earn their degree in 15-18 months. Most states also require 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised work experience for state licensure, which may take two or more years to complete.

Networking while in college can help students develop professional relationships that can help them succeed after graduation.

The Future of Family Counseling

The Growing Use of Teletherapy

Teletherapy offers remote therapy services via online platforms, such as video conferencing or by phone. Like other forms of healthcare, family counseling went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This trend increases access to care and is expected to continue. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), several studies show the effectiveness of mental health care delivered remotely.

Therapists Seeing an Increase in Clients Under 30

The stigma surrounding counseling is abating as more celebrities go public about seeking help for their mental health challenges. This is one of the reasons more people under the age of 30 seek therapy. According to the APA, 37% of generation Z and 35% of millennials report receiving mental health treatment or therapy, compared to 26% of generation X and 22% of baby boomers.

Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

The APA also reported that one of the fastest-growing fields is equity, diversity, and inclusion. These roles increased by 71% from 2015 to 2020, according to LinkedIn. Psychologists are uniquely qualified to fill these roles. Psychologists are also helping to identify the inequality and racial disparities regarding access to healthcare and how to reduce bias.

Integrated Care

The BLS projects about 8,500 new job openings annually for marriage and family therapists from 2020-2030. The growing demand for these therapists is due, in part, to integrated care.

This type of treatment brings together numerous specialists that address multiple issues simultaneously. For example, an integrated care team may include marriage and family therapists and substance abuse counselors.

Is Family Counseling Right For Me?

If you feel passionate about helping families, listen well, and can stay calm under pressure, you may find a career in family counseling incredibly gratifying. A few clues that this career may be right for you include a solid commitment to your mental health, an interest in learning about human relationships and behavior, and the ability to handle confrontations calmly and effectively.

Keep in mind that this profession can be demanding and challenging, requiring you to deal with complex and varied relationships. Understanding the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities of counseling can help you decide if this is the right profession for you. Consider taking advantage of internship opportunities and immersive co-op experiences during school.

Frequently Asked Questions About Family Counseling

What are the highest paying jobs in family counseling?

Salaries in family counseling vary significantly based on the position, years of experience, and location. Psychologists tend to see the greatest earnings. The BLS reports that the median yearly salaries for these professionals range from less than $47,850-$133,890.

Marriage and family therapists offer an example of how wages vary by state. According to the BLS, those working in Utah and New Jersey see the greatest earnings, with average salaries of $86,490 and $81,330, respectively.

With experience, clinical directors also see potentially higher earnings. Payscale reports that the top 10% earn an average yearly wage of $96,000 as of August 20222.

What is the difference between family counseling and group counseling?

Group counseling and family counseling involve therapy sessions with more than one person. In group counseling, therapists typically work with people experiencing similar challenges. These challenges may include overeating, grief, substance misuse, or a mental health disorder. The group dynamics can help patients feel supported and motivated and help them develop social skills.

Family counseling takes place with family members, allowing them to address conflicts and rebuild relationships. Family therapists may help patients understand the family dynamics that lead to tension and power struggles. They may address anger management or substance misuse that causes disruption.

Is family counseling a good career?

Family counseling can offer a rewarding and in-demand career. According to O*NET OnLine, marriage and family therapist jobs have a bright outlook, which translates to many job openings and rapid growth. In addition to the educational requirements, a few of the required soft skills include concern for others, flexibility, and analytical thinking.

A career in family counseling also offers different opportunities and settings. For example, these professionals may work in numerous industries, including healthcare, government, education, and nonprofits. They may also work in private practice.

What can I do with a family counseling degree?

A bachelor's degree in family counseling can lead to positions in substance misuse, behavior disorder, social work, and juvenile counseling in detention facilities. Most of these positions work under the supervision of a clinical therapist.

Many graduates continue their education and earn a master's in family counseling or a related field. A master's degree, the required hours of supervised experience, and passing a state-specific exam can qualify family counselors for licensure. A state license allows counselors to work in private practice and offers greater opportunities and earning potential.

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