Family Counselor Salary, Job Description and Requirements

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A family counselor leads a group therapy discussion.

Licensed family counselors positively impact the lives of individuals and their families in numerous ways. They help family members develop coping strategies to deal with difficult situations that cause negative emotions. These strategies can help resolve conflicts, heal fractured relationships and improve behaviors.

Family counselors work with families in private practices, hospitals, substance abuse treatment centers and nursing homes, often working in tandem with other mental health professionals such as psychologists or social workers. The importance of their role is reflected in a family counselor’s salary and job outlook, which are promising. An advanced education, such as a master’s in counseling, can help lay the foundation for a career in this rewarding field.

Family Counselor Job Description

Family counselors help heal relationships and support clients in managing a variety of issues. They apply a wide range of counseling techniques, typically focusing on cognitive behavioral therapy, which emphasizes replacing negative behaviors with positive ones. These tactics can be applied to treat many issues impacting families, such as mental illness, addiction, marital conflicts and age-related illnesses like dementia. They can also refer individuals to community resources and services, such as support groups or treatment facilities.

Family counselors generally practice short-term therapy, spending an average of 12 sessions with each family, according to the Mayo Clinic. Sessions typically last up to an hour. However, the number and frequency of sessions depend on a family’s specific situation and the counselor’s approach to therapy.

Unlike other areas of counseling that focus on treating individuals, family counselors address relationship issues that impact how clients function within their family units.

A family counselor’s job description may entail additional duties, depending on the setting where they work. For instance, those in private practice may work with insurance companies to receive proper compensation for their services. They may also have to develop marketing strategies to promote their services to prospective clients.

How to Become a Family Counselor

The road to becoming a family counselor entails earning an advanced degree in the mental health field, such as a Master of Arts in Counseling. The degree program must be fully accredited by an organization such as the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

Students must also obtain a license to perform therapeutic services in their state of practice. This requires completing a 2,000- to 4,000-hour clinically supervised internship or residency and passing a state certification exam. Once a professional becomes an actively practicing family counselor, they will need to take yearly continuing education courses to maintain licensure.

Graduates of Wake Forest University’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling master’s program consistently achieve high pass rates on licensing examinations. At the end of the 2020 academic year, the pass rate for graduates taking the National Counselor Exam was 97%.

Becoming a Family Counselor

The precise path an individual takes to become a family counselor depends on which of the wide range of issues that can be treated therapeutically they focus on. Family counselors can specialize in a variety of areas, including:

  • Addictive behaviors, such as substance misuse or gambling
  • Family dynamics
  • Grief or bereavement counseling
  • Parenting
  • Marriage and relationships
  • Mental health issues
  • Interpersonal relationships in community or school settings
  • Self-esteem and life coaching
  • Caregiver relationships

Some advanced degree programs feature concentrations with curricula geared toward preparing individuals for a specialization on a deeper level. For instance, Wake Forest University’s Master of Arts in Counseling program offers two tracks. The Clinical Mental Health track prepares students for working with clients with mental health issues, and the School Counseling track focuses on working with children and their families in a school setting.

Family Counselor Salary and Job Outlook

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t track salaries for family counselors specifically, it reports that the median annual wage for marriage and family therapists was $49,900 in May 2021. Payscale estimates similar earnings for family counselors, with an average salary of $46,300. However, Payscale notes that compensation can vary significantly depending on where counselors work and their level of education and experience, with salaries ranging between $34,000 and $67,000.

The job outlook is bright for this profession. Employment of marriage and family therapists is expected to grow by 16% between 2020 and 2030, according to the BLS — much faster than the 8% growth it projects for all professions during that period.

Embark on a Crucial Career Path

Family counselors provide their clients with the tools to improve their lives and their relationships. This potential to significantly improve the well-being of individuals and families can make a career as a family counselor a highly satisfying one.

Wake Forest University’s online Master of Arts in Counseling program can equip you with the knowledge and skills you’ll need to make a positive impact in the lives of others. The 60-hour mental health counseling program offers clinical instruction on advanced therapeutic techniques and includes a practicum component that allows students to develop their skills outside the classroom. Students are given the opportunity to secure internships through a network of industry partners in their chosen specialties.

If you would like to develop a deeper understanding of human nature and become a catalyst for positive health and societal change, learn how Wake Forest University can prepare you to achieve your professional goals.

Recommended Reading:

Counseling, Social Work and Psychology: What’s the Difference?

The Importance of Counseling

MSW vs. Master’s in Counseling: What’s the Difference?


Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education, About COAMFTE

Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, About CACREP

GoodTherapy, “For Therapists: 7 Marketing Strategies to Grow Your Practice”

Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council, Mission

Mayo Clinic, Family Therapy

Payscale, Average Family Counselor Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Marriage and Family Therapists