How to Become a Family Psychologist

Family psychology is a branch of psychology that deals with issues related to the family. Family psychologists provide counseling to individuals, couples, and families; provide play therapy and assessment for children struggling with ADD/ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, bedwetting, or PTSD; and counseling for a wide range of mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders that occur within families. Common issues might include relationship problems between spouses, trauma from intimate partner abuse, and children and teens having difficulties coping with a parent’s remarriage and other troubles among stepfamilies. Other key issues that family psychologists address with clients are difficulties associated with adoption, miscarriages, and postpartum depression.

What degree is required to become a family psychologist?

Most family psychologists enter professional practice in clinical or counseling psychology, both of which require a Ph.D. or Psy.D., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Doctoral programs in family psychology incorporate training in human development over the lifespan, theory of family psychology, gender and cultural considerations in family psychology, research and statistical analysis, and more. While traditional, campus-based programs are more commonly offered, family psychology online degree programs allow students more flexibility to complete their course work at a convenient time of day from the comfort of their own homes.

After a psychologist has earned a traditional or online family psychology degree and become licensed, he or she may pursue board certification in family psychology. While board certification is not required to work in family therapy, it may improve your marketability in the job market or give potential clients more confidence in your expertise if you are in private practice. The American Board of Professional Psychology offers a specialty certification in couple and family psychology for psychologists who have completed a recognized internship and a recognized post-doctoral residency in couple and family psychology. As an alternative, psychologists may complete one year of post-doctoral studies, two graduate-level practicum courses, and 40 hours of continuing education in couple and family psychology. For more specifics on eligibility requirements for this credential, click here.

How long does it take to become a family psychologist?

To become a family psychologist, you must commit one to two years to a master’s program in psychology and four to five years to a doctoral program. Doctoral programs are lengthy because of the time commitment involved in internships and dissertation research. Many Ph.D. programs in psychology set a seven-year time limit on completion because of the rigors of the program. Beyond the time it takes to obtain a doctorate in family psychology, students should consider the time it takes to become licensed. While licensure requirements for psychologists differ depending on what state you live in, they commonly require a doctorate, internship, and one to two years of professional experience before students can sit for the exam, according to the BLS.

What is a family psychologist’s salary?

The median salary for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists was $66,810 as of May 2010, according to the BLS. Since most family psychologists work in clinical or counseling psychology, this is a good frame of reference for determining what your future salary might be as a family psychologist. Keep in mind that family psychologists’ income can vary greatly depending on their level of experience, the area of the country they work, and the size of their employer or client base. Family psychologists who are just starting out should not expect to earn the same income as a family psychologist with extensive experience.