How hard is it to become an MFT? I’d like to hear your story.

It’s expensive and takes a long time, but job prospects are good. Is that enough?

Hurdles (Scenes from a Track Meet)While the job outlook remains good for MFTs — one of the reasons family therapy continues to be rated among the top careers to go into — the barriers to entry are high and getting higher. Graduate school tuition costs are rising (and it’s often hard to get accurate information about graduate tuition); pre-licensed, post-degree therapists (called “associates” in some states and “interns” in others) typically work under supervision for several years, often for little to no money, even though some unpaid MFT internships may be illegal; and these days in California, even after you finish your supervised experience you have to wait seven months or more for the licensing board to get around to your application to take the exams.

Is it all worth it?

I would say yes, but then, of course I would say yes. I’ve made, dare I say, a relatively good and stable career of being an MFT, and it is work that I love. At the same time, the environment when I came into the profession was different than it is today, and I was lucky in many ways. I got my bachelor’s degree without student loan debt, for example, which is today the exception and not the rule. California’s MFT curriculum requirements were not as tough then as they are now, requiring many to spend more time in school and pay more in tuition. (I’ve never needed to take a second job outside of the therapy world to pay the rent.) And when I applied to take the licensing exams, I didn’t have to twiddle my thumbs for another half-year waiting. So I only know my own experience, and I’m not in a good place to speak to how it is for new therapists. That’s where you come in.

In today’s environment, is it worth it to go through the struggle to become a family therapist? I was inspired to ask by a pair of articles making the rounds online: One arguing that Generation Y is made up of whiners with entitlement issues, and a counterpoint arguing that GenY is drowning in debt and poor prospects for improving their lives. Both are good articles. And Generation Y is made up of those born between roughly the late 1970s and the mid 1990s — so if you are in graduate school now, there’s a good chance you are part of that generation.

I would love to hear your stories of the struggles and rewards of becoming an MFT. If you’re new to the field and a part of Generation Y, what joys and struggles have you experienced so far, and what are your future expectations for success, salary, and happiness? If you’re an MFT veteran who is not part of that generation, how would you advise the GenYers coming into the field today? Post in the comments below or by email to me at ben[at]bencaldwell[dot]com.

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Bear in mind that by sharing your story, you’re granting permission for me to use it, with your name and with some editing if needed, here on the blog. I might also use it in other projects (as one example, I might forward it to AAMFT-CA for consideration in their work), with proper attribution of course. Thanks!

Marriage and the economy

Slate engaged in a bit of a bogus trend story earlier this week, usually something the online magazine makes a habit of mocking. Under the title “Unwashed coffee mugs,” the story aims to educate us on the toll that the faltering economy has taken on marriages.

Let’s start with what the article gets right: 82 percent of the recession’s job losses have been suffered by men. As of last year, 25 percent of wives out-earned their husbands, a number that almost certainly has climbed with recent layoffs. And time-use data does indeed show that after men lose their jobs, they don’t suddenly find themselves inspired to do more housework; instead, “they spend more time sleeping, watching TV, and looking for a job.”

Getting to what that means for marriage, of course, is trickier.

To be sure, money is a common source of conflict in marriages. But the actual effects of recession on divorce rates are not that large:

Census Bureau figures show that over the past 2 1/2 decades, recessions have had only minor effects on divorce rates, which have been slowly waning since the early ’80s after 20 years of steadily rising. Those trajectories have been influenced more by the rise of the women’s movement and women’s earning power, lower fertility and changes in divorce laws than by dour Dows. The only recorded spike in divorces in the past 75 years came right after World War II.

Expect to see a lot more speculation about money and marriage over the next few months — it’s a common (and easy) theme to strike in writing about family life. But bear in mind that there are contradictory forces on families in a recession; they may suffer greater stress as a result of financial woes, sure. They also may be more likely to come together as a family to make it through a difficult time. Beware of stories that draw conclusions beyond what their data can support.