Becoming A Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Virginia

I’m finally about halfway through with my residency and about halfway to becoming a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) in Virginia. When I’m mentioned this before, I’ve gotten a lot of feedback about people being surprised at how much was involved in becoming a licensed therapist. Today I’m going to dive into the requirements for Virginia LMFTs and my journey.

The Non-Technical Rundown

In Virginia, this is the basic process of how to get your Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) license:

  1. Go to graduate school for counseling/MFT
  2. Find a supervisor
  3. Find a job
  4. Fill out paperwork and send it in to The Board (repeat steps 4-6 for each job change)
  5. Wait to hear back from The Board
  6. Start counting your hours of work (face-to-face and other)
  7. Repeat until you have 4,000 hours of work (2,000+ face-to-face)
  8. Fill out MORE paperwork and send it in to The Board
  9. Wait to hear back from The Board
  10. Take the National Exam
  11. Wait to hear back
  12. Get license

Optional step: Sleep for 12 years

Go to graduate school for Counseling/Marriage and Family Therapy

There are really only two requirements for whatever graduate program you select:

  • It must be CORE, CACREP, or COAMFTE accredited, and;
  • It must have the required course areas.

The required course areas are:

  1. Marriage & Family Studies (2 classes)
  2. Marriage & Family Therapy (2 classes)
  3. Human Development
  4. Professional Identity, Function & Ethics
  5. Research
  6. Assessment & Treatment
  7. Supervised internship of 600 hours to include 240 hours of direct client contact. Three hundred of the internship hours and 120 of the direct client contact hours must be with couples and families.


Find a supervisor

You have to find a currently licensed therapist who is willing to meet with you weekly or biweekly. You can have multiple supervisors but you can’t count any more than 4 hours of supervision per 40 hours of face-to-face work.
You have to get a total of 200 hours of supervision while you are in residency, and 100 of those hours must be from an LMFT supervisor.
Many times employers are able to provide supervision toward licensure at no additional cost, though many employers in my area do not have LMFTs. You may need to find a private supervisor. Keep in mind that most supervisors charge between $60-$100 per hour.

Find a job

This step might occur before you find a supervisor but you need both to move on to the next step.
You have to find a clinical job, meaning you provide some form of therapeutic service. This can include the traditional outpatient counselor, inpatient counselor,  substance abuse counselor, intensive in-home counseling, crisis stabilization counseling, and many more.
There are also many mental health positions that do not count, like therapeutic day treatment, mental health skill-building, and anything entitled “support” or “direct care.”

Fill out paperwork and send it in to the Virginia Board of Counseling (“The Board”)

After you have found a job and a supervisor, you get to fill out a 4-page registration form. You also have to pay a $50 registration fee the first time.
If you change jobs, positions, or supervisors, you will have to submit another form and pay a $25 registration fee.
You have to include the original signatures when you submit your paperwork, so it’s highly recommended that you get signature confirmation that it has been received.

Wait to hear back from The Board

After you submit your paperwork, you will receive an email that says they got your paperwork and that it is waiting to be reviewed.
After you get that email, it can take anywhere up to 9 months before it is reviewed. Eventually, you will hear back from The Board telling you if your registration has been approved. If not, you will have to make the corrections they tell and start over at step 4.

Start counting your hours of work

After you get approval from The Board, you get to start the process of counting all of your hours! Yay!
There are 2 types of hours you have to count:

  1. Direct hours, which as face-to-face hours with clients providing a clinical service, and
  2. Indirect hours, which is everything else you do in your job (talking to other providers, writing notes and other paperwork, etc.).

You have to get at least 2,000 hours of direct hours and the remaining can be indirect hours.
For MFT, there are 2 types of direct hours: individual (one person) and relational (couples or family members). You must get at least 1,000 hours of relational hours and the rest can be individual.

Repeat until you have 4,000 hours of work

This step is pretty straight-forward.

Fill out more paperwork and send it in to The Board

After you’ve gotten your need hours (usually 2-5 years later), you can submit your application for licensure.  This is a 2-page application that includes an affidavit that must be notarized, as well as a verification form you complete with your supervisor(s). In addition, you must submit a $140 application fee.

Wait to hear back from The Board

Now, more waiting. Once you hear from The Board, you can register for the National MFT Exam. You have 1 year to pass the exam and get your application approved or you must submit another application (and more money)

Take the National MFT Exam

Now you get to take the National MFT Exam! More yay! This is a 200 question, timed test all about Marriage and Family Therapy. It costs $350 each time you take the test and if you fail twice in a row, you have to complete 45 hours of additional training.
Failing is super expensive in addition to making you feel bad.

Wait to hear back

After you take the exam, you should get your scores back within 20 days. They also send your score to The Board. If you pass, great! If not, register again.

Get license

After you’ve passed the exam, your application and scores are reviewed and HOPEFULLY everything is good and you get your license! You must renew your license annually and complete 20 hours continuing education every year (which also cost money).
I’m currently on steps 4-6 because I just submitted additional paperwork for my new position but I’ve been able to count my hours from my other job. I’ve acquired about half of my hours so I’ve got a long way to go.
Becoming a Marriage and Family Therapist in Virginia

 Did anything in that list surprise you?


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