Dr. Carmen Knudson-Martin has been a marriage and family therapist for over 25 years and is the current director of the Ph.D. program in marriage and family therapy at the Loma Linda University in California. She is also a member of the American Family Therapy Association (AFTA).
Marriage and Family Therapist Career Path
Carmen found her passion for therapy after a career in education.
“I was a teacher,” she explains, “and I was interested in the kids who were struggling, such as with their family relationships. I studied family science, and I became interested in becoming a family therapist.”
This isn’t how most people find a career in therapy, according to Carmen.
“I wasn’t a psychology major, which is how a lot of people come at it,” she says. “I wanted to address some of the issues that I witnessed as a teacher to help families build stronger relationship bonds.”
Marriage and Family Therapist Experiences
Carmen received her Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy from the University of Southern California and her Master’s degree in family education from Utah State.
She has been a family therapist for 25 years. During that time, she has worked with families and couples to resolve their issues in many different areas.
During her training, Carmen spent time learning how to be a therapist with patients in supervised sessions. This is generally how most programs work because this gives students hands-on experiences while still allowing them to learn from experienced professionals.
Carmen taught family life education for four years before going to school for marriage and family therapy.
Marriage and Family Therapist Degree Programs
“To be licensed, you need at least a Master’s degree,” Carmen explains. “Every state has that at least. Some people also have a doctoral degree, which gives you additional expertise, but that isn’t always necessary.”
Marriage and Family Therapist Job Description
Carmen is the director of the Ph.D. program in marriage and family therapy at the Loma Linda University in California, where she teaches others how to be therapists and do therapy research.
Marriage and Family Therapist Daily Routine
A marriage and family therapist’s day really depends on where they work.
“Some therapists work at the hospital to work with people who are going through a liver transplant and their families,” says Carmen. “A lot of people work in community agencies where they work with young people who are struggling with school, legal, or parental problems. Some therapists go to people’s homes and work with them there.”
Carmen primarily works with couples when she does therapy sessions.
“That’s what I enjoy doing because I can help couples work their way through their problems and demands. I meet with people for about an hour at a time, asking them focus questions to help them see their relationships in different ways and can relate to each other better. People come to me for the same problems that they might see another counselor for, but we help them understand the problems in a larger social context than a typical therapist.”
Marriage and Family Therapist: Steps to Success
“You have to be very flexible,” Carmen advises. “You meet people, and you don’t know what they are going to present you with, so you have to be able to personally engage them. You have to be able to tolerate not knowing exactly what you are going to be faced with and what the end result between the family/couple will be.”
Good communications skills are crucial for marriage and family therapists.
“You have to have a good ability to engage with people and overcome obstacles,” says Carmen. “You have to be able to discuss very private things and not be overwhelmed.”
“You also have to be optimistic,” she adds.
Marriage and Family Therapist Job Opportunities
Because of the expanding human population and the problems that go along with that, there are a lot of opportunities for growth in family therapy.
“There are lots of different kinds of places that require the skills of that career,” Carmen explains. “There are some private practices, but generally therapists work out of large agencies. Programs don’t accept large classes, but it’s not really difficult to get into them; you just need the emotional maturity and skill set for the job.”
Marriage and Family Therapist Favorite Aspect
“I love the inside looks at peoples’ lives and the feeling that I can help people make better choices,” says Carmen. “The personal connections are very interesting and very rewarding. I get to know so many different kinds of people and learn what it’s like to be them.”
Advice for Prospective Marriage and Family Therapists
Before starting in this career, students should examine which kind of therapy they want to study.
“In trying to decide between family therapy and other kinds, know that family therapy takes a more positive outlook, focusing on people’s strengths and how they can build on that,” Carmen explains. “You should choose family therapy if you really want to see people as something bigger than they are because we are all interconnected, and family and marriage therapists should understand that.”
Carmen advises to know exactly what you are getting yourself into by pursuing family and marriage therapy.
“You need to be able to take feedback,” Carmen recommends. “Be able to look at yourself and improve yourself. If you have a strong need for perfection, you have to accept feedback. Working with people is an imperfect science, so you have to be able to do it and make mistakes, receive feedback, and not be overly sensitive about yourself.”