Becoming a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist in California

How to Become a Marriage Family Therapist in California

Marriage family therapists treat a full range of mental and emotional disorders and problems that arise within the context of the family unit. Clients include individuals, couples, and families, with treatment plans focused on issues like partner relationships, family relationships, marital conflicts, depression, anxiety and more.

These mental health professionals work in a variety of settings from hospitals like Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose to mental health centers like the Mental Health Center of San Diego to governmental entities like the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.

Learning how to become a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) in California begins with a solid understanding of the education and licensing requirements leading to practice.

Educational Requirements for Marriage Family Therapists in California

To earn licensure as a marriage and family therapist in California, you’ll need a master’s or doctorate degree in one of the following:

  • Marriage, family, and child counseling
  • Marriage and family therapy
  • Couple and family therapy
  • Psychology
  • Clinical psychology
  • Counseling psychology
  • Counseling or clinical mental health counseling with an emphasis in either marriage, family, and child counseling or marriage and family therapy

The university needs to hold basic institutional accreditation from a regional or national institutional accrediting agency recognized by the US Department of Education or the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education. Alternately, California accepts all master’s or doctorates with specialty accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE).

MFT Educational Track Education Requirements Education Length Available Programs
Undergraduate Work Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Counseling 4 Years Online or Campus
Graduate Work Earn a Master's Degree in Counseling 5-6 Years Online or Campus
PHD or Doctoral Work Earn a Doctorate in Counseling 7-8 Years Online or Campus

These programs meet the requirements for state licensure in California by including at least 60 semester hours of instruction. At least 12 semester units of the 60-hour requirement must be in principles, theories, and methods of psychotherapeutic orientations that are directly related to marriage family therapy and the marriage family systems approach to treatment and how these theories can be applied to clients including individuals, families, and couples.

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If geographic limitations or professional obligations make earning a graduate degree difficult or even impossible, you’ll find a nice selection of MFT graduate programs offered in a hybrid/blended or online format. Because you can complete some or all of the courses within the program from the comfort of your home, the road to becoming an LMFT is easier and more accessible than ever.

Learn more about California MFT Degrees.

If you already hold a master’s degree or higher in another related field like psychology, social work, psychiatric nursing, or ministry, you may be able to earn licensure as a marriage and family therapist by completing a post-graduate training program in the field.

Additional Requirements for Family Therapy License in California

After completing an approved graduate program, you’ll need to complete at least 3,000 hours of supervised experience. This experience must be completed within six years of completing your graduate program.

As of December 2020, applicants must meet the following experiential requirements:

  • Minimum of 1,750 hours of direct counseling experience, of which a minimum of 500 hours must be in the diagnosing and treatment of couples, families, and children.
  • Maximum of 1,250 hours of non-clinical experience that may include direct supervisor contact, administering and evaluating psychological tests, writing clinical reports, writing progress or process notes, client-centered advocacy, and workshops, seminars, training sessions, or conferences directly related to marriage, family, and child counseling.

Once you’ve satisfied the supervised experience requirements, you’ll apply with the California Board of Behavioral Sciences to take national exam developed by the Association of Marital & Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) and pay the application fee of $500.

Once the Board approves your application, you’ll be eligible to schedule and take the AMFTRB exam, along with the California Law and Ethics Examination and the California LMFT Clinical Examination. You must pass all three exams to earn licensure as a marriage family therapist in California.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Career Outlook In California

Jobs for California’s marriage and family therapists are projected to grow by an impressive 11% between 2020 and 2030. During this ten-year period leading to 2030, the state expects about 3,170 annual job openings among marriage and family therapists due to a combination of new job growth, retirements, and natural job turnover.

As of May 2022, marriage and family therapists in California earned a median salary of $56,890. Top earners in the state had salaries that more closely reflected the 75th – 90th percentile, which was $75,190 - $105,650 during this time.

BLS reports also reveal that California was home to the largest number of marriage and family therapists in the nation as of May 2022.

Research Additional Psychology Professional Licenses Granted by California

As you learn more about the LMFT career, you may also be interested in exploring similar careers and the education requirements and earning potential associated with them:

  • How to Become a Psychologist in California: Requires a PhD or PsyD; the median salary for California psychologists was $120,520 as of May 2022. The top earners here (75th – 90th percentile) earned about $142,730 - $172,750 during this time.
  • How to Become a Licensed Counselor in California: Requires a master’s degree with a focus in the specialty; California’s substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earned a median salary of $56,060 as of May 2022, while those at the top of the pay scale (75th – 90th percentile) earned about $80,010 - $102,940.
  • How to Become a Social Worker in California: Requires a master’s in social work; mental health and substance abuse social workers in California earned a median salary of $79,530 as of May 2020 and a top salary (75th - 90th percentile) of $104,000 - $126,120. California’s child, family, and school social workers earned a median salary of $62,610 and a top salary (75th – 90th percentile) of about $79,530 - $103,180.
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2022 US Bureau of Labor Statistics and O*NET (a website sponsored by the US Department of Labor) job market trends and salary figures for clinical and counseling psychologists, marriage and family therapists, substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors, child, family, and school social workers, and mental health and substance abuse social workers are based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed August 2023.

Schools with MFT Degree Programs Accepting Students from California