Marriage and Family Therapy Degree Programs & Schools

Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs) are highly experienced, mental health professionals who are educated in family systems and psychotherapy. Their preparation for clinical practice involves many years of focused academic study in the areas of emotional and mental disorders, and therapeutic methods in the context of family, marriage, and child development.

Candidates pursuing licensure in the field of Marriage and Family Therapy must meet licensing requirements that are very similar to the standards established for other mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers. First and foremost, an individual must have a Master's degree in MFT to be meet the eligibility requirements of every state in the nation. Other notable requirements include accumulating several years of clinical experience (post-degree) under the supervision of an LMFT, and passing the National MFT Exam.

Continue reading for more information about degree programs, course curriculum and career guidance for marriage and family therapists:

Bachelor's Degree

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The first step to earn a doctoral degree in marriage and family therapy is to earn a bachelor’s degree in any major, although a closely-related field, such as psychotherapy, would better prepare students for advanced coursework at the graduate school level, as all practicing marriage and family therapists must hold a master’s degree.

It is also recommended that bachelor’s level students have field and practical experience, which will provide valuable hands-on experience, as well as give them an advantage when applying to graduate school.

Commonly, there are three options are available for individuals choosing to enter the field as a marriage and family therapist:

  • Master's degree: 2-3 years to complete
  • Doctoral program: 3-5 years to complete
  • Post-graduate clinical training programs: 3-4 years to complete

There are a number of specializations at the master’s level, including:
−General family Therapy
−Couple Therapy
−Medical Family Therapy
−Child and Adolescent Therapy
−Military Family Therapy

Master’s Degree Program

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All MFT’s must earn at least a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy or a closely-related field, such as clinical social work. It is recommended that students choose a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). This ensures that the program meets or exceeds AAMFT membership standards for practicing marriage and family therapy in all 50 states.

Typical course requirements, include:

  • Human sexuality
  • Couples therapy
  • Research methods
  • Developmental science
  • Systems theory

Many programs, on-campus and hybrid, offer students the opportunity to participate in faculty research teams, which helps students identify an area of interest, such as domestic violence, young adult behavior, or treatment methods.

All states also require an MFT to complete two years of supervised clinical experience. This can be met by volunteering, or through employment by any agency that provides mental health services, such as a nonprofit, charitable organization, or a college.

Licensing

All MFT’s must be licensed. Upon completion of a Master’s program, MFT’s must sit for their state’s licensing exam, or the national exam by the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB). This is a four-hour exam, which tests a graduate’s knowledge. Most licenses last for a period of two years. In order to renew licensure, Master’s degree recipients must complete continuing education credits, specified by the state in which they wish to practice.

Doctoral (PhD) Degree Program

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To practice as a marriage and family therapist, an individual must have a Master’s degree. Still, some Master’s degree graduates in marriage and family therapy will choose to pursue a PsyD in marriage and family therapy or a PhD. Doctoral programs are meant for a student that wishes to teach, conduct research, or work in government agencies.
Standard curriculum may include:

  • Theories of Family Science
  • Research Best Practices in Human Sciences
  • College Teaching in Family Sciences
  • Supervised Teaching
  • Professional Development in FCS
  • Theories of Child Development

Beyond standard curriculum, the MFT doctoral program may also include:

  • Supervision methodology training
  • Mentored supervision experience
  • Client contact and supervision
  • Integrated and progressive research training
  • Advanced coursework in specialized/specialization area(s)
  • Doctoral internship

Note: Credit hours and program requirements vary as most doctoral programs are individually developed for each student. However, a typical program may consist of 3-4 years of full-time study – beyond master’s program requirements.

Career Guidance

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, at 19 percent from 2014-2024, employment for MFT’s is growing much faster than the average rate for all jobs, at. Average pay in 2012 was $46,670, annually.

An MFT can work in a variety of settings (depending on degree), which may include:

  • Health-related areas
  • Hospitals
  • Mental health facilities
  • Government agencies
  • Research facilities
  • Academia
  • Private practice

Online Degree Programs in Marriage and Family Therapy

Because much of a MFT’s training is clinical, it is difficult to complete a degree solely online. However, there are colleges and universities that have hybrid or blended programs – a combination of online and face-to-face coursework – negotiated with local clinics and hospitals so that students can perform their required supervised clinical experience.

Many online programs offer specialization options, professional association opportunities, professional doctoral faculty and aid in completing a doctoral dissertation.

Although not mandatory, it is wise for a student considering online study to ascertain that the online college is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE).

Campus-based and hybrid or blended programs offer the opportunity to study face-to-face with leaders in the field of marriage and family therapy. For many students, on-campus learning, at least on a part-time basis, is necessary for disciplined study and interaction with other students and professors.