Online MFT Degrees
What Is an Online MFT Degree?
Unlike psychology, which is a much broader topic and more general area of study, marriage and family therapy (MFT) is well-defined discipline with specific characteristics.
There is plenty of overlap between psychology and marriage and family therapy but some make the mistake of conflating the two. For example, some students looking for an online MFT education will see online psychology degree programs and assume that is close enough. And while it is possible an online psychology degree program will have MFT education within it. It is not the same as receiving an actual online MFT degree, which does exist and is actually quite prevalent. To some extent, marriage and family therapy is just a more specific type of psychology.
Marriage and Family Therapists trained in psychotherapy and are licensed to diagnose and treat mental and emotional issues, just like psychologists. The difference is that marriage and family therapists are trained for and work specifically in the context of marriage, couples and family systems. Any online psychology degree will include portions of the curriculum focused on marriage and family therapy just as any online MFT degree program will all but certainly include psychology curriculum, but there are also very distinct attributes of an online MFT program that make it potentially more worthwhile, at least for students who know they want to go into marriage and family therapy.
Recommended Therapist Degree Program
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are few professions around the country that are growing at a faster clip than those in the marriage and family therapy discipline. The BLS estimated in 2014 that the number of jobs in marriage and family therapy would grow nearly 20 percent from 2014 to 2024 not only because mental health is increasingly considered covered by insurance companies but also because increased willingness among families to use therapy to sort out differences.
It seems only natural then that the past 10 years have seen a veritable boom in the number of formal MFT degree programs that have sprung up at schools all over the country. According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the growth is a result of increased acceptance and understanding of marriage and family therapy as a field. As the field grows in acceptance and responsibility, establishing a minimum standard of skills and knowledge will be important. Thus, MFT degree programs, both online and traditional, should continue to grow in number as more students capitalize on the opportunity to study a niche subject.
The good news is that finding the right online MFT degree program isn’t all that difficult because options are so limited because the field is so new. For example, like many psychology-related professions, marriage and family therapy requires that applicants for licensure hold at least a Master’s degree in the subject. But unlike psychology degree tracks or even social work degree tracks, there is no such thing – traditional or online – as a formal Bachelor’s degree program in marriage and family therapy.
According to the AAMFT, there are three ways that interested parties can qualify for licensure in his/her state – a Master's degree, a doctoral program and a post-graduate clinical training program. It should be noted that many marriage and family therapists can qualify by earning a Master’s degree in a related field like psychology, social work and counseling.
If you narrowly tailor your search to only include online MFT degree programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education, you will find that there are just three online MFT degree programs that have been accredited by the COAMFTE. Those programs can be found in the COAMFTE database but the accredited programs are: a Master’s degree program at Capella University; a Master’s degree program at Northcentral University; and a PhD program at Northcentral University as well.
It should also be noted that unlike social work, where some states actually explicitly state that the program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, the bylaws on marriage and family therapy in some states simply say that the degree needs to be from a recognized program.
This means that the program does not need to be accredited by the COAMFTE in order to qualify a student for licensure. But for students who would rather be safe than sorry, the COAMFTE accreditation ensures the student is looking at a quality program because the Commission looks at everything from graduate rates to exam pass rates and even licensure rates and that is all in addition to reviewing the curriculum of the program.
When one considers that, because the field is so new, that it is important to ensure a minimum quality level for education, it becomes readily apparent how important this selection is. This information is gleaned from conversations with teachers and students within online MFT programs but it is also worth noting that every student’s experience is and can be different. The best way for students to pick the program is to contact schools individually.
Learn more about MFT schools.
Online Marriage and Family Therapy Degree Options
Traditionally in higher education there are four types of degrees. Those degrees are: an Associate degree; a Bachelor's degree; a Master's degree; and a Doctoral degree. All of these types of degrees now exist in an online format as well. However, because of strict laws on who can and can’t call themselves a licensed marriage and family therapist there are only two types of online MFT degrees available to students and those are online Master’s degree programs and online PhD programs. In almost all states, those interested in licensure as a MFT need to have at least a Master’s degree in a related field to qualify and thus students do not need to earn a PhD in order to earn licensure. The PhD track is primarily for students who want to ascend to leadership positions in the field and are interested in advance theory, research practices and evaluation of clinical practice. Because there are so few accredited online MFT degree programs, it should be easy to research. That said, students should take the time to research each option fully before making a selection.
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Marriage and Family Therapy
Not only are there zero accredited online Bachelor’s degree programs in Marriage and Family Therapy, there aren’t any traditional Bachelor’s degree programs in Marriage and Family Therapy either. Subjects such as psychology, social work, sociology, human development and family science may have pertinent classwork baked into the curriculum. But there are no MFT-specific undergraduate degree programs. Students interested in starting down the path as an undergraduate should consider degrees in related fields like psychology and social work and counseling if those options are available.
Online Master's Degrees in Marriage and Family Therapy
The COAMFTE recognizes two online Master’s degree programs in Marriage and Family Therapy. There is a program at Capella University, which is based in Minneapolis. The other program is at Northcentral University, which is headquartered in San Diego. It is worth noting that the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredits three other online Master’s degree programs in Marriage, Couple and Family Counseling. These programs can be found at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, Regent University in Virginia and Walden University in Minnesota. In this instance, counseling and therapy are interchangeable and thus we will include information from these programs. However, please note that these programs are not accredited by the COAMFTE and it would be wise to check with the licensing board of the state in which you are applying to see what type of accreditation they require. Here are some of the basics of what to know about online master's degree programs in the field.
Prerequisites are academic resume traits that each student must have to even be considered as an eligible applicant for the online MSW program. Standards for admission can be different and will likely vary from school to school.
For example, Capella requires:
- Bachelor's degree from an accredited institution
- Official transcripts with a minimum grade point average of 2.7 or higher on a 4.0 scale (although they will offer alternate admissions options)
- Any graduate or professional school coursework
- Two letters of recommendation completed by professionals who can assess your aptitude.
- A 3-6 page essay on desires and goals
- A résumé
This is standard across the rest of the schools with some minor exceptions. For example, Messiah College requires a 3.0 undergraduate GPA and a live interview for each candidate.
Cost of Online MFT Programs
The major difference in cost of online MFT degree programs will come from how many credits a program requires for graduation and how many transfer credits they will allow from other. There will almost certainly be additional costs for textbooks and technology, but for the most part, online MFT degree programs charge a flat rate per credit hour for their classes.
For example, Capella requires 92 credits to graduate from its program and it charges $487 per credit and roughly another $200 for textbooks, media, software, test kits, etc. The easy math here shows that if you take three courses per quarter, you will pay roughly $45,000 for the 10-week course. However, Capella allows for up to 20 transfer credits to be included. This means that if a student has the maximum number of transfer credits, they can save almost $10,000. Northcentral estimates the cost of its program at $38,610 before calculating transfer credits. Walden University estimates the cost of its program at almost $46,000 but also allows for up to 40 transfer credits meaning students can reduce the cost of tuition by $20,000. Students realistically expect to pay anywhere between $40,000-50,000 per year in tuition and technology fees.
Online MFT Bachelor's/Master's/PhD Classes
The curriculum for online MFT programs is pretty straightforward. For starters, most schools that offer online MFT programs offer a part-time and full-time option for students. Full-time programs are meant to be completed in just two years. Part-time programs are designed to take between 4-5 years. The programs will all have similar curriculum and that curriculum generally will include core courses in human development, research statistics, psychopathology, addiction, personality and of course marriage and family therapy. Programs also require one or more residencies, which is essentially an internship where the student embeds with a professional in the space and works there learning the ropes. There will also almost certainly be clinical experience required. The common benchmark for these clinical experience is a minimum of 100 total practicum hours and 600 internship hours.
Career Options with Master's Degrees in Marriage and Family Therapy
If you want to be a licensed marriage and family therapist, you need to earn a Master’s degree in the subject or a related field. It is as simple as that. Thus, as one might imagine, the primary job those with a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy pursue is the job of licensed marriage and family therapist. Considering the profession is expected to grow in employment opportunities by 20 percent, now seems like a good time to explore the litany of options.
Here are a few of the most common job titles:
- Couples Therapist
- Couples Counselor
- Substance Abuse Counselor
- Educational Counselor
- Family Therapist
Read more about careers in therapy.
Online Doctoral Degrees in Marriage and Family Therapy
The COAMFTE recognizes exactly one online PhD degree program in Marriage and Family Therapy and that is the program at Northcentral University. CACREP doesn’t recognize or accredit any doctoral degree programs in marriage and family therapy or any related subjects. The degree at NCU is a 69-credit doctoral degree program with multiple specialization options.
The PhD program is designed to go above and beyond the coursework required for clinical licensure. The program offers coursework to students interested in being MFT educators or supervisors, those more interested in research than clinical work and those interested in a very specific, niche part of the industry that needs specialized education.
The prerequisites for admission into the online PhD program at NCU are relatively straightforward. Applicants who want to enter the primary program will need to have completed a Master’s degree in marriage and family therapy (related disciplines do not count). Applicants with a completed Master’s degree in a subject like counseling or psychology and are licensed in their field will need to provide previous transcripts in order to qualify for potential transfer credit and entry into the program. Students will also need to provide a current resume. For transfer students interested in online PhD programs, only 9 semester credits can be applied to specialization courses and they must have a GPA of 3.0 or better.
Cost of Online PhD Degree Programs
As one should expect, the price of tuition for an online PhD program is significantly higher than the price of tuition for an online Master’s degree program. Whereas the base per-course tuition price for a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy is $2,544 per course and the estimated total tuition is $38,610, the per-course tuition price in the PhD program is $3,144 and the estimated total cost of tuition for the entire program is $72,762. Tuition will vary depending on how many credits are transferred and don’t forget that there will likely be small associated fees for the learning management platform and course materials.
Online MFT Bachelor's/Master's/PhD Classes
The curriculum is designed to meet AAMFT accreditation standards which means it ostensibly has the same general curriculum of any traditional PhD program in Marriage and Family Therapy either. Overall, students are expected to complete 69 credit hours, 20 of which must be dissertation research hours and 6 of which must be internship credit hours. Students will take core classes in human development, statistics, research methods, qualitative research strategies, child and family therapy and many others. At NCU, students can specialize in four areas: child and adolescent therapy; couple therapy; general family therapy; and medical family therapy. For those worried about finding a local institution to complete the field training and internship, the staff and faculty at NCU will help you set up your 9-month internship. The internship will need to be full-time as well.
Career Options with PhD Degrees in Marriage and Family Therapy
Any job that you are qualified for with a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy you are also qualified for with a PhD degree. Many graduates will take their advanced education, still pursue a license and therapy in private practice, a hospital or a mental health institution. The PhD often qualifies graduates for supervisional work. Some will use the degree to open doors where they are already working. In many cases, the extra level of education qualifies the candidate for administrative roles that are up the ladder at social services organizations and mental health institutions. Another chunk will become the next generation of professors and instructors and teachers at universities and colleges across the country. Still many more will become researchers in the area of mental health and human services.
Accreditation of Online MFT Degrees
It should be common knowledge to students applying to degree programs that accreditation is one of the most important characteristics a program can have. The U.S. Department of Education describes it as ensuring institutions of higher learning meet “an acceptable level of quality”. Accreditation is a rubber stamp of approval of the quality of education for other institutions and potential employers. But whereas accreditation is more of a helpful guideline for some professions, in the field of marriage and family therapy as well as the rest of the mental health field, it is a legal minimum. Each state has a different set of requirements and standards that applicants must meet in order to become licensed marriage and family therapists. But every state has a section of their licensing laws that usually comes after the degree specification that reads, “from an accredited institution”. It may seem like a throwaway line but it basically means that if your degree isn’t from an accredited institution, it is effectively worthless in the eyes of the state.
Now, many states don’t specify where the accredited programs needs to be accredited by, but there are essentially two main accreditors of online marriage and family therapy degree programs. There is the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP). The issue with CACREP is that the online programs that it accredits are marriage and family counseling degree programs that CACREP readily admits aren’t designed to help students prepare for and pass the required MFT licensing test. A list of their accredited online MFT degree programs can be found here. The other accrediting body is the aforementioned American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. This governing body is responsible for accrediting MFT programs specifically and keeps an eye specifically on whether the program in question prepares students for the licensing exam. There are very few online programs accredited by the AAMFT but those that are can be found here.
Accreditation is especially important for students considering online MFT degree programs because they are still relatively new, which means it there are still plenty of programs out there masquerading as if they have accreditation or are in the process of earning accreditation. The good news is that unlike the actual licensure application process, the process for ensuring that the institution offering a MFT degree is accredited is easy. There are two organizations that are approved to recognize accrediting bodies in any field – the United States Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). CHEA first recognized the COAMFTE as an accrediting body for MFT degree programs in 2014 and it will be officially recognized as such for 10 years.
Students would be wise to use the list of accredited institutions as a good baseline for picking programs and then once they have narrowed the list, they should contact each school individually and inquire about their accreditation.