Marriage and Family Therapy Programs


What is a MFT?

A Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) is a licensed professional who diagnoses, assesses and treats a variety of clients with different presenting issues. These professionals must have at least a master’s MFT degree (or similar) and complete a minimum threshold of clinical internship hours, supervision, and board exams. The MFT can work in numerous settings including private practices, schools, government agencies, medical facilities, and nonprofit organizations.

Therapist vs Psychologist

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, the titles are different

A clinical psychologist requires a doctorate degree in a psychology discipline. Many psychologists conduct research, teach in higher education, and work alongside psychiatrists. They may also receive licensure through the American Psychological Association. That said, they may also provide clinical psychotherapy to individuals, families, or couples.

Although some therapists have doctorate degrees, it is not a requirement for the career. Therapists and most mental health profesionals must have master’s degrees to provide services to clients, independently. Therapists typically receive licensure from their individual state boards.

What Can You Do with an MFT Degree?

An MFT degree provides numerous career pathways. A marriage and family therapist offers professional care for individuals, couples, families, and groups seeking mental health treatment. Therapists treat a variety of mental illnesses including mood and anxiety disorders, substance use and eating disorders, psychotic disorders, and childhood disorders. Therapists may also provide case management, insurance utilization reviews, community psychoeducation, assessments, and multidisciplinary liaison support for other healthcare professionals.

Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy

The first step towards becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist is obtaining a marriage and family counseling degree. There are several traditional and online MFT programs available for prospective therapists. Students should consider school accreditation, location, length and rigor of the program, and financial aid when narrowing down their options. In terms of admissions, each school has its own GRE requirement and GPA requirement.

Application Requirements

Each school has its own unique admission requirements. However, students may need:

  • Updated transcripts to demonstrate past coursework completion and GPA
  • Resume highlighting relevant clinical work or volunteer experience
  • Personal essay that showcases their writing skills and passion for the field
  • Recommendation letters from former employers or instructors who can speak on behalf of the student’s work ethic, academic performance, and moral character

Learning Outcomes

The MFT program prepares students to become competent therapists in the mental health sector. Common curriculum topics may include:

  • MFT law & ethics
  • Clinical case conceptualization and formulation
  • Family systems
  • Couples therapy
  • Mental health disorders
  • Child and adolescent counseling
  • Alcohol and chemical dependency
  • Trauma and grief work
  • Spirituality and counseling
  • Cross-cultural counseling
  • Research methods and statistics
  • Human sexuality

Most programs require an end-of-term thesis or equivalent project (comprehensive exam) to exhibit mastery of the necessary learning outcomes.

Clinical Placement Requirements

All MFT students must complete several years of traineeship or internship clinical fieldwork in order to become eligible for licensure. Most schools provide clinical placement support when students are ready to start their fieldwork. Some programs have a working list of ‘approved sites’ that students may use when applying for their fieldwork position.

Fieldwork provides students with the valuable opportunity of learning to practice therapy- while receiving ongoing clinical supervision and support. Most schools require that students discuss their current clinical cases via conceptualization papers and supervision meetings. Each state has its own requirements in terms of the number of hours and type of hours students must accrue before becoming licensed.

Student Support For Online Students

Like traditional campuses, online schools typically offer many student support services throughout the program. Such services and resources depend on the particular institution, but they may include:

  • Virtual office hours
  • Technology support
  • Alumni programs and career placements
  • Library access and services
  • Admission and financial aid advising
  • Academic tutoring
  • Personal support (i.e., health and counseling services)
  • Military support for service and family members

Live Class Discussions

Many online programs offer synchronous or live class discussions in their curriculums. Synchronous classes entail interactive discussions through different mediums like video chat, live talking, and messaging options. Students gather to meet in their virtual classrooms at a designated time each week or month.

Asynchronous classes, on the other hand, refers to the coursework that isn’t live. For example, this may apply to independent homework, message board responses, listening to audio recordings, and reviewing powerpoint presentations. Despite having deadlines, students enjoy the freedom of working on their own schedules.

Small Class Sizes

There is no doubt that large class sizes can be overwhelming for both the students and the professor. Research shows that small class sizes have many positive effects. These benefits include:

  • Increased individualized time for each student
  • Improved class culture and cohesion
  • Stronger teacher-student relationships
  • Increased class engagement

Each institution has its own limits of class and cohort sizes. However, prospective students can and should inquire about these sizes during the application process.

Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy

A doctorate in marriage and family therapy is the highest level of education that an MFT can receive. Some students pursue this track because they want to conduct research, supervise other therapists, or work in academia. Others simply want to apply advanced principles and knowledge to their clinical practice. The doctorate may provide more career opportunities due to the additional education and fieldwork requirements.

Depending on the school, degree names and options vary:

  • Medical Family Therapy PhD
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy
  • Psy.D Marital and Family Therapy
  • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies
  • Family Sciences Doctorate
  • Ph.D. in Couple and Family Therapy
  • Human Development and Family Studies PhD