United States Marriage and Family Therapy Masters Programs
Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy programs prepare aspiring marriage counselors and family therapists to help couples and families build and maintain healthy relationships. Courses in these programs might focus on issues like improving interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, and identifying and resolving problematic behavioral patterns. Because most states require licensure for MFTs, and also require candidates for licensure to hold masters degrees, the majority of programs are designed to help students prepare to meet those standards.i Programs may be offered online, on campus, or in blended formats to accommodate a range of needs and learning styles.
What to Expect Earning your Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy
Marriage and family therapy masters programs are typically comprised of both academic and practical elements. Programs may also adhere to a specific therapy model, which would inform how courses are taught and how the overall curriculum is put together. Several example therapy models include but are not limited to:
- Structural Strategic Family Therapy
- Cognitive Behavioral Family Therapy
- Solution Based Family Therapy
- Integrated Systemic Therapy
Additionally, some programs may be affiliated with certain religious traditions, belief systems, or philosophies. In those cases, programs are likely designed focus on counseling as it applies within that space. Some may additionally concentrate on the needs of certain patient populations or on specific issues, like LGBT issues, trauma, or certain cultural groups.
Masters in MFT Programs typically focus on relationship dynamics in couples and family groups, and how counseling might be used to help the people involved identify and overcome barriers to healthy and productive relationships. As a result, these programs are also likely to focus on group therapy over individual settings.
Because a masters degree in marriage and family therapy is a fairly common prerequisite for MFT licensure in different states, many programs are also designed to prepare students to qualify. As such, the types of courses taken and skills emphasized may vary somewhat by location. Attending an MFT program does not, however, guarantee that each student will qualify for these and other related therapy licenses.
Studying full time, students might be able to complete a masters degree in marriage and family therapy in about two to three years. While length and curriculum may vary, many programs consist of 60 to 66 credits.
We asked Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Dr. Paul Hokemeyer why he earned his Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy degree:
“The degree I value the most is my M.A. in marriage and family therapy. My training as a MFT has enabled me to address disorders in the fullness of their expression and impact.”
~Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Click to Tweet
Family Counseling vs. Marriage Counseling
Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy Programs may survey a range of counseling and therapy skills, preparing students to help all different types of families and issues. However, some may instead focus only on one type of counseling. While an array of unique options may be offered by individual program, two of the most frequently offered options may be family counseling vs. marriage counseling.
- Family counseling aims to help family members communicate with one another and resolve conflicts. Aspiring family therapists study the structure and behavior patterns of family groups in various cultures and socioeconomic brackets. Because professionals may work with people from every stage of life, masters in family counseling programs may share concepts with several related disciplines. Examples include developmental psychology and couples counseling.
- Marriage counseling, or couples therapy, is similar to family counseling but focuses primarily on committed couples, both married and otherwise. Marriage counseling aims to assist couples in identifying and negotiating differences, solve relationship problems, and communicate more effectively.
Masters in MFT Programs: Potential Admission Requirements
Students applying into a Masters in Marriage and Family Counseling program typically need to have earned a bachelors degree from an accredited college. The variety of educational backgrounds might include psychology, psychiatry, social work, nursing, pastoral counseling and education. Other admission requirements might include a minimum GPA and or GRE scores. Some universities may want to see that an applicant has completed prerequisite courses. General psychology, abnormal psychology and statistics are some possibilities. Keep in mind that each graduate school has its own set of standards and application requirements.
Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy Curriculum Info
Marriage and Family Therapy Masters programs cover an array of relevant topics including divorce and separation, child rearing and destructive patterns of behavior. Underlying cognitive, emotional and behavioral disorders may also be addressed. Examples include affective mood disorders to adult alcoholism and adolescent drug abuse. MFT programs also cover topics such as those listed below.iii
- Professional regulations, standards and ethics
- Identification of psycho pathologies and behavioral disorders
- Practice Management
- Holistic health care
- Short and long-term therapeutic strategies
This is just a sample of potential courses. Individual programs and course options may vary, so contact your school for details.
Clinical Training: Internships and Practicum Requirements
Students may also have to complete an internship or practicum, which would provide hands-on clinical training to complement coursework. In some schools, the practicum and internship are built into the program. Basically, these are supervised, direct client contact clinical hours. Completion of the clinical component may be necessary for licensure. Students are encouraged to review their marriage and family board licensure for state requirements.
Types of Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy Degrees
Masters in Family Therapy programs are offered in two formats, depending on the school. One is the Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy (MA-MFT). The other is the Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy (MSMFT). Both may cover the similar subjects but in different ways.
Each type of program may also attract students from distinct backgrounds. For example, the MA-MFT program might suit someone with a bachelors degree in a related field. The MSMFT might attract someone with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology or Counseling. However, there is no hard and fast rule.
Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy
Many Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy programs may adhere to the practitioner-scholar model, which holds that competent mental health practitioners would need to understand both science and theory. Students may hone academic skills and scientific expertise, and learn to apply it in the clinical practice of Marital and Family Therapy.
Students may work towards licensure through an MA-MFT program if they choose. However, those who prefer research, writing and teaching might pursue a doctorate degree as a next step. To this end, MA students are often required to complete a thesis or research project at the culmination of the program.
MSMFT Degree Programs
The Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy is often treated as a terminal degree program. Unlike the MA, which may emphasize research, the MSMFT programs are often clinical in nature and focus on professional practice. As such, programs may emphasize science and math skills relevant in a clinical practice, and build hands-on experience into the curriculum, such as through internship or practicum requirements. MSMFT programs are often designed to help students prepare for potential licensure.
Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy Program Formats
On-campus Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy programs may be a good option if you’d prefer to study in a specific city, state or country. Campus-based MFT programs may have relationships with the counseling community in your region, making them a potential resource for organizing internships or even networking. Additionally, by studying in your own community, you may be more confident that the curriculum aligns with the licensure requirements in your state.
Students who need a more flexible option may prefer to earn their masters degree in marriage and family therapy online. These programs may be offered by traditional universities as well as fully online schools. Some MFT masters programs are 100% online, meaning they deliver course content digitally, with little or no in-person elements. This could be an option for busy professionals or students with hectic family obligations. Hybrid MFT programs, meanwhile, combine online courses with low residency requirements.
Earn your Masters in Accredited MFT Programs
Aside from choosing a specific MFT degree or program, students may want to familiarize themselves with the different aspects of accreditation. At the institutional level, schools that offer Marriage and Family Therapy Masters programs may be regionally accredited by one of six agencies recognized by the Department of Education. Within these accredited schools, you may also find accredited Marriage and Family Therapy Masters programs. The two most important accrediting bodies for this field are listed below.
- Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education - COAMFTE
- Counsel for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs – CACREP
How to Become a Family Therapist and Marriage Counselor
Every state currently requires marriage and family therapists to hold a license to practice.i Many students use the MSMFT as a platform to pursue this status. In addition to a masters degree in psychology or a related field, licensure may require the following.i
- 2,000 to 4,000 hours supervised clinical experience
- Passing state-recognized exam
- Adhering to ethical code of practice
- Annual continuing education credits
Each state may handle the licensure process differently, so follow up with your state board for details. Another option for MFT graduates is to pursue either a PsyD in Marital and Family Therapy or a Doctor of Marriage and Family Therapy (DMFT) degree.
MFT Potential Career Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects fast employment growth for marriage and family therapists. Here are some career fast facts.
- 20% percent increase in employment for family therapists is predicted between 2016 and 2026.i
- In 2016, the median annual wage for marriage and family therapists was $49,170 i
- The industries with the highest levels of employment are individual and family services, outpatient care centers, state government and offices of health practitioners.iv
Find Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy Programs
Browse the directory of sponsored Marriage and Family Therapy Masters program listings here! If you’d like to narrow down your search, select your preferred learning format or location from the menu. When you find schools you like, follow the link to contact them directly. Find an MAMFT or MSMFT program today!
[i] bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/mental-health-counselors-and-marriage-and-family-therapists.htm [ii] datausa.io/profile/cip/511505/ [iii] nces.ed.gov/ipeds/cipcode/cipdetail.aspx?y=55&cipid=87823 [iv] bls.gov/OES/current/oes211013.htm
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