Marriage & Family Counseling Degrees: PhD, Master & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a marriage and family therapy degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and Ph.D. and potential careers.
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Study Marriage and Family Counseling: Degrees at a Glance

Marriage and family counseling, otherwise known as marriage and family therapy, is a fast-growing profession. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected a 41% increase in employment from 2010 to 2020, which is well above average for all occupations. Unlike most other mental health professionals, marriage and family therapists treat individuals in the context of their families and relationships. They consider how these relationships can affect an individual's mental health and vice versa.

While a master's degree is the level of education required for this field, earning a Ph.D. will allow you to conduct research and teach at the university level. You'd also be able to have a clinical practice as a licensed psychologist and do many of the same things that a marriage and family therapist would do. Being a licensed psychologist could increase your earning potential as well.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want to provide counseling services, focusing on families and relationships rather than just individuals Individuals who want to conduct research and teach at the university level, or those who want to provide counseling services as licensed psychologists
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Marriage and family therapists ($49,000)* - Postsecondary psychology teachers ($75,000)*
- Clinical, counseling and school psychologists ($73,000)*
Time to Completion - 2-3 years, full-time - 3-5 years, full-time, after completing requirements for a master's degree
Common Graduation Requirements - Core and elective courses
- Clinical internship
- Clinical practicum
- A thesis or research project may be required
- Core and elective courses
- 9-12 month clinical internship
- Training in supervising therapy
- Research methodology courses
- Clinical practicum
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree in any field
- Some experience with psychology coursework or work/volunteer experience in a mental health facility
- GRE scores
- Master's degree in marriage and family therapy or a related field
- GRE scores
Online Availability Hybrid programs are available Online programs are rare and may not lead to licensure

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Marriage and Family Counseling

A master's degree program in marriage and family therapy prepares you to provide therapy to individuals and groups in a variety of settings, including private practice, schools, mental health facilities and hospitals. The degree is usually meant for students who want to begin careers in counseling immediately upon graduating; however, some graduates decide to enter doctoral programs. While a bachelor's degree in any field is acceptable preparation, some undergraduate psychology courses could be helpful. You may want to consider volunteering in a mental health facility before applying to programs to make you a more competitive candidate for admission.

You will want to look for programs that meet the curriculum requirements set out by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). Accredited programs will help you meet requirements for licensure in the state in which the program operates. If you plan to move to a different state, you'll want to make sure that the requirements for that state will also be met.

Pros and Cons

Most graduates of master's programs work in private practice. They can often set their own hours, but may need to work evenings and weekends to accommodate the schedules of their clients.

Pros

  • This is a field in high demand, and a master's degree will qualify you for most marriage and family counseling jobs.
  • Graduates can work in a variety of settings (hospitals, outpatient care centers, private practice, etc.).
  • A master's degree is a prerequisite for many Ph.D. programs, so even if you want to continue on to doctoral work, a master's degree could be a good place to start.

Cons

  • Master's degree programs usually don't offer many options for financial assistance, meaning that you may have to take out a loan to cover tuition costs.
  • You will not be prepared for immediate licensure upon completing a master's degree program. You will need approximately 2 years of professional experience under a licensed therapist before you can gain permanent licensure.
  • You may be competing with psychologists for similar therapy positions.

Courses and Requirements

Master's degree students take courses in psychology, psychological assessment and therapy techniques. Therapy techniques tend to use a systems approach that views the patient's health as one part of the family context. You will complete counseling simulations in the classroom to practice these techniques. Coursework may include:

  • Psychology of human development
  • Personality psychology
  • Family dynamics
  • Systems techniques for group counseling

During your second year of study, you will also complete a prescribed number of clinical hours which will give you the opportunity to apply what you've learned to direct clinical practice. Some of these hours will be observed by a mentor. Some programs require research experience and an understanding of research methods. You may have the option to complete a thesis or non-thesis program depending on how interested in research you are.

Online Degree Options

There are a few master's degree programs that will allow you to complete coursework online and only come to campus for clinical training. For these programs, the coursework is similar to on-campus programs. These hybrid programs are intended for individuals that live too far away from campus to commute or relocate.

Stand Out With This Degree

You may want to seek out opportunities to take classes in a specialty area that corresponds with your employment interests. For example, some programs offer coursework in addiction studies that could be very useful in gaining employment working with populations suffering from addiction. Other programs may offer coursework in applying therapy techniques to a school setting, and with enough coursework in this area, you may even be able to become licensed as a school therapist in addition to a marriage and family therapist.

If you think you may want to pursue doctoral studies, get started working with a research team as early as possible. This will expose you to many research areas and may help you identify which area you'd like to study at the doctoral level.

Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy

Ph.D. programs often assume that students have already completed a master's program that meets the COAMFTE standards. Some programs require a master's degree, while others accept students with bachelor's degrees and simply require them to do the master's program coursework before continuing on to the doctoral studies. Some programs lead to both a master's degree and Ph.D.

Similarly to master's programs, Ph.D. programs combine classroom studies with clinical training. As a Ph.D. student, you must complete more clinical hours and supervise master's-level students. A substantial amount of credit hours in a Ph.D. program are devoted to training in research methodology and conducting research for the doctoral dissertation.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • As a licensed psychologist, you will likely have a higher salary than master's-level therapists.
  • You will have more employment options than do graduates from master's degree programs since you will be qualified to teach, conduct research and do clinical work.
  • You'll have more time to develop expertise in a specialty area.

Cons

  • Employment of master's-level therapists is expected to grow more than employment of psychologists from 2010 to 2020, according to the BLS (41% predicted growth vs. 22%).*
  • Even though employment of postsecondary instructors is expected to grow, competition is keen, and it is estimated that 29% of university instructors were working in part-time positions in 2010.*
  • You need to have completed a master's degree before enrolling in most Ph.D. programs, so you could end up spending 7-8 years in post-baccalaureate study.

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

In a Ph.D. program, you must complete all of the same requirements as master's students. You'll then complete further clinical training, including learning to supervise marriage and family therapy trainees. This is usually done through experience in a clinical setting coupled with classroom training. This is an important part of the program because as a professor, you'll need to train master's and Ph.D. students. You will also complete a 9- to 12-month internship to deepen your own understanding of clinical practice.

Throughout your course of study, you'll learn different research methodologies, and you will complete and defend a dissertation during your final year. Most programs also require you to take a course in teaching techniques and spend some time serving as a teaching assistant or teaching independently.

Other advanced coursework may include:

  • Qualitative methods
  • Advanced statistics
  • Advanced systems theory
  • Theories of human development

Online Degree Options

Online Ph.D. programs are rare. Be careful when searching for online programs because most online Ph.D. programs are not accredited by the COAMFTE and will probably not lead to licensure. Any program that does not require face-to-face clinical training will not meet your state's requirements for licensure.

Stand Out With This Degree

There is an increasing interest in cross-cultural psychology and a greater demand for psychologists who understand the multicultural backgrounds of families and children. Having a thorough understanding of these issues as they relate to marriage and family therapy or conducting research in this area may open up more employment opportunities.

You may be able to work as a research assistant on a research team early on in your degree program, and this may give you an opportunity to be a co-author of a published research paper. Getting published and becoming adept at presenting research at professional conferences can help you stand out from other candidates when looking for employment in academia.

Degree Alternatives

If you would like to practice as a licensed psychologist but are not interested in conducting research, you may want to consider a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) program. A Psy.D. program is a doctoral program that focuses more on clinical training and less on research than does a Ph.D. program. You will still complete a dissertation, but your dissertation can be more of a literature review and does not necessarily have to be based on original empirical research. Many Psy.D. programs take about 5 years to complete after earning your bachelor's degree. You can choose a Psy.D. in marriage and family therapy or a Psy.D. in clinical psychology with a specialization in marriage and family therapy.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MAMFT - Child & Adolescent Family Therapy
      • MAMFT - LGBTQ Couple & Family Therapy
      • MAMFT - Military Family Therapy
      • M.A. in Marriage & Family Therapy
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration
      • MS - Forensic Psychology (MSPSYFS)
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
      • Master: Psychology/General Psychology
      • Master: Psychology/Addictions
      • Master of Healthcare Admin
      • Master: Nursing/Nurse Administrator
      • MS in Nursing
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    4. American University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    5. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Healthcare Management
      • Master of Business Admin: Healthcare Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Science in Management - Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management
  • Online Programs Available
    8. George Mason University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Health Informatics
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Health Administration
      • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Analysis
  • Online Programs Available
    10. The University of Scranton

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Health Administration

Featured Schools

Northcentral University

  • MAMFT - Child & Adolescent Family Therapy
  • MAMFT - LGBTQ Couple & Family Therapy
  • MAMFT - Military Family Therapy

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
  • Master: Psychology/General Psychology
  • Master: Psychology/Addictions

Which subject are you interested in?

Colorado State University Global

  • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration

What is your highest level of education?

American University

  • Master of Science in Healthcare Management

What is your highest level of education?

American InterContinental University

  • Master of Healthcare Management
  • Master of Business Admin: Healthcare Admin

Are you a US citizen?

Colorado Technical University

  • MS - Healthcare Management
  • Master of Science in Management - Healthcare Management

Are you a US citizen?

Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management

What is your highest level of education?

George Mason University

  • Master of Science in Health Informatics

What is your highest level of education?