Best Online Doctorate in Family Counseling Programs

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Mental health remains a persistent problem in today’s America and compassionate professionals who care about helping people with their issues are in high demand. Family counseling is a field experiencing growth at a particularly rapid pace. For example, the Bureau of Labor statistics projects an increase of 15% more jobs available for family and marriage counselors in 2024 than in 2014.

If you are interested in a career in this burgeoning sector, consider pursuing an online doctorate degree in family counseling. An advanced degree from an accredited family counseling program can lends you credibility and can make it easier to find a job. Read below to learn more about this field and survey the best online doctorate in family counseling programs in the country.

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Rank School Name Relative Cost % Enrolled Online Location Description
Amridge University 100% Montgomery, AL

Ambridge offers an online doctorate in family counseling that trains students to conduct original research while applying knowledge of counseling techniques. The curriculum covers areas such as theories of human development, problems with abuse and addiction, cultural diversity, and research methods. The 60-credit program can be completed on a part-time basis or in four years of full-time study. In addition to teaching basic family therapy methods for use in a clinical setting, the program trains students to identify symptoms of mental health disorders and determine appropriate treatment plans.

Courses are conducted in a hybrid format, allowing students to complete some of their work online while still having the benefit of a traditional classroom setting. Program outcomes are assessed through comprehensive exams and the completion of a dissertation. The PhD program is not meant to prepare students for professional licensure. Students must maintain a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0.

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Liberty University 85% Lynchburg, VA

Liberty's family counseling degree program trains students in best practices for assessing marital and family issues. The 57-credit doctoral program is entirely online, with optional intensive courses at the school's Lynchburg, Virginia campus. The degree prepares students for careers as church counselors, marriage and family counselors, and outpatient care therapists. Students should be advised that a Christian worldview has a significant impact on Liberty’s instruction.

The program consists of 27 credit hours of foundational courses in theory and research, 15 credit hours of courses in marriage and family counseling, plus an internship and dissertation totaling 15 credit hours. All students must have earned an accredited master’s degree in a relevant field (such as counseling, psychology, or human services) with at least a 3.0 GPA. The school allows 15 credits to be transferred into the program.

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University of Louisiana at Monroe 30% Monroe, LA

Individuals who are interested in theory over practice should investigate ULM's marriage and family counseling degree program. Awarding a PhD with a concentration in systemic studies, the program teaches students to assess the underlying ideas of systemic family therapy. Coursework in the program looks at issues from multiple disciplinary perspectives including family systems, ethnography, and social ecology. Because of the theoretical nature of these disciplines, the program is scholarly and nonclinical, and students should not expect to earn a marriage and family therapist license upon graduation.

The program requires the completion of 60 credit hours. Full-time students complete the coursework portion of the program in two years, and the dissertation takes an additional one to three years. The program uses synchronous, seminar-style learning, and each member in the cohort is expected to be an active participant in discussions. Students never have to visit campus except to defend their dissertations.

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All marriage and family counseling degree programs teach students the same basic skills and strategies, but specific coursework varies depending on which program you choose. Some programs stress a certain type of family counseling, and others prepare students for careers in a specific setting. See the list below for some common courses found in online doctorate in family counseling programs.

Curriculum for an Online Doctorate in Family Counseling

Courses may differ based on what school and what program you choose, but the same basic themes run throughout most curricula. A list of a few typical family counseling courses can be found below.

  • Premarital & Marital Issues This course prepares students for careers in marriage counseling. Students learn to identify issues that may complicate or put stress on married couples or those preparing for marriage. Students leave the course with knowledge of the common theories and strategies that may help to solve the problems many couples face.
  • Family Development This course introduces students to theories and structures relevant to family life. Students learn about personality types, challenges, and needs that affect the way families operate. The course can prepare students for careers in family counseling in a variety of settings.
  • Individual and Family Issues The focus of this course is how an individual fits into and affects a family’s structure and health. The course introduces common mental health problems and how those issues may influence overall health and dynamics of a family. Skills learned in this course prepare students for a variety of social work and counseling occupations.

How Long Does it Take to get an Online Doctorate in Family Counseling?

One important factor to consider when choosing an online doctorate in family counseling program is the amount of time that it takes to earn a degree from a particular school. Programs typically consist of 60 credit-hours and take three to four years to complete. There are a few reasons that some programs take longer to complete than others. For example, some programs encourage students to take courses over the summer, while others do not. In addition, some schools offer on-campus intensives that drastically cut down on the total time students must invest to complete a degree.

Online schools also differ from their on-campus counterparts in that some offer cohort learning programs, while others offer individual pace programs. Cohort learning programs require students to complete coursework at the same pace as on-campus students or as other online students. Individual pace programs, however, allow students to earn a degree at a more relaxed speed.

When searching for family counseling degree programs, students are wise to restricted their search to accredited programs. Accreditation ensures that a school or program meets academic standards set by accrediting bodies. In addition, the federal government only offers financial aid to students who attend accredited institutions. Graduating from an accredited family counseling degree program also makes a job search easier. Employers prefer to hire graduates from accredited programs.

A school may be either nationally or regionally accredited. Career-oriented schools are typically nationally accredited, whereas traditional private or public universities usually hold regional accreditation. Whatever you choose, be sure that the accreditation agency listed on a family counseling program’s website is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Common accrediting bodies specific to marriage and family counseling degree programs include the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and CHEA both play a role in ensuring the academic quality of higher learning programs. The ED helps pass legislation regarding education, and CHEA oversees the accreditation process. CHEA, a private organization, vets the universities and accrediting bodies that review institutions seeking accreditation.

A major national accrediting agency, the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education reviews online doctorate in family counseling programs. A list of all regionally and nationally accredited schools can be found on CHEA’s or the ED’s website. As a general rule of thumb, make sure that all schools you consider appear on one of these lists.

The job you choose after completing your family counseling degree program affects your earning potential down the line. The table below outlines popular career choices for graduates of family counseling programs and how much a professional in each field typically earns throughout his or her career.

Family Counseling Careers by Experience

Job Title Overall Median Salary Entry-Level Employees Mid-Career Employees Late-Career Employees
Social Worker $44,692 $40,000 $46,000 $55,000
Marriage/Family Therapist $46,812 $45,000 $51,000 $66,000
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist $51,330 $50,000 $55,000 $73,000
Social Work Supervisor $54,865 $46,000 $51,000 $66,000
Guidance Counselor (Secondary School) $54,179 $44,000 $52,000 $68,000

Doctorate in Family Counseling Careers

All graduates of family counseling programs have acquired the skills they need to help people overcome difficult challenges. Professionals in the field bring their family-oriented perspective on mental health to schools, churches, addiction treatment centers, and private practices. While their specific interests and focuses vary, graduates of family counseling programs go on to pursue a wide range of careers.

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor

Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors provide treatment and advice to those suffering from drug addiction, alcoholism, and other disorders. As the nation increasingly recognizes addiction as a mental illness, substance abuse counselors find themselves more in demand than ever. While not essential, an advanced degree in counseling can widen job prospects in this sector.

Median Annual Salary: $41,070
Projected Growth Rate: 22%

Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage and family therapists help people rebuild marriages and family relationships, and assist in dealing with the mental stress that comes from unhealthy relationships. Therapists can help people overcome divorce, death, and other traumatic experiences a family may experience. Marriage and family therapists must hold licensure, and are required by law to possess at least a master’s degree.

Median Annual Salary: $49,170
Projected Growth Rate: 15%

Child, Family, and School Social Worker

Child, family, and school social workers often work in welfare, helping families with unstable home situations deal with their problems. They provide guidance to parents, and work with children who experience abuse or other trauma. They also work in schools, advising children behavior difficulties, experience trouble with schoolwork, or suffer from bullying.

Median Annual Salary: $43,250
Projected Growth Rate: 6%

Mental Health Counselor

Like marriage and family counselors, mental health counselors help people overcome mental health disorders and ease stress. Mental health counselors do not specialize in relationships but provide more general counseling and treatment for individual problems. To practice, mental health counselors must be licensed and must have earned at least a master’s degree.

Median Annual Salary: $42,840
Projected Growth Rate: 20%

Postsecondary Teacher

After earning a doctorate in family counseling, some graduates choose to teach at a college or university. Postsecondary teachers instruct students above the high school level and conduct research in their area of expertise. Educational institutions generally require professors to hold a doctorate degree.

Median Annual Salary: $75,430
Projected Growth Rate: 13%

Professional Organizations

Professional organizations can offer immense value to current students and recent graduates of marriage and family counseling degree programs. Professional organizations provide resources that can help you learn about job opportunities, connect with leaders in the field, and find continuing education programs. For example, many professional organizations such as the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists feature a job board on their website. The National Council on Family Relations holds an annual conference where industry professionals meet and share research and strategies.

Doctorate programs can be costly, and most students cannot pay tuition out of pocket. Fortunately, there are a few ways to ease the financial burden. Foremost, make sure to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to find out if you are eligible for a low-interest federal loan. Additionally, many scholarship opportunities are available specifically for family counseling students (such as the American Addiction Centers’ Behavioral Health Academic Scholarship Program).

AN OVERVIEW OF FINANCIAL AID

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UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA

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