Doctorate in Family Counseling Program Guide

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by Juliann Scholl

Updated January 21, 2022

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Mental health problems, substance abuse, and other challenges continue to drive the need for professionals with a doctorate in family counseling. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the workforce included 66,200 marriage and family therapists in 2019. The BLS projects 22% job growth for this field between 2019 and 2029.

A doctorate in family counseling can qualify individuals for more employment opportunities and higher pay. Professionals with a master's degree can already work as counselors in healthcare, education, and private practice. However, a doctorate allows them to explore research and academic occupations as well. Before they graduate, doctoral students work closely with faculty in conducting research, writing papers, and presenting at conferences. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Should I Get a Doctorate in Family Counseling?

Mental health needs continue to boost the demand for professionals with a doctorate in family counseling. The BLS projects that employment for marriage and family therapists could grow by 22% between 2019 and 2029, compared to 4% for all occupations.

Mental health needs continue to boost the demand for professionals with a doctorate in family counseling.

A doctorate in family counseling can take 4-7 years to complete. Timelines can depend on how many courses students complete per semester and the time they need to write their dissertation. Students with a master's degree can sometimes complete their doctoral degree in less time if they can transfer credits.

Applicants should prepare to spend ample time on coursework, research, and their dissertation. A research and teaching assistantship can add to an already busy workload.

Some professionals in family counseling need a license or certification after graduation. In general, people who work with families and married couples become licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFTs). Many specialists who treat mental health or substance abuse problems obtain a licensed professional counselor (LPC) credential.

What Can I Expect from a Doctorate in Family Counseling Program?

An online doctorate in family counseling curriculum generally covers research, cultural diversity, family dynamics, and counseling theory and practice. Classes typically include family development, multicultural counseling, psychological testing, research methods, statistics, and individual and family issues.

A doctorate in family counseling equips students with the analytical skills needed to conduct original research. Students also learn strategies for helping individuals, couples, and families cope with stress and challenging situations. Graduates gain an understanding of personality disorders, mental health issues, and other factors that contribute to personal and social problems.

A doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) prepares graduates for academic work, research, and counseling in clinical and other settings. Some family counseling programs award a doctor of education (Ed.D.), which provides a dual emphasis on psychology and education. Professionals with an interest in educational leadership or professional training might consider an Ed.D.


Art Therapy

Art therapy can help clients express themselves and talk about emotionally difficult topics. This concentration teaches students how sculpting, painting, and other art forms enable people to discuss and understand their mental health issues.

Clinical Counseling

This concentration prepares doctoral students to work in mental health facilities housing patients for extended care and treatment.

Corrections Therapy

Students who want to work with incarcerated people might consider this concentration. Many professionals help recently released individuals reenter society and deal with the challenges associated with this transition.

Drama Therapy

Students learn how to use acting and storytelling to help clients confront their issues in a safe setting. Learners who want to work with trauma victims might consider this specialization.

School Counseling

This concentration can benefit people working in educational settings or with children. Professionals sometimes assist students in enhancing their educational experiences.

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How to Choose a Family Counseling Doctorate Program

Doctorate in family counseling programs often vary in course offerings and completion times. Students who want to graduate in less than the typical 3-4 years might consider schools that offer summer courses. Working professionals who want additional flexibility might seek out asynchronous online programs.

Applicants should consider the concentrations each school offers. Because doctoral students work closely with faculty, they also need to find a program with professors who possess excellent academic reputations, serve as good mentors, and demonstrate an interest in their chosen field.

Programmatic Accreditation for Doctorate in Family Counseling Programs

Accreditation indicates that a program meets and exceeds established academic standards. Applicants should pursue a doctorate in family counseling from an accredited institution if they want to apply for financial aid. Students who graduate from accredited schools also tend to secure jobs more easily.

The U.S. Department of Education upholds academic standards, while the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) confers accreditation to colleges and universities that meet requirements.

Applicants should make sure their chosen program holds accreditation from organizations like the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education or the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Relational Educational Programs.

Find the top online doctorate in family counseling programs.

How to Get Into a Family Counseling Doctorate Program

Online doctorate in family counseling programs typically expect applicants to hold at least a bachelor's degree. They also require a minimum 3.0 GPA, with some schools preferring a 3.5 GPA or higher.

Applicants typically submit official transcripts from previous schools, letters of recommendation, and an application fee. Most schools also ask for GRE scores.

Some programs prefer applicants with relevant work experience and a counseling license. Also, admissions departments usually consider each applicant's fit into a program and their potential to collaborate successfully with faculty and other students.

Read Our Guide to Graduate Admission

What Can I Do With a Doctorate in Family Counseling?

An online doctorate in family counseling prepares graduates for work in schools, faith-based organizations, private practice, and mental health facilities. Some professionals help individuals and families cope with stressful situations and improve their quality of life. A doctorate can also qualify graduates to conduct research that advances the discipline.

Popular Career Paths

Mental Health Counselor

These counselors help clients cope with the stress and trauma associated with their mental health conditions. These professionals need a license and an advanced degree to practice.

College or University Professor

Professors of family counseling teach courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Some institutions hire professors to conduct research in addition to teaching classes.

Marriage and Family Therapist

Marriage and family therapists help clients work through the stress that often accompanies unhealthy relationships. They also assist couples and families in working through conflict and issues like death and divorce.


Psychologists conduct research and provide counseling to clients or families. They work in healthcare facilities, schools, private practice, and corporations.

Substance Abuse Counselor

Substance abuse counselors help clients who struggle with chemical dependency and assist them with treatment and lifestyle changes. They also typically work with friends and family of people who struggle with addiction.

How Much Money Can I Make With a Doctorate in Family Counseling?

An online doctorate in family counseling can increase your earning potential. The BLS reports that marriage and family therapists earned a median salary of $51,340 in 2020, and psychologists made a median wage of $82,180 that same year.

Certifications and Licenses a Doctorate in Family Counseling Prepares For

Marriage and Family Therapy License (LMFT)

A licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) must hold at least a master's degree. Each state mandates different requirements for licensure and generally regulates private practices. In most cases, professionals may not transfer their licenses from one state to another.

Licensed Psychologist

States regulate licensure for psychologists who work as researchers or therapists. Most states require a master's degree, but some require a doctoral degree.

Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)

Licensed professional counselors (LPCs) typically work in mental health settings and treat issues, such as mental illness, suicidal ideations, and substance abuse. States vary in their LPC requirements. However, most require a master's degree and about 3,000 hours of supervised post-degree work experience.

Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE)

The National Council on Family Relations offers the Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE) credential, which requires at least a bachelor's degree to obtain. This credential can benefit professionals who work in education, healthcare, community services, and family support.

Frequently Asked Questions About Doctorate in Family Counseling Programs

How much does it cost to get a doctorate in family counseling?

One year of tuition and fees at a public school can average $11,120, with private institutions costing $44,020 annually. Enrolling in an online program can help learners save on tuition costs, with some degrees charging under $6,000 per year.

What does DMFT stand for?

Some programs offer a DMFT, or a doctor of marital and family therapy. This degree prepares graduates to work as postsecondary educators, therapists, clinical leaders, researchers, and grant writers.

Is a DMFT worth it?

A DMFT can provide a career advantage. While earning their degree, doctoral students gain valuable experience when conducting and publishing research, networking at conferences, and working closely with faculty mentors.

How long is a DMFT program?

Students typically need 4-7 years to complete the DMFT program. Students who enroll in online programs might need to attend on-campus classes or seminars, which can increase completion times.

What is the difference between a doctorate in family counseling and a doctorate in psychology?

A doctorate in psychology requires students to pick a concentration, such as clinical, experimental, or counseling psychology. When enrolling in a doctorate in family counseling program, students have already chosen their specialty. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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