Earning a master’s in marriage and family therapy (MFT) can lead to a rewarding career helping families, couples, and children. Graduates can go on to work with diverse populations in several settings, such as private clinics, domestic abuse shelters, substance abuse clinics, schools, adoption agencies, and hospitals. These professionals can specialize in areas like LGBTQ couples therapy or plan to work primarily with military families. Whatever their career goals, students in MFT programs learn to provide psychotherapy and general guidance to their clients while considering issues like ethics, bias, and cultural context. MFT graduates also enjoy healthy employment prospects. Due to the rise of integrated care, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment of marriage and family therapists to grow by 23% between 2016 and 2026 — this is more than three times faster than the average growth rate of all occupations in the U.S.
Should I Get a Master's in Marriage and Family Therapy?
People interested in a career helping couples and families work through problems should consider pursuing a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. Individuals who already possess an academic or professional background in counseling, psychology, or social work may find this degree especially appealing. A master’s in marriage and family therapy equips students with the skills needed to earn counseling licensure in their state and begin professional practice. While in school, learners can also make important professional connections through their professors and peers. Additionally, many programs help students secure internships and find employment after graduation.
Those interested in marriage and family therapy master’s programs should decide whether an on-campus or online program better suits their academic, personal, and lifestyle needs. Face-to-face programs may appeal more to those who recently earned their bachelor’s degree in a field related to mental health. Alternatively, online programs may better suit working professionals looking to change or advance their career. Most online programs offer more flexibility than on-campus programs, allowing students to adopt a schedule that allows time for other obligations. Most distance programs let students study in the evenings, on weekends, or through asynchronous courses that do not require regular class meeting times. Both online and in-person master’s degrees can help graduates stand out on the job market.
What Can I Do With a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy?
Graduates of marriage and family therapy master’s programs can pursue jobs directly related to marriage and family therapy or other areas of counseling. For example, they may find positions in the fields of substance abuse counseling, school counseling, career counseling, and mental health counseling. MTF graduates secure meaningful work at a variety of locations, including at community health centers, mental health clinics, adoption agencies, schools, and domestic violence shelters. Graduates can also go on to earn their doctorate in a related field, such as psychology, counseling education, or social work, opening up higher-paying clinical positions.
- Marriage and Family Therapist
Marriage and family therapists work with couples and families experiencing problems or conflict. They may guide clients through important decision-making processes, help couples work through trying transitions like divorce, or help families cope with difficult situations such as death or layoffs. MFT counselors require a master’s degree.
Median Annual Salary: $48,790
Projected Growth Rate: 23%
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor
These counselors work with clients suffering from emotional, behavioral, and/or cognitive disorders. Substance abuse counselors work with individuals battling drug or alcohol abuse, while mental health counselors help people suffering from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or other mental health problems. These positions typically require at least a master’s degree.
Median Annual Salary: $43,300
Projected Growth Rate: 23%
- Social and Community Service Manager
Social and community service managers coordinate and manage community organizations and service programs. They may organize outreach activities, apply for funding, identify and implement changes to increase efficiency, and supervise social service workers. Most work for nonprofit organizations or government agencies that provide a specific community service.
Median Annual Salary: $64,100
Projected Growth Rate: 18%
- School and Career Counselor
School counselors help students achieve academic goals, often working with pupils who suffer from academic, emotional, and/or behavioral problems. Alternatively, career counselors help adults identify and pursue career goals, such as applying for jobs or transitioning into a new career. School and career counselors typically require a master’s degree.
Median Annual Salary: $55,410
Projected Growth Rate: 13%
Psychologists can work as clinicians or researchers. Clinical psychologists identify and diagnose mental health or behavioral disorders and some may supervise professional counselors. Research psychologists study emotional, cognitive, and behavioral processes and report their findings. Most psychologist positions require a doctorate, and some fulfil this requirement by earning a doctor of psychology in marriage and family therapy. Positions in a school or industrial organization may only require a master’s degree.
Median Annual Salary: $77,030
Projected Growth Rate: 14%
How to Choose a Master's in Marriage and Family Therapy Program
Before applying to any marriage and family therapy master’s programs, aspiring graduate students should determine whether a school meets their specific academic, financial, and lifestyle needs. A few important factors to consider when choosing schools include cost, location, program length, course offerings, program requirements, and accreditation.
As a helpful first step, students should consider whether they want to earn a degree in person or online; this can affect the cost and duration of a program. Online master’s in marriage and family therapy programs tend to cost less than on-campus programs, and some degree tracks offer accelerated courses that allow students to graduate in less time. Online programs also typically offer a more flexible schedule that leaves more room for work or family obligations. Programs that allow students to enroll on a part-time basis also accomodate learners with outside commitments. Students pursuing an on-campus program should decide whether a school’s location serves their interests and goals. For example, does the area offer opportunities for clinical internships?
Learners should also look into what each program offers in terms of its content. The courses, concentrations, and graduation requirements can vary significantly between schools. Finally, check each school’s accreditation status. A school should hold regional accreditation while any MFT program should boast programmatic accreditation.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy Programs
Students should make sure they attend an accredited school. At the institutional level, schools can hold regional or national accreditation, with regional accreditation typically recognized as being more prestigious. Individual programs can also hold programmatic accreditation, which means that an outside accrediting agency has reviewed a program and determined that its curriculum and coursework meet a certain standard of quality. This process protects students from earning a degree from an illegitimate program.
Students interested in marriage and family therapy master’s programs should ensure that a program holds accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) created COAMFTE to oversee and recognize quality graduate and post-graduate marriage and family therapy programs. Students who attend a COAMFTE-accredited program receive adequate preparation for state and national MFT exams, graduating with the basic requirements necessary for state licensure. Students can also readily transfer credits between COAMFTE-accredited programs, even if they transfer to a program in a different state.
Master's in Marriage and Family Therapy Program Admissions
Applying to marriage and family therapy master’s programs can take a significant investment of time, money, and energy. As a first step, students should figure out which schools they want to apply to. Learners should try and apply to a minimum of five graduate programs, at least two of which they feel fairly confident about getting into. Once the list of potential schools has been narrowed down, aspiring graduate students should begin the application process as soon as possible and start gathering the materials required for their application packet months before any deadlines. Because graduate programs do not accept the Common Application, the overall application process for graduate school can take significantly longer than applying to undergraduate institutions.
- Bachelor’s Degree: Before earning a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree. Some MFT programs may prefer applicants who hold a BA or BS in psychology or a related field, while others may require that applicants complete prerequisite courses related to social and behavioral sciences.
- Professional Experience: Few MFT programs require that students hold significant professional experience. However, applicants with some kind of work, volunteer, or internship experience related to the field of mental health or social sciences may receive preference.
- Minimum GPA: Most graduate schools prefer students who hold an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0. However, many schools still consider applicants with a below-average GPA if they stand out in other areas, such as applicants who hold professional experience or high test scores.
- Application: Completing applications requires a significant amount of time, and students should start filling out their applications early — at least a few months before deadlines.
- Transcripts: Applicants must send transcripts from all previous undergraduate and graduate schools where they earned credit. Students can contact a school’s registrar’s office to request transcripts. Most schools send unofficial transcripts for free but charge a small fee for official transcripts.
- Letters of Recommendation: Most programs require applicants to submit one to three letters of recommendation. These letters typically come from a previous professor or professional supervisor who can attest to a student’s academic and/or professional ability. Try and ask recommenders at least two months before an application and don’t be afraid to send them a reminder.
- Test Scores: Many MFT programs require that applicants submit their GRE or MAT scores; however, some waive this requirement for students who hold an especially high GPA. Schools that use test scores for admissions typically require that students achieve a “satisfactory score,” meaning they test at or above the 50th percentile.
- Application Fee: Application fees vary widely depending on the school. Although these typically hover around $50, they can cost upwards of $100. Students who demonstrate financial need can often apply for a fee waiver.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Marriage and Family Therapy Program?
Course offerings can vary widely between schools. While some programs simply offer a set curriculum leading to a traditional master’s in family counseling, others may allow participants to choose a specialization. Specializations let students delve deeper into an area of marriage and family therapy, preparing them to work with specific communities or types of clients.
|LGBTQ Couples Therapy||In this concentration, MFT students learn about unique issues related to the LGBTQ community and how these issues may influence LGBTQ relationships. Degree candidates learn how to help LGBTQ couples overcome communication issues, personal vulnerabilities, and other obstacles.||LGBTQ Couples therapist, marriage and family therapist|
|Military Family Therapy||MFT students pursuing this concentration explore problems common among military families and couples. Some of these issues include mental health disorders, such as PTSD, depression, and anxiety.||Military marriage and family therapist, marriage and family therapist|
|Medical Family Therapy||This concentration focuses on helping individuals and their families cope with illness. Students prepare to work as part of an integrated medical care team in a clinical setting.||Medical family therapist, marriage and family therapist|
Courses in a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy Program
Although the overall curriculum of each MFT program varies, many tend to offer similar introductory courses that explore the foundational topics needed to engage in marriage and family therapy. The list below contains sample courses that students in marriage and family therapy master’s programs can expect to take.
- Cultural Issues in Marriage and Family Therapy
In this course, students learn about different cultures and how cultural context can affect relationships and family dynamics. They explore various types of family diversity, including topics related to race, gender, class, sexuality, and religion. This class also emphasizes how to prevent bias in the therapist-client relationship.
- Couples Therapy
Students examine a variety of relationship types, analyzing the relative strengths and weaknesses of different examples. They also learn about conflict resolution, communication, and possible ethical issues related to couples therapy, preparing for a career in marriage counseling.
- Individual and Family Lifespan Development
In this course, learners go over how individuals and families develop over time. Students explore the typical cognitive, behavioral, and emotional achievements humans experience at each age and learn how society, family, history, and culture can affect physical, social, gender, and cultural development.
- Sexuality, Intimacy, and Sex Therapy
This class explores the development of human sexuality and the topic of sexual disorders. Students learn about issues surrounding sexual dysfunction and how these can affect intimacy and sexuality. The course prepares students for careers as marriage or sex therapists who work to help couples achieve and maintain healthy relationships.
- Stress and Violence in Families
In this course, students learn how stress and violence affect healthy family development and structure. Learners explore modern relationship challenges, such as poverty, substance abuse, addiction, and violent behavior, preparing to work in a variety of settings (e.g., domestic violence shelters and substance abuse clinics).
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy?
Most students earn their master’s degree in marriage and family therapy in two to three years. During this time, students typically complete 48-60 credits of coursework and a number of fieldwork hours. A variety of factors can either expedite or impede this timeline. For instance, some programs offer accelerated degree tracks or summer courses — two options that allow students to finish their program in less time. Students may also take a larger course load to try and graduate early. Learners with professional or family obligations may choose to take fewer classes or enroll on a part-time basis, enjoying increased flexibility but extending the timeline of their program. However, individuals should bear in mind that some scholarships and teaching assistantships require students to remain enrolled on a full-time basis in order to qualify for financial aid.
How Much Is a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy?
The cost associated with earning a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy varies greatly depending on a few key factors. For example, public, in-state schools typically cost much less than private or out-of-state institutions. In terms of format, online schools tend to cost less than on-campus programs. Many online programs charge all students the same tuition, regardless of their state of residency. Additionally, distance learners can save money on peripheral costs, such as housing, dining, transportation, campus fees, and/or parking.
Students attending on-campus programs should consider a school’s location, which can significantly affect the overall cost of an education. For example, the cost of living in coastal areas or large urban centers tends to exceed that in smaller, inland, or rural areas. Students considering on-campus programs in another state should also see if a school offers out-of-state tuition waivers, which could help them save a significant amount of money. Other factors, such as obtaining teaching assistantships and financial aid, can significantly reduce the cost of school. Before factoring in financial aid, students can expect to pay between $15,000 and $35,000 to earn their MFT degree.
Certifications and Licenses a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy Prepares For
- State Counseling Licensure
In order to practice, marriage and family therapists must first earn a state-issued license. Each state features different licensure requirements. However, all states require that marriage and family therapists possess a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy or a closely related subject. Additionally, graduates typically need to pass a state-approved licensing exam and accrue a minimum number of supervised clinic hours before they can receive their license.
- Post-Graduate MFT Certificate
Some states may feature additional licensure requirements not fulfilled in a typical master’s of marriage and family therapy graduate program. In this case, graduates can pursue additional education through a post-graduate MFT certification or training program. These programs should hold accreditation from COAMFTE.
- Post-Graduate Certification in Counseling Children and Adolescents
Some programs offer this post-graduate certification to bolster a student’s graduate education in counseling. Individuals who pursue this certificate prepare to work with children and adolescents in a professional counseling setting, such as in schools, juvenile detention centers, and youth therapy centers.
- Post-Graduate Certificate in Counseling Military Families
This certification prepares graduates of marriage and family therapy programs to work with military families and veterans. These professionals learn to handle mental health issues common among military families and couples, such as PTSD.
Resources for Marriage and Family Therapy Graduate Students
A nonprofit organization, NIRE develops and teaches relationship enhancement skills. Therapists and laypeople alike can find helpful articles, books, and educational programs related to creating and maintaining healthy relationships. NIRE offers workshops and certification programs for counselors and counseling services for the general public.
A mental health awareness and therapy network, Theravive connects individuals, couples, and families to licensed therapists, counselors, and psychologists. It also hosts a list of local therapists as well as therapists who practice by phone and online.
This nonprofit organization promotes healthy relationships through therapy, research, and education for therapists. It offers professional development opportunities, such as continuing-education classes, conferences, and post-graduate certification programs.
This website — curated by a marriage and family therapist — offers an eclectic selection of articles and tools related to emotional health, therapy, and relationships. Article subcategories include singlehood, intimacy and sex, and trauma.
This institute provides a variety of courses, retreats, and workshops to help married couples overcome conflicts. It also offers a blog that covers topics in marriage and relationships.
Professional Organizations in Marriage and Family Therapy
Professional organizations serve as a way for graduate students, new professionals, and seasoned counselors to network with other workers and advance their careers. In addition to networking opportunities, career services, and job boards, most professional organizations offer members discounts on subscriptions to major publications, conference registration fees, continuing-education credits, and liability insurance. Marriage and family therapy professional organizations help members at any stage of their career stay current and connected to the field.
AAMFT members enjoy a variety of benefits, including online continuing-education opportunities, legal consultations, ethical advisory opinions, a job connection page, print and digital publications, and a member directory.
IAMFC offers many member benefits, such as family therapy certification, access to publications, continuing-education and mentorship opportunities, and professional advocacy. It welcomes both professional counselors and graduate students pursuing their MFT degree.
AFTA connects clinicians, academics, policymakers, and researchers involved in the field of family therapy. It offers several levels of membership, including student membership that provides access to experienced mentors and scholarships for annual conferences.
IFTA members enjoy access to publications, newsletters, a member directory, and discounted registration to the World Family Therapy Congress — an international family therapy event that offers ample networking opportunities.
This network provides members with access to newsletters, specialized training, networking opportunities, and discounts on resources for those interested in Christian-centered marriage and family counseling or ministry.