Marriage and family counseling -- also referred to as family therapy -- explores interpersonal issues within a household dynamic. This form of counseling theorizes that individual clients benefit from a group-based therapy setting involving couples, children, parents, and, in some cases, extended relatives. Like other mental health counselors, marriage and family counselors must earn a license to practice in all 50 states.
Here are our top 10 programs:
- Touro University Worldwide - Los Alamitos, CA
- Regent University - Virginia Beach, VA
- Pepperdine University - Los Angeles, CA
- Fresno Pacific University - Fresno, CA
- John Brown University - Siloam Springs, AR
- City University of Seattle - Seattle, WA
- Liberty University - Lynchburg, VA
- Concordia University, Wisconsin - Mequon, WI
- University of West Alabama - Livingston, AL
- Amridge University - Montgomery, AL
With a master's degree in marriage and family counseling, you can heal and nourish relationships for generations to come.
Many licensed marriage and family counselors begin their careers by earning master’s degrees from accredited colleges and universities. Master’s degree coursework in this field tackles several key topics, including psychopathology, addiction and substance abuse, and the various laws and ethics that guide modern counseling. Students also review case studies and learn about different methods and techniques for marriage and family counseling.
Most master’s programs require students to complete a set number of supervised fieldwork hours and participate in clinical residencies. Many students choose to earn their master’s in marriage and family counseling online due to the flexibility these programs offer. An asynchronous (or self-paced) schedule and convenient, study-from-home format prove ideal for students with part-time jobs, childcare duties, and other obligations.
Read on to learn more about what you can do with an online master’s in marriage and family counseling.
Choosing a Program
WILL AN ONLINE MASTER’S IN MARRIAGE AND FAMILY COUNSELING PROGRAM PROVIDE ME WITH THE SKILLS I NEED TO ADVANCE MY CAREER?
A master’s degree serves as the minimum educational requirement for licensed marriage and family counselors. The best online master’s in marriage and family counseling programs prepare students to work in private practice, hospitals, and clinical and educational settings. As the program progresses, clinical residencies and supervised fieldwork courses give students the opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge in a supervised counseling environment.
WILL AN ONLINE MASTER’S IN MARRIAGE AND FAMILY COUNSELING PROGRAM WORK WITH MY SCHEDULE?
Master’s in marriage and family counseling online programs offer a flexible alternative to traditional college coursework. Students can download course lectures and readings, participate in virtual discussions with other learners, submit written assignments, take exams, and communicate with their professors at their convenience. Current technology also allows participants to study away from their home computers by using laptops, tablets, smartphones, and other portable devices with Wi-Fi capabilities. For added convenience, online master’s students can usually coordinate fieldwork, clinical residencies, and other onsite requirements at locations near their homes.
WHAT JOBS CAN I GET WITH MY MASTER’S IN MARRIAGE AND FAMILY COUNSELING?
Students who graduate with a master’s in marriage and family counseling must also earn a license in the state where they plan to practice. Licensure requirements vary by state but typically include at least 2,000 hours of supervised postgraduate training, a passing score on a state-issued exam, and a certain number of annual continuing education courses.
WHAT ARE THE BEST ONLINE MASTER’S IN MARRIAGE AND FAMILY COUNSELING PROGRAMS?
Choosing a program is an incredibly personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school’s strengths match your educational and career needs. However, the following ranked list of schools can serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online master’s in marriage and family counseling programs. When researching programs, be sure to contact admissions specialists at prospective institutions to learn more about specific requirements and offerings.
Accredited Online Master's in Marriage and Family Counseling Programs
Touro University Worldwide
|Los Alamitos, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 60%||
Located in Los Alamitos, California, Touro University Worldwide is a Jewish-sponsored, nonprofit, higher education institution dedicated to knowledge, opportunity, and success.
TUW offers both clinical and non-clinical options for earning a master's degree in marriage and family therapy online. Approved by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, graduates of the clinical track are eligible for licensure as marriage and family therapists or as a professional clinical counselor in California. Notable classes in the curriculum include couples counseling, treatment of trauma, psychopharmacology, research methodology, and adolescent-focused family therapy.
The marriage and family therapist option requires 72 credits of coursework, while the licensed professional counseling track requires 82 credits. Both clinical options require 500 hours of direct client contact. Students can earn their clinical degrees in 2-2.5 years. TUW also offers a 54-credit, non-clinical option, which students can complete in 18 months. All courses are taught by licensed professionals.
TUW operates on eight-week terms, with six sessions per academic year. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum 2.5 GPA. Applicants are not required to submit GRE scores. TUW offers a generous transfer policy. Students in good academic standing with a minimum 2.75 GPA can transfer up to 12 credits. No practicum credits can be transferred.
Touro University Worldwide is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission. The school is currently awaiting special accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education.
|Virginia Beach, VA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 61%||
Located in Virginia Beach, Regent University is a Christian-based university that was established in 1978. Regent offers an online master of arts in marriage, couple, and family counseling that combines hands-on clinical fieldwork and progressive counseling techniques from a Christian perspective. Coursework includes marital and couples therapy, human growth, psychopathology and diagnosis, research and statistics, addiction therapy, and career and lifestyle development. Students must complete two one-week residencies plus an on-site practicum in a mental health or school setting. This 60-credit master's program prepares graduates to sit for the marriage and family therapy licensing exam in most states.
Courses are offered in eight- or 15-week delivery formats, and students typically complete the program in two years. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA from an accredited university, preferably in counseling, psychology, or a human behavior-related field. Prospective students must complete an online interview, submit a resume, three professional references, and official GRE or MAT scores. Admitted students have six options for start dates throughout the year.
Regent features a generous transfer policy, allowing students to transfer up to 25% of credits needed for their degree. Distance learners have access to career services, online tutoring and an online peer mentorship program. The master's program is accredited by the American Psychological Association and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Education Programs. Regent University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
|Los Angeles, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 85%||
Pepperdine University is a private Christian university located in Malibu, California. The school is dedicated to purpose, service, and leadership. The school's online master's degree in marriage and family therapy empowers students with the skills required to help individuals, couples, and families in need of therapeutic services. The curriculum explores diagnosing patients, developing treatment plans, and facilitating therapy. Notable classes include trauma in diverse populations, diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders, multicultural counseling, and substance abuse treatment. Graduates work in education settings, community counseling agencies, and governmental entities.
Pepperdine's Graduate School of Education and Psychology offers two clinical options that prepare students for licensure in California. Both clinical tracks require a total of 700 field-placement hours. The licensed marriage and family therapy track requires 225 client hours. The licensed professional clinical counselor option requires 280 client hours. Students must spend approximately 16 hours each week on-site with a licensed therapist or counselor during the last four terms of the program.
Students move through the program with a small cohort of approximately 12 students. Online learners take seminar-style courses with self-paced video lectures and interactive coursework.
Applicants are not required to submit GRE scores, however, they must submit two letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited university. Cohorts begin in the winter, summer, spring, or fall. Pepperdine University is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities, and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
Fresno Pacific University
|Fresno, CA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 65%||
Fresno Pacific University is a nonprofit, independent, Christian-based university. The school is devoted to providing academic excellence and innovative programming to students. Offered in a blended format through the Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, the online master of arts in marriage and family therapy degree combines psychological theory, biblical studies, and professional practicum coursework. Specific classes include the church and God's mission in the world, theology for integration, professional ethics in counseling, human development, aging and long-term care, and psychopathology. The program culminates in a final capstone project, which includes a practicum placement and final thesis. Students have the option to study in Israel each summer and the opportunity to attend a Hispanic Summer Program.
FPU's 65-credit master's degree prepares students to sit for the California licensure exam; however, students must finish the 3,000-hour internship requirement after graduation. Prerequisites for this program include introduction to psychology, abnormal psychology, and human development. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum 3.0 GPA, plus 50 hours of face-to-face counseling experience. Prospective students must submit official GRE scores and three references, including one from a pastor or spiritual mentor. Applicants must fill out a personal profile and respond to short-answer questions.
As FPU offers 98% of its student body financial aid options, prospective students are encouraged to apply for financial aid. Fresno Pacific University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and The Association of Theological Schools.
John Brown University
|Siloam Springs, AR||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 73%||
Founded in 1919, John Brown University is a Christian university located in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. The school takes pride in a diverse learning community with a student body representing 32 countries. JBU's online master's program in marriage and family therapy focuses on the spiritual and academic growth of students. Students take classes such as human development, Christian foundations in counseling, family systems, marital therapy, relationship assessment, and psychopharmacology. Students must complete 500 direct client-contact hours, including 250 hours of practicum and internship experience. The 64-credit program prepares graduates to sit for the national marriage and family therapy exam. JBU offers MFT students the option to simultaneously pursue a clinical mental health counseling degree, which requires 79 credits.
Students can take classes on a part-time or full-time basis. The MFT program can be completed in 2.5–3.5 years. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum 2.7 GPA. Applicants must submit a 200-word essay and three letters of recommendation. Prospective students must earn a minimum GRE score of 290 with a verbal score of 145. Applicants who hold a graduate degree from an accredited university are not required to submit GRE scores. JBU online offers prospective students a personal admissions counselor.
The program is approved by the Arkansas Board of Examiners in Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy. John Brown University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission. The school is a member of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities.
City University of Seattle
|Seattle, WA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 49%||
City University of Seattle is a nonprofit affiliate of the National University System. The school is dedicated to giving a high-quality education to students around the world. CityU of Seattle's master's in marriage and family therapy online program is one of four options for a graduate counseling degree. Topics cover trauma, violence, grief, loss, psychopathology, additional counseling, and psychopharmacology. Specific courses include systemic theory, human growth and development, professional ethics and law, and group counseling.
Students complete five sections of an internship to ensure they gain 600 total hours of supervised, hands-on experience in a clinical setting. CityU of Seattle's program meets the requirements for both the mental health counseling license, and marriage and family therapist certification. Graduates are prepared for real-life client work in nonprofit counseling agencies, private counseling practices, managed care organizations, correctional institutions, residential care facilities, and hospitals.
The 90-credit program is offered in a mixed mode. Students can choose between a two-year, intensive, full-time program or a three-year, part-time program.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum 2.75 GPA, participate in an interview, and submit three letters of reference, a writing sample, and a resume. CityU of Seattle is a military friendly school and offers military tuition, scholarships, and credit for prior learning. The master's program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. CityU of Seattle is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
|Lynchburg, VA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 47%||
Liberty University is a large, nonprofit, Christian higher education institution located in Lynchburg, Virginia. Combining marriage therapy counseling principles with faith and spirituality, the school's online marriage family therapy master's degree teaches students to help individuals and families through psychotherapy. Coursework covers diagnosing, psychopathology, and treatment planning. Classes include human growth and development, multicultural counseling, human sexuality, and premarital and marital counseling.
The program requires 60 credits, including 21 credits of early core courses, 15 credits of advanced core coursework, and 25 credits of counseling specialization courses. Students complete a one-semester practicum, a two-semester internship, and a final comprehensive exam. This marriage family therapy master's degree meets Virginia's requirement for licensure. Graduates work in mental health agencies, hospital settings, and residential treatment facilities.
Students can earn their degrees in approximately 2.5 years. Classes are offered in eight-week terms. Distance learners must complete two, three-credit, on-campus intensives. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum 2.7 GPA. Prospective students must submit a 1,000-2,000 word personal statement, two letters of recommendation, and proof of English proficiency. Liberty allows students to transfer up to 50% of required credits.
The school encourages students to apply for financial aid. Liberty is a military friendly school and offers tuition discounts for military members as well as scholarships and monthly payment plans. Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Concordia University, Wisconsin
|Mequon, WI||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 53%||
Founded in 1881, Concordia University is a nonprofit, Lutheran-associated institution of higher learning located in Mequon, just north of Milwaukee. The school is part of the nation-wide Concordia University System.
The marriage and family therapy online master's program focuses on strengthening family life from a Christian perspective. Specific courses include human development, professional ethics, American family today, parenting, human sexuality, and family resource management. Students explore how a family relates to society, and learn to help parents, teachers, and students confront challenges.
The program requires 36 credits and 120 practicum credits, culminating with a master's thesis. Graduates are prepared for careers as family life educators, life scientists, family therapists, and family social workers.
Depending on the semester, courses run for six or eight weeks. Online learners benefit from flexible class scheduling options, and access to a student success adviser. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution with a minimum 3.0 GPA, a one-page essay, a resume, and two letters of recommendation. Applicants are not required to submit GRE scores. Classes begin in the fall and spring.
Concordia University offers affordable tuition rates and financial aid options, including scholarships. The school also offers military benefits for active duty personnel, army reserves, and veterans. The Family Life Education program is in the process of applying for the Provisional Certified Family Life Educator designation with the National Council on Family Relations. Concordia University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
University of West Alabama
|Livingston, AL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 33%||
Located in the heart of Livingston, the University of West Alabama is one of the state's oldest colleges. The school was originally chartered as a church-related female academy, but is now a fully accredited, co-educational institution.
The school's online master of arts in marriage and family therapy degree takes a systemic, non-pathology based approach to counseling, family dynamics, and mental health. The 33-credit program includes 12 credits of required coursework, 9 credits of concentration electives, and 12 credits of applied concentration electives. Base concentration classes include life-span development and learning, systems of psychotherapy, and professional orientation and ethics. Applied concentration courses include advanced techniques in family counseling, therapeutic relationships, assessment techniques, and a three-credit internship. This program does not prepare graduates for state licensure or certification.
Students can take classes at their own pace and complete the degree in approximately one year. Courses run for eight weeks with five terms per year. University of West Alabama does not have any specific admission requirements; however, students in California, Massachusetts, and Puerto Rico cannot take online classes at the school at this time. Prospective students have access to an enrollment counselor and personal success coach.
University of West Alabama offers affordable tuition as well as grants, scholarships, and student loans. Students can transfer up to nine credits from courses completed in the last nine years. University of West Alabama is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
|Montgomery, AL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 18%||
Amridge University is an independent Christian university located in Montgomery, Alabama.
Established in 1967, the school has offered online education since 1993 with a commitment to spiritual vitality and academic excellence.
Combining scientific research, clinical practice, and therapy theory, Amridge's online MA in marriage and family therapy prepares graduates to serve individuals, couples, and families in church settings, private practices, and governmental and community agencies. The curriculum includes courses in ethics and professional identity; community and social systems; human sexual development; psychology of grief, death, and dying; and counseling for abusive relationships. Students also complete a three credit MFT practicum, as well as two, three-credit clinical training courses.
Graduates of this marriage and family therapy master's program online can sit for the marriage and therapy licensing exam in Alabama. Learners also have the option of taking additional coursework to satisfy the requirements for the professional counseling license. Students who reside outside of Alabama must check licensing requirements in their home states.
Depending on the semester, courses can run for eight, 10, or 14 weeks. The 60-credit program can be completed on a part or full time basis, with full-time learners finishing in seven semesters. Online courses are delivered via Canvas.
Applicants do not need to submit official entrance exam scores; however, they must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally or nationally accredited institution. Amridge has articulation agreements with several other schools, including Memphis School of Preaching, Southeast Institute of Biblical Studies, Florida School of Preaching, and Bear Valley Bible Institute.
Amridge University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
|Longview, TX||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 60%||
Founded as a Christian polytechnic university and located in Longview, Texas, LeTourneau provides students with hands-on learning opportunities and strives to make a positive global impact.
The school's master of arts in clinical mental health counseling features a specialization in couples therapy. Students complete 66 total credits, including 45 credits in core coursework, 15 credits of specialization courses, and six credits in clinical theology-based classes. Specialization courses include couples therapy, treatment planning, human sexualty, sex therapy, and family assessment. Students are also required to complete 700 hours of supervised field experience.
LeTourneau's online MFT program is taught by award-winning industry-experienced faculty. Graduates are prepared to take state licensure exams for professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, or dual licensure. Students also take a supervised counseling practicum as an introduction to field-based experience. Two internships give students the opportunity to work with a licensed mental health professional.
Prerequisites for this program include nine hours of undergraduate psychology coursework, three hours of statistics, and coursework in abnormal psychology. Students can only transfer credits with a grade of "B" or higher, and LeTourneau offers 90% of students some form of financial aid.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution with a minimum 2.5 GPA. Applicants who do not meet the minimum GPA requirement must submit a resume demonstrating full-time work experience. Applicants also have the option to submit official GRE scores for further consideration. Prospective students must participate in an interview.
LeTourneau University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
University of Massachusetts Boston
|Boston, MA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 48%||
As a member of the University of Massachusetts system, UMass Boston is a public research university with a student-body of more than 16,000. Students can choose from over 70 undergraduate and 130 graduate programs. While most degrees are offered at the school's picturesque waterfront campus, a select number of programs are also available online.
UMass Boston's master of science in counseling (family therapy) emphasizes an inclusive perspective of families within larger social systems. Graduates are committed to professional ethics and are prepared to counsel individuals, families, and communities in urban environments.
The curriculum for this 60-credit online master's in marriage and family counseling requires 42 credits of core coursework, including an evaluative experience class. Students then complete a 12-month, 900-hour internship for their final 18 credits. Following this field experience, students submit a final capstone project that features a clinical case analysis, a videotaped clinical interview, a personal narrative, and a future professional plan. The program satisfies the requirements for licensure in family therapy by the Board of Allied Mental Health and Human Services Professions in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and in other states.
This online program is run on a cohort model in which students take classes together in a set sequence for the duration of their studies. While the courses are offered online, distance learners must participate in a two-week on-site intensive in Boston during the summer semester.
Prerequisites for this program include five social science courses. Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Prospective students must also submit GRE scores, three letters of recommendation, a statement of intent, and participate in a group interview. Applicants must have at least one year of experience in a mental health or equivalent setting.
This therapy program is fully accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education. UMass Boston is accredited by the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
Concordia University-Saint Paul
|St. Paul, MN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 55%||
Concordia University, St. Paul was founded in 1893 as a Christian liberal arts university. The school offers learners a student-centered approach, career-focused degrees, and a diverse learning community.
The school's online master of arts in family science program focuses on healthy family functioning within a family-systems perspective. The curriculum explores the principles and philosophies of family life education. Students develop a preventative approach to issues related to economics, education, substance abuse, domestic violence, parenting, sexuality, and more. Coursework includes family decision making, intimate relationships, parent education, public policy and applied ethics, and systemic dynamics of families. Students also have the option of taking an international study abroad course.
Concordia University, St. Paul offers two tracks: certification or non-certification. Learners who opt for the certification track are prepared to sit for the certifying exam and earn the international designation of Certified Family Life Educator. Both tracks culminate in a final capstone project where students present and discuss their portfolios.
The 36-credit program is administered in a cohort format where students take courses together in a designated sequence. Each course lasts seven weeks.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0, and must submit a 400-1,000 word personal statement. Concordia encourages students to apply for financial aid, and numerous student loan options, payment plans, and scholarships are available.
The family science program is approved by the National Council on Family Relations. Concordia University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
|Mechanicsburg, PA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 81%||
Located in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, Messiah College is a small private Christian college founded in 1909. The school is committed to faith, learning, and justice.
Learners in the master of arts in marriage, couple, and family counseling develop leadership skills to help families and couples work through life's difficulties. Combining field experience and counseling theory, the 60-credit curriculum covers both foundational classes and specialized advanced courses in psychopathology and diagnosis, career counseling, multicultural issues, group counseling, and assessment techniques. Courses run for eight weeks, and students can take classes at a pace that best suits them. The majority of classes are offered online; however, students are expected to participate in a one-week on-campus intensive.
Students must also complete a semester-long practicum and two semester-long internships. The practicum is a 100-hour initial field placement, while internships are each 300 hours and include direct supervision and client contact. This master's degree meets the requirements for graduates to become a licensed marriage and family therapist in Pennsylvania and other states. Learners can earn their degree in 2-4 years.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and submit a resume, two letters of recommendation, and participate in an interview. Prospective students must also submit a 300-500 word statement of purpose and answer four, 150-word essay prompts. Messiah offers rolling admissions, giving students multiple options for start dates throughout the year.
The program is accredited by the Council of Accreditation for Counseling and Related Educational Programs. Messiah College is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
Abilene Christian University
|Abilene, TX||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 61%||
Located in Abilene, about 150 miles west of Dallas-Fort Worth, Abilene Christian University is a private Christian university that offers degrees in more than 135 areas of study. The school is dedicated to spiritual and intellectual growth, innovative programming, and Christian service and leadership.
Students in ACU's online master in marriage and family therapy learn to help people with mental disorders, emotional issues, and other difficulties in life. The curriculum explores topics such as substance abuse and addiction, child therapy, and assessment and diagnosis. Students can also specialize in a number of areas, including general marriage and family therapy, medical family therapy, treatment of trauma, child and adolescent therapy, and therapy with military families. Coursework in family theory, professional ethics and the law, sex therapy, couples therapy, and family life cycle prepare graduates for a dynamic career in the field. Many pursue careers in churches, hospitals, mental health clinicals, private practices, and residential treatment centers.
The 60-credit program includes 48 hours of foundational classes, and 12 credits of specialization coursework. Students also complete a 500-hour internship and 100 hours of supervision. The MFT program culminates in a final capstone project in which students write a paper and present a clinical case study. The program prepares learners to sit for the Marriage and Family Therapy National exam to become licensed professional counselors or marriage and family therapists. Students can earn their degree in 33 months.
Applicants must submit a written statement of purpose, three letters of recommendation, and participate in a conference interview.
Abilene Christian University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Interview with Jeni Woodfin
Marriage and Family Therapist
Jeni Woodfin is a licensed private practice marriage and family therapist in San Jose, CA. She serves as the clinical director of a residential substance abuse treatment center. She specializes in supporting women and men considering or recovering from separation or divorce, couples interested in infidelity recovery, and those struggling with addiction or codependency. Jeni obtained her bachelor's degree in psychology from Marian College in Indianapolis and her master's from John F. Kennedy University. She completed a fellowship through the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis sponsored by Stanford University.
- Why did you choose a degree in psychology over similar degrees that prepare you for clinical practice (e.g., a degree in counseling or social work)? What, specifically, does a counseling psychology degree offer?
Prior to starting graduate school, I knew my goal was to create a private practice that centered on supporting high-functioning individuals and couples who are interested in changing longtime wounds and patterns. My understanding at the time was that a degree in social work would most likely lead to working in an agency setting that was not conducive to providing "real" therapy, but mostly case management.
Now, having known many social workers, I realize they also are able to work in private practices offering psychotherapy. However, social workers tend to be trained in a "systems" approach, i.e. how is the client affected by all the factors of their environment, whereas a counseling psychology degree looks more at the individual's experience of their environment and more psychological theory. This foundational difference in how to conceptualize lead me to pick a counseling psychology master's.
- What were some of the most crucial skills you gained throughout your master's program? Were most of these skills learned in class or through internships?
The most valuable skill, and one I believe I continue to develop during my career, is to meet the client where they're at. Learning to let go of your own agenda, preferences, biases, and values while in session is crucial to allowing yourself to be open to your client's experience. This openness is what allows your client to feel accepted enough to bring all the bits and pieces of themselves into the therapy. For me, this openness allows clients to have a reparative experience in a relationship.
This skill was drilled into our heads as students in grad school, but until you're in the room with clients you can't begin to feel it. So, the concept was taught in class, but the practice began during my internship, in the room with clients.
- What was the job search like after completing your degree? Did you feel fully prepared to make the transition from school into practice?
I began my job search prior to graduation and found it fairly painless. I was fortunate enough to have been working at a group practice during grad school as an administrator, but also interviewed at a few local county-funded agencies. I found each agency interview experience to be similar: usually a group interview, with questions regarding my theoretical orientation, populations of interest, and vignettes. In the end, I was offered every job I applied for and found each agency eager to hire new interns.
At the beginning of my internship, I was nervous! I experienced a healthy dose of imposter syndrome that (I believe) I was able to mask, except in supervision. For the most part, I felt prepared to make the leap from student to intern, although I clearly remember sitting in a particularly difficult session one day, early in my internship, and [catching] myself thinking about my client, "You need to see a therapist," then realizing with a massive feeling of anxiety, "I AM the therapist."
- What are some of the greatest day-to-day challenges you face in your practice?
The challenges in a sole clinician private practice are a little different from those in a group practice or agency. One of the challenges I find myself very aware of is loneliness. It sounds a little strange to be lonely after sitting with people all day, but it's a very one-sided relationship with clients. I've found it important to have other therapists to meet for coffee, meet during classes, and attend consultation with in order to prevent feeling too isolated.
A second challenge is the stress of how unpredictable your income can be. Marketing yourself is a large part of having your own private practice, but even the best marketers can have slow times. Your clients will all go on vacation over the summer, want to take holiday weeks off, or magically all be cured at the same time! Being aware that you may need to plan for the ebbs and flows of income can help.
- What advice would you give to bachelor's students who might be on the fence about earning a graduate degree in psychology?
Be prepared to learn a little about a whole lot. Your undergraduate degree gives you a little taste of what you'll learn in graduate school and professionally. Getting a sneak peek into the patterns of human behavior is amazing and can leave you wanting more, which leads to the advice of: Be prepared to go to graduate school.
Unfortunately, a bachelor's in psychology rarely opens doors into a career in mental health. If your goal is to work as a therapist or counselor, be prepared to get your master's or doctorate. But once you've got that, the doors open wide.
- Any additional advice you'd give to students considering a master's degree in psychology?
Do your own work! Learning to be a therapist and then being a therapist stirs up all kinds of emotions that it's important to process. Going to therapy and showing all your messy bits to a stranger is tough! Being in your own therapy helps you remember how vulnerable your clients might be feeling. Also, you'll need somewhere to process your own feelings that come up in session. Spending your days with people who are struggling can be draining and self-care, which includes therapy, is vital to avoid burnout.
Consider grad school and your internship your initial foray into networking. The people in your graduate school cohort, your professors, your supervisors, and fellow interns are the people you'll be referring to and, hopefully, [who will be] referring to you if you open your own practice. The impression you give off during grad school and internship will be the very beginning of your professional reputation. Present yourself as the therapist you plan to be.
And, finally, don't let anyone tell you it's impossible to make a good living in private practice. If you network, keep working on yourself, and hang your shingle, the clients will come.
What Else Can I Expect From an Online Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Counseling?
|How Long Is an Online Master's in Marriage and Family Counseling Program?||18 months-2 years|
|Concentrations||Mental Health Counseling, Addiction/Substance Abuse Counseling, Youth Counseling, Career Counseling, Psychology, Sociology/td>|
|Accreditation||Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)|
Admission Requirements for an Online Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Counseling
Students interested in pursuing an online master's degree in marriage and family counseling need to meet many of the same requirements as typical master's applicants. At minimum, applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited college or university. Some schools require a bachelor's degree in a counseling-related field -- such as psychology or social work -- although many programs accept any bachelor's degree. However, admitted students without a related bachelor's degree may need to complete some foundational counseling prerequisites before beginning their graduate-level studies.
Programs generally require undergraduate transcripts from all universities an applicant has attended. Minimum GPA requirements vary between schools. For example, many universities require an undergraduate GPA of at least 2.5, while more selective institutions may expect a minimum 3.0 GPA. Along with transcripts, some universities require GRE scores; however, universities may waive GRE requirements for students with exceptional GPAs. Universities may also request letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and/or an interview.
While curricula vary among online master's in marriage and family counseling programs, the following courses provide a general overview of what students can expect to take.
Sample Courses for an Online Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Counseling
- Law, Ethics, and Professional Issues in Counseling: This course introduces students to counseling's legal and ethical considerations. Learners study how ethical standards differ between counseling settings and become familiar with licensing requirements. They also explore professional advocacy and professional identity in the mental health profession.
- Diagnosis and Treatment of Mental Health Disorders: In this course, students learn about common mental disorders, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. They study various approaches to treatment, including group, individual, and psychopharmacological methods. The course also covers the basics of evidence-based practice, along with planning and intake procedures.
- Treatment of Substance Abuse: Students learn about approaches for identifying, diagnosing, and treating substance abuse and alcoholism. They also study the effects of various illicit substances and the common disorders that accompany addiction. This course delves into addiction theory, legal issues, addiction prevention, and community resources. Students may study how family dynamics relate to substance abuse.
- Diversity in Counseling: Degree seekers consider how differences in culture, sexual orientation, gender, class, and race affect counseling practice. They also explore how inequality and social issues influence mental health in a community by studying theories on privilege, societal oppression, inequality, and poverty. Master's students also learn about varying family structures across cultures.
- Human Development: This course covers mental health throughout the human lifespan. Students learn about prevailing theories and research regarding human development from infancy through adulthood. They also consider personality, cognitive, and social change through the lifespan. Students examine how upbringing, biology, and environmental factors influence a person's development.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Counseling?
Most online marriage and family therapy master's programs consist of 40-60 credits and take around two years to complete, but several factors can affect degree completion times. A student's personal learning preferences and time constraints can greatly lengthen or shorten the duration of a degree track. For instance, students who study full time finish faster than part-time students. Ambitious learners might load up on extra credits to earn their degree sooner. In addition, students who take advantage of winter and summer terms can complete their curriculum faster than those who study only in the fall and spring.
A program's delivery format can also affect a degree timeline. Self-paced programs let students complete work at their convenience, while cohort-based learning programs follow a strict course schedule. Students learning through self-paced programs can speed up or slow down their studies as needed, while cohort learners graduate at a predetermined time.
How Much Does an Online Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Counseling Cost?
Online master's in marriage and family counseling programs typically cost $25,000-$50,000, but several factors can affect overall expenses. Private universities generally charge higher tuition rates than public institutions, which receive more state funding. In addition, students attending public universities in their home state often pay less than out-of-state learners. Look for schools that charge specific rates to online students -- some public institutions let distance learners pay the in-state rate. In addition, be sure to account for additional fees or expenses; many universities charge online learners a distance education or technology fee on top of standard tuition costs.
Certifications and Licenses a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Counseling Prepares For
- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist: Obtaining this certification allows counseling graduates to begin practicing as marriage and family therapists; this role is sometimes called a marital and family therapist. Each state enforces different requirements for this license, so be sure to research expectations in your area. All states require a doctoral or master's degree along with supervised clinical experience.
- Licensed Professional Counselor: Counselors must become licensed to practice in all 50 states, as well as in Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. LPC certification allows counselors to treat mental and behavioral issues in adults, children, and families. Candidates must successfully complete a graduate counseling program, at least 3,000 hours of supervised clinical work, and a state-recognized exam.
- National Board for Certified Counselors Board Certification: NBCC offers this voluntary certification for counselors looking to demonstrate mastery in the field. To qualify, candidates must earn a graduate degree from a regionally accredited or CACREP-accredited program. They must also pass an exam and meet work experience requirements. NBCC certified counselors must adhere to the organization's code of ethics.
Additional Requirements for an Online Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Counseling
While students can complete most of their master's in marriage and family therapy online, many programs require additional in-person components. For example, to prepare students for state licensure, programs may include a set amount of supervised clinical hours. Practicum requirements vary by program, but universities typically require around 700 hours. Master's students may spend a significant portion of their practicum -- around 200-300 hours -- working directly with clients. At the end of their studies, master's in counseling students must often complete a capstone project, capstone course, or thesis. Additionally, some programs may administer a comprehensive final exam.
Accreditation for Online Master’s in Marriage and Family Counseling Degrees
As you search for marriage and family therapy master's programs online, make sure to only consider accredited institutions. Accreditation indicates that a school provides a high quality education, and state licensing boards typically expect aspiring counselors to graduate from an accredited university. In addition, attending an accredited university enables you to apply for federal financial aid and many other private scholarships.
Two main types of accrediting bodies operate in the U.S. at the institutional level: national and regional. National accrediting agencies typically deal with vocational or for-profit colleges, while regional organizations accredit traditional colleges and universities. Since regional accrediting bodies enforce stricter academic standards, regional accreditation is known as the more prestigious designation. Besides national and regional accreditation, students in this field should choose programs that hold specialized accreditation from CACREP. CACREP -- established in 1981 -- accredits many types of graduate programs, including marriage and family therapy, school counseling, and clinical mental health counseling.
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) play an important role in the accreditation process. Both organizations -- one a government agency and the other a nongovernmental organization -- monitor national and regional accrediting bodies and hold these organizations to a high standard. Since some unreputable accrediting agencies do operate in the U.S., prospective students should only trust accrediting bodies recognized by the ED or CHEA. You can find a list of all accredited institutions on the websites of the ED and CHEA.
Employment Outlook for Master's in Marriage and Family Counseling
JOB PLACEMENT: MASTER’S IN MARRIAGE AND FAMILY COUNSELING
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for marriage and family counselors remains strong. The U.S. employs roughly 41,500 licensed marriage and family counselors. The BLS also projects 23% employment growth for marriage and family counselors between 2016 and 2026, resulting in more than 9,700 new jobs nationwide.
How does marriage and family counseling stack up to other careers in terms of job placement? The following table looks at unemployment rates for marriage and family therapists, along with six related job titles.
|Occupation||Unemployment Rate (2016)|
|Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor||3.1%|
|Marriage and Family Therapist||1.6%|
|Clinical Social Worker||2.1%|
|Clinical and Family Social Worker||2.1%|
|Mental Health Counselor||3.1%|
Source: U.S. News & World Report
|Occupation||Median Salary for Entry-Level||Median Salary for Mid-Career||Median Salary for Experienced||Median Salary for Late-Career|
|Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist||$50,000||$55,000||$64,000||$73,000|
|Substance Abuse Counselor||$34,000||$38,000||$41,000||$44,000|
|Mental Health Counselor||$38,000||$41,000||$44,000||$46,000|
All five of the aforementioned occupations reported career salary growth of at least 21% after 20 years on the job. School counselors and marriage and family therapists experienced the highest growth rate in salary: a 42.2% increase between the entry-level and late-career stages. Licensed marriage and family therapists exhibited 42.1% growth, while career counselors benefitted from a 37.0% increase in wages.
Students who graduate with a master’s in marriage and family counseling qualify for dozens of top-level positions, although individual eligibility depends on additional factors like employer type and the city/state of employment. Below, we outline four of the most common career pathways in marriage and family counseling.
- Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists
These professionals help clients overcome mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders. Mental health counselors specialize in cognitive one-on-one treatment, while marriage and family therapists typically serve clients in a group-based setting involving a spouse, children, and other close relatives.
Median Annual Salary: $48,790
Projected Growth Rate: 23%
Minimum Educational Attainment: Master’s Degree
Licensure Requirements: For private practice, counselors must log 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised postgraduate training and pass a state-issued licensing exam. Licenses also require annual continuing education courses.
- Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors
These counselors help clients overcome addictions to alcohol, drugs, prescription medications, and other potentially harmful substances, as well as behaviors such as gambling or sex addiction. They help clients identify patterns or emotional triggers that often accompany their addictive behaviors and assist them during the rehabilitation and recovery stages.
Median Annual Salary: $43,300
Projected Growth Rate: 23%
Minimum Educational Attainment: Bachelor’s Degree
Licensure Requirements: For private practice, counselors must log 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical training and pass a state-issued licensing exam. Licenses also require annual continuing education courses.
- School and Career Counselors
These counselors work in public and private schools across the country. Counselors working at the pre-K and elementary levels typically evaluate students for learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, and other treatable issues. At the middle and high school levels, counselors often divide their time between mental health counseling and career/college advisement.
Median Annual Salary: $55,410
Projected Growth Rate: 13%
Minimum Educational Attainment: Master’s Degree
Licensure Requirements: For public school employment, counselors must receive a state-issued certification. Some states also require 1-2 years of classroom experience and/or a teaching license.
- Rehabilitation Counselors
Rehabilitation counselors specialize in assisting clients with physical, cognitive, and emotional disabilities that interfere with independent living. Areas where they help clients may include applying to and interviewing for jobs, obtaining an education, and applying for state and federal disability benefits.
Median Annual Salary: $34,860
Projected Growth Rate: 13%
Minimum Educational Attainment: Master’s Degree
Licensure Requirements: Counselors who serve clients and patients must log 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised postgraduate training and pass a state-issued licensing exam. Licenses also require annual continuing education courses.
Students and graduates gain valuable knowledge and connections by joining professional organizations. These organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career paths. Below, you can read about three of the country’s most prominent organizations established for professional marriage and family counselors. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, and maintain active job boards for career-ready college graduates. Resources like these may prove invaluable as you complete your degree requirements and prepare to enter the job market.
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists: AAMFT stands as the leading professional organization for counselors specializing in marriage and family counseling, representing more than 50,000 licensed counselors worldwide. Its website features a job board and licensure links, an online information library, and a virtual networking center.
- American Counseling Association: Founded in 1952, ACA serves as the world’s largest professional organization for counselors and consists of more than 52,000 members. The ACA website features an extensive virtual knowledge center that contains information about licensure requirements, diagnostics, ethics, and other important areas of the field. The website also boasts continuing education opportunities, journal publications, and an online job board.
- International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors: Founded in 1989, IAMFC represents a network of counselors, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other professionals working in marriage and family counseling. Members receive access to The Family Journal and The Family Digest, a job directory, and information about certification and credentialing.
Financing Your Online Master's in Marriage and Family Counseling Program
Despite the relative affordability of online programs, most students still rely on financial assistance to help pay for school. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered by the U.S. government. Additionally, many nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources offer private grants and scholarships. Check out the collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.
Approximately two-thirds of today’s college students rely on loans to fund their education, but plenty of overlooked financing options exist to reduce your overall student debt.
Completing the FAFSA serves as a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.
Learn about the changes made to financial aid for online learning and the different funding opportunities available to online students.
Online programs provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance work and family obligations. Our guide features a curated list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.
Online college programs serve as a flexible, affordable option for single parents interested in earning a degree and securing their family’s financial future. Our list boasts scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.
Millions of dollars in free money for U.S. military personnel go unused. Learn more about the grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.
- Best Online Master's in Marriage and Family Counseling Program of 2018
Rank School Location 1 Touro University Los Alamitos, CA 2 Palo Alto University Palo Alto, CA 3 Pepperdine University Malibu, CA 4 University of Colorado Denver - Anschutz Medical Campus Denver, CO 5 California State University - Northridge Northridge, CA 6 Dallas Baptist University Dallas, TX 7 John Brown University Siloam Springs, AR 8 Lancaster Bible College Lancaster, PA 9 Fresno Pacific University Fresno, CA 10 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA 11 City University of Seattle Seattle, WA 12 Concordia University - Saint Paul Saint Paul, MN 13 Western Seminary Portland, OR 14 LeTourneau University Longview, TX 15 University of West Alabama Livingston, AL 16 Concordia University - Wisconsin Mequon, WI 17 Indiana Wesleyan University - Marion Marion, IN 18 Abilene Christian University Abilene, TX 19 Messiah College Mechanicsburg, PA 20 Regent University Virginia Beach, VA 21 Amridge University Montgomery, AL 22 Lee University Cleveland, TN 23 Southern California Seminary El Cajon, CA 24 Houston Baptist University Houston, TX 25 Prescott College Prescott, AZ
- Best Online Master's in Marriage and Family Counseling Program of 2017
Rank School Location 1 Touro University Worldwide Los Alamitos, CA 2 Messiah College Mechanicsburg, PA 3 LeTourneau University Longview, TX 4 Amridge University Montgomery, AL 5 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA 6 Mid-America Christian University Oklahoma City, OK