MFT Degree Programs: The Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy Degree

The master’s degree in marriage and family therapy is the standard educational requirement for the marriage and family therapy license in all states. Because programs must meet curricular standards set by licensing agencies, there is a good deal of commonality among programs. However, they are by no means identical.

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Marriage and family therapy programs typically confer a Master of Art or Master of Science degree. There is little difference between the two. State licensing boards do not make a distinction.


The majority of didactic coursework is in three areas: human development, marriage and family studies, and marriage and family therapy. These areas are broadly defined, so different institutions can emphasize different theoretical models. Family studies courses also cover a variety of family types and presenting issues. Some institutions offer coursework focused on the needs of rural populations or other local populations.

Human development courses focus on both individual and family life cycle development across the lifespan; courses in psychopathology and abnormal development often fall under this category. At least one course in the master’s marriage and family therapy program will cover DSM-based diagnosis. Some MFT programs allow students to pursue a concentration in addiction studies.

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A big part of the second year is the internship. Many states require that it be a year in length or confer nine semester hours of academic credit. Schools typically have clinical partnerships with a number of agencies; these may be listed on the marriage and family therapy program website.

Most marriage and family therapy programs do not require a thesis. A student may opt for an MFT program that has a thesis requirement if s/he is planning to study MFT or psychology at the doctoral level. Some state boards will allow a candidate to begin supervised practice when s/he has completed all requirements but the thesis.

MFT Master’s Program Length

Master’s programs in marriage and family therapy are longer than they used to be. Students will generally do the equivalent of two full-time years of coursework. The total credit hour requirement is typically 60.

The master’s degree in marriage and family therapy is the standard educational requirement for the marriage and family therapy license in all states.

Some MFT programs are in the 45 to 50 credit hour range; they will qualify a person for licensure in some, but not all, states. When a state sets requirements lower than in other states, candidates will have a shorter path at the onset, but may have to do significant additional work to get a license in a new state. The safest bet is to select a school that not only meets the standards of the state, but those of a national accrediting agency.

The Importance of Accreditation

Marriage and family therapy programs must, at the minimum, be housed in accredited institutions. Regional accreditation standards are considered more rigorous than national; thus, many states require regional accreditation.

Programmatic accreditation is an adjunct to institutional accreditation. Many state licensing boards prefer, if not require, that MFT programs be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy (COAMFTE) to be eligible for MFT licensure. Most states will accept MFT programs that meet equivalent standards. However, there are some agencies that a person will never be able to work for in an LMFT capacity if s/he has not completed a COAMFTE-accredited program.

In some states, a student who completes an internship through a COAMFTE-accredited program will have a slightly shorter post-graduate supervised practice period. Other states will count the internship toward the post-graduate practice regardless of program accreditation provided the supervisor was approved through the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).

Some states place the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Programs (CACREP) on the same level as COAMFTE; CACREP is a well-respected organization and the preferred accrediting agency for most other counseling disciplines. CACREP-accredited programs may go by the name ‘marital, couple, and family counseling’.

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CACREP-accredited programs have some additional coursework requirements, for example, a course in career and lifestyle development. Some programs prepare a professional for dual licensure as a marriage and family therapist and a professional counselor.

Students in either program should expect at least 500 hours of practicum or internship. CACREP-accredited programs usually include at least 100 hours of practicum and 600 hours of internship.

Where to Find COAMFTE Accredited Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy Programs:

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COAMFTE Accredited Online Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy Program

Northcentral University offers the only other COAMFTE – accredited online Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy in the country.

Click Here to go to the AAMFT list of COAMFTE accredited programs.

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