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MFT Degree Programs and Training Requirements

Learn about MFT (marriage and family therapy) degree programs. Discover program education and training requirements, as well as employment outlook and salary information for graduates.

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Essential Information

Marriage and family therapy (MFT) is a graduate-level specialization for students who have completed undergraduate programs in psychology or counseling. These degree programs can prepare graduates to become licensed marriage and family therapists, helping clients to modify behavior and improve relationships and communication among family members. MFT programs are offered at the master's as well as the doctoral level.

Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy

A master's degree program in marriage and family therapy (MFT) trains students to evaluate mental, emotional and behavioral problems that directly affect of the stability of the family structure. Master's programs typically take a minimum of two years to complete and require both academic coursework and supervised clinical experience. MFT counselor degrees that are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) usually include post-degree certificate training in Medical Family Therapy (MedFT). This supplementary training is required for students to become state-licensed family counselors.

Educational Prerequisites

Enrollment in an MFT master's degree program requires a bachelor's degree in psychology, counseling or behavioral health. Most schools require students to take the GRE exam in addition to submitting an undergraduate transcript, letters of recommendation, statements of purpose and curriculum vitae at the time of application. Although not required, both internships and independent undergraduate research are favored by many master's programs.

Program Coursework

Master's programs in MFT include coursework related to the psychology of the family structure, as well as how individual behavior affects communication and perception. Classes may include:

  • Family therapy theory
  • Couple and family therapy
  • Marriage counseling
  • Ethics and professional development
  • Psychotherapy with children and adolescents

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Although the federal government designates marriage and family therapy as a core branch of mental health counseling, it is a small field when compared to school counseling, mental health counseling or rehabilitation counseling. Many marriage and family therapists are self-employed, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( expects marriage and family therapists to experience employment growth of at least 41% between 2010 and 2020. The median annual salary of licensed marriage and family therapists is approximately $46,670, according to May 2012 BLS figures.

Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy

The Ph.D. in MFT is designed for students who wish to conduct further research and clinical work related to marriage and family therapy before entering the professional world. Doctoral students are trained to work in collaboration with medical providers and are also equipped with a multidisciplinary background, which helps them approach families in need of assistance. Ph.D. candidates work closely with faculty mentors and emphasize clinical training and research rather than academic coursework. Most Ph.D. programs require a minimum of three to four years to complete.

Educational Prerequisites

Ph.D. in MFT programs require applicants to hold a master's degree in a mental health profession and to have conducted a minimum amount of clinical research and training while pursuing that degree. Although not required, many applicants are licensed marriage and family therapists who are returning to school to expand their education and conduct further research in specific areas.

Program Coursework

Unlike the master's in MFT, Ph.D. programs in this field rely on clinical research supervised by a faculty member. However, most schools require Ph.D. candidates to take a handful of courses, which can include:

  • Methods of family intervention
  • Comparative family systems
  • Social processes in children
  • Scholarly process and discovery

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Students that complete MFT doctoral degrees are qualified to work in universities, medical schools, private research firms and government agencies. However, doctors who establish private practices or work in private group practices have the highest earning potential.

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