Those desiring to work as marriage and family therapists must have a master's degree - along with clinical experience and a passing score on a licensing exam - to legally practice. A number of four-year universities and private institutions have master's degree programs in marriage and family therapy available through distance learning technologies. These programs typically take around three years to complete and often have some on-site components, such as a clinical internship.
To be eligible for admission, prospective distance learners must have a bachelor's degree and often some level of undergraduate credits in psychology or the social sciences. Work or volunteer experience relevant to students' career goals in counseling could be required as well.
Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy
As with pursuing a graduate degree in counseling, marriage and family therapy degree programs teach students the theoretical and psychological underpinnings of counseling and provide basic training in interpersonal communication. Unique to marriage and family therapy programs, however, are courses in family dynamics, couples counseling and sociological courses on family development. Some of the courses common to distance learning marriage and family therapy graduate degree programs include the following:
- Ethical counseling
- Family therapy theories
- Family therapy intervention
- Abnormal psychology
- Couples therapy
- Cross-cultural counseling
- Collaborative consultations
- Professional counseling practices
Distance learning programs in marriage and family therapy are taught almost entirely online, with the exception of clinical internships required to become a licensed counselor. Coursework and readings are completed from home either through texts or online. Discussion and lectures are offered through message boards, streaming video or recorded video. Tests are completed either in class or through a proxy.
Clinical internships are completed through a counselor's office, community center or family therapy clinic. Students are put under the supervision of a licensed counselor and complete up to 900 hours of clinical work. Most internship programs allow for students to complete their clinical work close to home, even while doing coursework through an online school program based out of state.
Aspiring marriage counselors and family therapists can get the educational background they need to pursue licensure by earning an online master's degree in the field. In these programs, students take virtual courses in family-specific counseling strategies, and they have the opportunity to apply their knowledge in the real world as part of a supervised internship before graduation.