Online Master’s Degrees in Marriage & Family Therapy (MFT)

“The vulnerability you are expecting your clients to share with you is the same vulnerability you will experience while growing through your program.”

Ashley D. Murphy, Marriage & Family Therapist Associate, Murphy’s Law & Co.

As the name suggests, marriage and family therapists, often abbreviated as MFTs, work with individuals, couples, and families about issues that affect or are related to their home and family life. Within this field, it is common for counselors to work with people in abusive relationships, troubled children, or relationship issues such as infidelity. MFTs may also help their clients with work-related issues that affect family life. They may work in individual or group counseling settings or even within prisons, substance abuse clinics, or schools—any setting in which family life affects their clients’ mental health. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2023), jobs for marriage and family therapists are projected to grow 15 percent between 2022 and 2032, five times faster than the average growth rate for all occupations.

Marriage and family therapists need at least a master’s degree to practice. Getting an online master’s degree in marriage and family therapy is a convenient way for many modern students to achieve their degrees and launch their careers. Many counseling degrees, such as MFT, are offered online. Program leaders are experienced in helping students find opportunities within their local communities for volunteering and clinical experience that can set them up for success in their new careers as MFTs. 

Discover what to expect from an accredited online master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, including details on coursework and tuition.

Meet the Expert: Ashley D. Murphy, AMFT, CSE, CBD

Ashley D. Murphy (Ms./She/Hers), a committed and empathetic marriage & family therapist associate with AMFT, CSE, and CBD credentials, has provided expert care for over three years. 

With a solid educational foundation in clinical psychology from Pepperdine University and enhanced by certifications from the Dr. Rachael Institute and Best Doula Training, Ms. Murphy operates her practice Murphy’s Law & Co. in Greater Los Angeles. Her sex and relationship therapy practice is BIPOC and LGBTQ+ friendly, specializing in body image, confidence, women’s issues, depression, and trauma. Ms. Murphy employs a wide array of therapeutic techniques such as emotionally-focused therapy, the Gottman method, and trauma-focused therapy. Ms. Murphy also holds space as a postpartum doula for birthing parents and birthing partners, navigating through life after childbirth and beyond.

CounselingSchools.com: How has graduating from an MFT program enhanced your career?

Murphy: Transitioning from USC’s Social Work program to an MFT program profoundly transformed my career path in unexpected ways. Initially, with a solid background in law enforcement, I sought more from my career: more opportunities for growth, education, and financial stability. The MFT program at Pepperdine University honed my interest in therapeutic approaches to marriage and family relationships, leveraging my natural inclination toward being a confidante and advisor. It equipped me with essential skills and techniques to support families effectively.

Pepperdine’s MFT program fostered a sense of community and provided invaluable mentorship from professors who were alumni themselves and deeply invested in their students’ success. The prestige of Pepperdine and the hands-on experience gained through an internship at a private practice laid a strong foundation for my career as a therapist. 

After graduating in December 2021 and moving to Georgia, my practice expanded from individual therapy to working with couples and families. My experiences have led me to diverse roles such as a sex offender specialist, social service worker, emergency response social worker, and mental health clinician, alongside managing a private practice as a sexuality educator and relationship therapist, all in two years. The MFT program at Pepperdine University was instrumental in shaping my career, instilling confidence and a professional identity I hope every MFT student gets to experience.

CounselingSchools.com: What is one piece of advice you would give to a prospective MFT student?

Murphy: One piece of advice I would give to a prospective MFT student is to navigate through your program drawing solely from your lived experiences. No one knows the life you’ve lived better than you do and no one knows your story better than you. You will come across clients who remind you of people of both your present and of your past. Their stories will make you feel things and re-experience situations you thought you suppressed or forgot about. These are your soul-searching years. The vulnerability you are expecting your clients to share with you is the same vulnerability you will experience while growing through your program.

As you journey through your program you will be forced to truly spend time getting to know the inner you. It will be scary. It will be uncomfortable. You will find yourself having hard conversations with people who have caused you pain – including family, parents, and friends. You will have relational casualties along the way. You will learn different modalities and methods. Do not feel like you have to only choose one. You have the freedom to integrate which one or ones work best for you and the community you will minister and provide service to/for. Above all, enjoy these professionally transformative years and remember that you deserve the same grace you so freely give to others.

Typical Admissions Requirements for Online Master’s Degrees in Marriage & Family Therapy (MFT)

An online master’s degree in marriage and family therapy (MFT) offers flexibility for students who are also working professionals. One major benefit of an online program is the ability to work on classwork and projects on a more personalized schedule, at home on the student’s own time. 

Many schools require a graduate admissions test score as part of their admissions process. Some do not, so that is one of the first decisions that a student has to make. Studying for (and taking) the GRE can add months to a student’s timeline. 

Admission to a master’s program requires that a student have a bachelor’s degree, at a minimum. While, in many cases, there are no requirements for the type of bachelor’s degree that a potential master’s student can have, many programs will give more consideration to an applicant who has a degree related to or complementary to counseling in some way—counseling, psychology, sociology, or even education. It is not uncommon for programs to have prerequisite coursework requirements to ensure students, regardless of their undergraduate major, are adequately prepared for graduate studies. Some programs have a minimum GPA requirement. 

Typical admissions requirements for online master’s degrees in marriage and family therapy include:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
  • Official transcripts from the student’s previous school(s)
  • An essay outlining interest in the program
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Prerequisite undergraduate coursework
  • Resume or CV outlining relevant work and volunteer history 
  • A GRE, MAT, or another standardized test score, if required 
  • A completed official application including the above information is submitted, typically with an application fee

Licensure is different in each state. However, the general standard for licensure is completing a 60-credit-hour major with two years of post-degree supervised work and passing a state licensure exam. Students should determine the requirements for licensure in the state or states they would like to practice in the future. 

Courses in Online Master’s Degrees in Marriage & Family Therapy (MFT)

Here are some sample courses from online master’s degrees in marriage and family therapy programs that students would be likely to encounter:

  • Orientation to the Counseling Profession
  • Fundamentals of Human Development
  • Parent-Child Therapy
  • Couples Therapy
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Trauma and Crisis Intervention
  • Legal and Ethical Issues in Counseling
  • Multicultural Counseling
  • Social Issues in Counseling
  • Individual Counseling Procedures
  • Group Counseling Procedures
  • Family Counseling
  • Counseling Theories and Interventions
  • Methodology of Research
  • Family Therapy Perspectives on Cultural Diversity
  • Family Therapy Across the Life Cycle
  • Theory and Development of Family Systems
  • Alcohol and Other Drugs in Social Work Practice
  • Preparing for Community Practice
  • Dependency and the Family
  • Sex Therapy in Marriage and Family Therapy
  • Career Counseling
  • Assessment and Intervention in Marriage, Couple and Family Counseling and Therapy

Supervised Clinical Hour Requirements & Internships – Online Master’s Degrees in Marriage & Family Therapy (MFT)

While each program is slightly different, the minimum standard for a master’s degree in MFT is a minimum of 500 hours of supervised fieldwork. Some programs, such as Palo Alto University (profiled below), require a minimum of 700 hours. 

The Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE), the accrediting body for MFT programs, requires that all programs include at least 500 hours of clinical experience with individuals, couples, and families. At least 40 percent of the hours must be relational and may include a maximum of 100 alternative hours or clinical activity that is directly related to the program’s mission, outcomes, and goals. Students must also complete 100 hours of supervision from an approved supervision at the rate of at least one hour per week. All hours must be completed in 12 months or less.  

Program Accreditation for Online Master’s Degrees in Marriage & Family Therapy (MFT)

The primary certifying body for marriage and family therapy programs is the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). COAMFTE began actively accrediting programs in 1978 after developing standards for graduate degree and post-degree programs over a three-year period. 

COAMFTE is recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) as the only accrediting agency for marriage and family therapy training programs in the United States and Canada.  

Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredits master’s and doctoral degree programs in counseling and its specialties in the United States and worldwide. The difference between COAMFTE and CACREP is that CACREP certifies counseling education in general. COAMFTE certifies only marriage and family therapy counseling education programs. 

Featured Online Master’s Degrees in Marriage & Family Therapy (MFT) Programs

Featured MFT Programs
Abilene Christian University Online Master of Marriage and Family TherapyVisit Site
Lamar University M.Ed. - Counseling & Development - Marriage, Couple & Family CounselingVisit Site
Grand Canyon University MS - Clinical Mental Health Counseling: Marriage and Family TherapyVisit Site
Grand Canyon University Post-MS in Counseling - Marriage and Family Therapy CertificateVisit Site
Walden University MS - Clinical Mental Health Counseling: Marriage, Couple & Family CounselingVisit Site
Pepperdine University Online MA - Clinical Psychology (LMFT or LPC prep)Visit Site
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Alliant University International  – California School of Professional Psychology

Alliant University International’s 100 percent online MFT program is accredited by COAMFTE—one of only 11 such online programs in the nation to hold that distinction. The school also has a traditional on-campus program offered at several California campuses. 

Students at Alliant can earn a master of arts in marital and family therapy with a built-in specialization in chemical dependency. This CAADE-accredited (California Association for Alcohol/Drug Educators) specialization prepares students to work with individuals, couples, and families facing addiction. This specialization is embedded into the MA and does not require any additional coursework. The master’s program is offered as both a semester-long and eight-week term program and is open for enrollment during each of those enrollment periods.

This program includes 500 hours of direct client contact (at least 250 with couples or families). Students receive at least 100 hours of individual and group supervision, at least 50 hours of which are based on direct observation or videotape.

  • Location: Fresno, Irvine, Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Francisco, California
  • Duration: 60 credits and two years, either across six semesters or 13 terms, depending on which calendar is applicable 
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE); California Association for Alcohol/Drug Educators (chemical dependency specialization only)

Palo Alto University

The online master of arts (MA) from Palo Alto University allows students to choose from either a marriage, family, and child specialization or clinical mental health. This program is offered either in person or online. The MFT program fulfills the State of California’s educational requirements to pursue licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) or dual LMFT/LPCC licensure. It may also fulfill the requirements of other states and territories; however, prospective students should confirm their state licensure board requirements. Online students in this program will meet their classmates and professors in person during two residential training experiences.

Students in this program gain experience as a counselor through completing a minimum of 700 hours of counseling-related experience over a nine- to 12-month period. This experience includes a minimum of 280 hours of direct counseling experience. Online students complete the program in nine quarters. Online learners who enroll in the fall can also select a slower-paced 11-quarter program.

  • Location: Palo Alto, California
  • Duration: 94.5 quarter-units; nine quarters (two to three years)
  • Accreditation: Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Program (CACREP)

Regent University – School of Psychology and Counseling

Regent University’s master of arts in marriage, couple, and family counseling is available as an in-person and online model with a required in-person residency. Regent provides a Christian-focused education within 16 miles from the Atlantic Ocean on the southern coast of Virginia. 

Online students are required to participate in two week-long residencies. Students may select from one of three course schedules that allows them to take classes at their own more self-directed pace.

  • Location: Virginia Beach, Virginia
  • Duration: 60 hours (two years)
  • Accreditation: Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Program (CACREP)

Capella University

Capella University’s master of science in marriage and family therapy is offered in primarily an online model but with two required five-day in-person residencies. Each residency is embedded within a ten-week online course. Students will work exclusively online for most weeks but attend A five-day in-person residency to work with instructors and fellow students in person. 

In addition to the two residencies, the degree requires extensive internship hours. The four internship courses require 300 direct client contact hours, with 100 or more being within relationships. The internship is supervised and performed at an approved fieldwork site. The capstone exam is a 200-question, multiple-choice national licensing exam. Capella also offers a free trial course for a nongraded, noncredit way to experience the online course room. 

Notably, Capella offers a “Guided Path” model for coursework, in which when and where learning takes place is up to the student, but weekly assessment deadlines help keep students on track. With no daily log-in requirements, students decide when to study. 

  • Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission; COAMFTE

National University – School of Social and Behavioral Sciences

National University’s online master of arts in marriage and family therapy program does not require a GRE for admission. While it can be beneficial if a student has earned a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as family studies or psychology, it isn’t required. Although the program is online, students participate in direct client contact and supervision in their local area. While this program is only 45 credit hours, students can complete additional courses if their state licensing board requires 60 credit hours. 

Class discussions, assignments, and other activities have weekly due dates, typically at the end of the weekend, but the work can be completed online at a time of the students’ choosing. Courses run for either eight or 12 weeks. Students here can begin seeing clients as soon as they’ve completed the first six fundamental courses. 

Most students will start their practicum experience, which involves direct client experience, between the sixth and ninth courses. Students are expected to complete 500 hours of direct client contact and 100 hours of supervision. It generally takes one year to complete the practicum and internship courses and finish the required direct client contact and supervision hours.

  • Location: San Diego, California
  • Duration: 45 credits, two to three years
  • Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission; COAMFTE; International Accreditation Commission for Systemic Therapy Education (IACSTE)

Syracuse University – David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics

Syracuse University’s 60-credit marriage and family therapy master of arts program can be completed online, apart from a short in-person residency. 

Syracuse’s program is the first accredited marriage and family therapy program in the country and has been offering degrees for over 50 years. Specialized training can prepare students to work with marginalized populations, refugee and immigrant families, at-risk youth, and the LGBQ and Transgender communities.

This COAMFTE-accredited program includes courses such as sexual issues for the helping professional; systems dynamics in a group setting; introduction to family systems; couple therapy: theory and techniques; marriage and family therapy ethics and issues; family therapy perspectives on cultural diversity; and family therapy across the life cycle.

  • Location: Syracuse, New York
  • Duration: 60 credits (two years)
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE); International Accreditation Commission for Systemic Therapy Education (IACSTE)

Touro University Worldwide

Touro’s fully online master of arts in marriage and family therapy graduate degree program admits students with no GRE required and no in-person residency requirements. The program offers three tracks: an MA clinical track and non-clinical track (i.e., no practicum or clinical hour requirements), and a licensed professional clinical counseling (LPCC) track. 

Touro offers affordable tuition; each eight-week, three-credit course costs $1,500, regardless of the track the student chooses. The program is designed so that graduates are eligible for MFT licensure in the State of California and most other states, without requiring any additional coursework. 

  • Location: Los Alamitos, California
  • Duration: 72 credit hours, clinical track (two years)
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE); WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC); California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS)

Walden University

Walden University offers a master of science in clinical mental health counseling along with other educational tracks for specialization. Within the general clinical mental health counseling program, students can choose from marriage and family counseling along with five other specialties: military families and culture, trauma and crisis counseling, forensic counseling (which works in tandem with the criminal justice system to determine the proper resolution of cases and the most effective treatment for offenders), and addiction counseling. 

All of Walden’s counseling faculty members hold doctorates and are licensed practitioners. Because this school is fully online, its student resources are fully online too, including a digital library with librarians, 24/7 technical support, a writing center, and a career center. The school offers monthly payment plan options that allow students to pay tuition in installments with no interest. 

Notably, each pre-practicum includes online course content integrated with a four-day, face-to-face, or virtual synchronous residential requirement.

  • Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Duration: General program is 111 credits; specialties are 121 credits (two years)
  • Accreditation: Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP); Higher Learning Commission

Pepperdine University – Graduate School of Education and Psychology

Pepperdine’s online master of arts in clinical psychology program prepares students for either licensure as a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) or a licensed professional counselor (LPC). LPCs can work with people in many settings and with a broad mental health need. At the same time, LMFT counselors are trained to specifically support people with issues related to couples, as well as marriage or family units. 

Pepperdine’s program meets the licensure requirements for the state of California along with 17 other states. 

  • Location: Malibu, California
  • Duration: 62 to 68 units (two years)
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges—Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC); California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC)

What Can I Do With a Master’s in Marriage & Family Therapy (MFT)?

There has never been a greater need for professionals to help improve the emotional and mental well-being of the general population, but especially within families and couples. There are numerous job settings open to marriage and family therapists.

Private Practice 

Many marriage and family therapists establish their own offices. In these scenarios, they see clients in their offices for scheduled appointments. Since they establish the type of clients they want to see, they may see individuals, run group sessions, work specifically with children and their parents, or see only couples together. 

A therapist in private practice may see a wide range of issues or may choose to specialize by treating only particular issues, such as sexuality. MFTs may join a team of other therapists in private practice, by either sharing space or having their own offices within a shared building. 

Substance Abuse & Addiction Treatment Centers

Families can be severely impacted by substance abuse and addiction. In this setting, a marriage and family therapist would work with the addicted individual and their families. This could mean the spouse or parent, or a child or other close family relative whose substance abuse impacted the family. 

Addiction doesn’t have to mean chemical dependency; MFTs can work with people who are addicted to food, gambling, or sex, as all of these addictions impact family, parent-child, and couples’ relationships. In this setting, MFTs would likely help develop treatment plans and help their clients establish a healthy support system and ways of coping. 

Domestic or Relationship Abuse Shelter

According to the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), couples slap, shove, hit, or otherwise assault each other in almost 20 percent of all marriages and intimate partnerships. When these abuses escalate, the victim needs help escaping and often needs somewhere to go. 

A marriage and family therapist working in a domestic or relationship abuse shelter can help the victim heal from the violence and abuse and understand and break the patterns. Often this means working with either the victimized men or women, and their children. This may mean helping their clients create an escape plan and coordinating with social service agencies.

Rachel Drummond, MEd

Rachel Drummond, MEd

Writer

Rachel Drummond has used her expertise in education and mindfulness to guide aspiring counselors since 2020. Her work emphasizes the importance of integrating reflective mindfulness into counseling techniques, helping readers understand how mental and physical well-being can enhance their professional practice and personal development in counseling.

Rachel is a writer, educator, and coach from Oregon. She has a master’s degree in education (MEd) and has over 15 years of experience teaching English, public speaking, and mindfulness to international audiences in the United States, Japan, and Spain. She writes about the mind-body benefits of contemplative movement practices like yoga on her blog, inviting people to prioritize their unique version of well-being and empowering everyone to live healthier and more balanced lives.