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Online Marriage and Family Therapy Degrees

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Marriage and family therapy is a branch of clinical psychology that seeks to treat mental health issues in the context of couples and family systems. Marriage and family therapists try to understand how relationships between people in family units influence mental health. Marriage and family therapists must be licensed to practice, and all states require them to hold at least a master's degree and gain supervised clinical experience after graduation.

What Types of Online Marriage and Family Therapy Degrees Are Available?

  • Associate Degree: Associate degree programs in psychology give students a broad understanding of the study of psychology. While these programs are not specifically marriage and family therapy programs, students may take electives in marriage and family therapy. An associate degree program typically takes two years to complete.
  • Bachelor's Degree: Like associate degree programs in this field, bachelor's degree programs focus on psychology as a whole. Students complete general education courses and coursework in psychology, which may include marriage and family therapy. These programs take four years to complete.
  • Master's Degree: Anyone who intends to become a licensed marriage and family therapist must earn at least a master's degree in marriage and family therapy. These programs can take two years to complete. Students complete coursework in research methods, counseling practices, ethics, and human development. Many master's degree programs require students to complete a practicum to gain clinical experience. Students typically work with local practitioners to complete these requirements.
  • Doctoral Degree: Doctorate programs prepare students to perform advanced clinical work, research, and teaching in marriage and family therapy. Students may specialize in an area of therapy like medical family therapy or child and adolescent therapy. Doctorate programs can take several years to complete and require students to write a dissertation and gain supervised clinical experience in local settings.

What Will I Learn in a Marriage and Family Therapy Degree Program?

Students in associate and bachelor's degree psychology programs learn about research methods in psychology, human development, and abnormal psychology, which is the study of mental disorders and their treatment. These programs may offer courses in marriage and family therapy as either a core requirement or an elective. Students in bachelor's degree programs may take additional courses in substance abuse, theories of counseling, ethics, and crisis intervention.

Master's degree programs in marriage and family therapy prepare students to become licensed marriage and family therapists. Following are some typical areas of study in these programs:

  • Family systems theory: Marriage and family therapy is an approach to psychology that involves analyzing the interactions between people in a family unit or a couple. Students learn about the history and practices of the field.
  • Research methodology: This coursework prepares students to conduct research in psychology. Researchers must know how to design experiments, collect results, and use statistical analysis to arrive at conclusions.
  • Multicultural perspectives: Cultural background and other factors like socioeconomic status are important considerations in marriage and family therapy, and students learn to consider the backgrounds of their clients as well as their own to avoid bias and discrimination.
  • Substance abuse, addiction, and recovery: Students learn about the causes and effects of addiction and how it can be treated in the context of a family system.
  • Human sexuality: Students learn about human sexual development and explore practical approaches for couples therapy.
  • Child and adolescent therapy: Students learn techniques for meeting the unique needs of children and adolescents in counseling.
  • Counseling practices: Students learn about the theory and practice of different types of counseling, such as group or couples counseling.

Students in doctorate programs may study specialized areas of marriage and family therapy like child and adolescent therapy or medical family therapy. Doctorate students also receive training in clinical supervision and conduct original research leading to a dissertation in an area of professional interest.

What Should I Consider When Choosing a Program?

If you are researching marriage and family therapy programs, know that earning an undergraduate degree in psychology is typically not required for admittance into master's degree programs in marriage and family therapy. Most programs accept students with any type of bachelor's degree from an accredited school. Earning an associate or bachelor's degree in psychology may allow you to enter the field and gain experience as a social and human service assistant.[1]

Another consideration to make when choosing an online degree program is accreditation. The American Assocation for Marriage and Family Therapy's Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) grants accreditation to master's and doctoral degree programs that meet its standards. COAMFTE-accredited degree programs meet the educational requirements for licensure of most state boards. States may accept degrees granted by programs not accredited by COAMFTE if they meet the state's own coursework and practicum standards.

What Career Opportunities Can I Expect After I Complete This Program?

Graduates of master's and doctoral degree programs in marriage and family therapy who earn licenses may become practicing marriage and family therapists. Employment of marriage and family therapists is expected to grow 41 percent before 2020, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Many marriage and family therapists work in private practice, but others work for state and local government, outpatient mental health, and substance abuse centers, and nursing facilities.[2]

Marriage and family therapists may complete education beyond the master's degree level to become supervisors of trainees and other therapists or to work in research and academia.


  1. ^Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Published March 29, 2012.
  2. ^Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Published March 29, 2012.
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228 Degrees from 41 Schools

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