Online Doctorate in Family Therapy

Earning a doctorate in marriage and family therapy will help you find a rewarding career in a growing field. It is ideal for those who enjoy working with individuals, couples, and small groups. Marriage and family counselors help clients work through difficulties such as divorce, layoffs, and grief by using therapy methods with goal-oriented strategies. Professionals help clients make better life decisions, learn how to manage their emotions, and improve their overall mental health. Many of these professionals work in mental health centers, substance abuse treatment centers, and hospitals, while others operate private practices.

A bachelor's degree from an accredited college program is usually acceptable for admission to a marriage and family therapy graduate program. Professionals need at least a master's degree in psychology, marriage and family therapy, or a related mental health field to become a marriage and family therapist. With a Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy, you are qualified to hold leadership roles, oversee the work of therapists and other counselors, and pursue the field's academic and research-intensive areas.

Now is an excellent time to pursue and complete a Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy, as the field is rapidly expanding. By 2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the number of marriage and family therapy jobs will increase by 23%. Marriage and family therapists earn a median salary of $48,790. Professionals on the lower 10% of the pay scale earn about $31,390, while the highest 10% earn more than $81,760.

Earning Your Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy Degree Online

Online marriage and family therapy graduate programs are more convenient and affordable than ever. With increasingly more user-friendly course delivery methods, video conferencing, and student discussion boards, distance learners can easily work from the comfort of home. Online courses for marriage and family therapy programs are often delivered asynchronously. This allows degree seekers to work at their own pace, which is especially helpful for working professionals and parents.

Earning your doctorate in marriage and family therapy online can also save you time and money. With online courses, you do not need to commute to class, saving you money on gas, parking, and bus or subway fares. Additionally, online learners save money by avoiding room and board costs and additional expenses with living on or near campus.

Enrolling in Ph.D. marriage and family therapy programs online may require the completion of in-person clinical components. Degree candidates attend approved locations to satisfy these requirements, and in most cases, colleges help students locate nearby facilities.

How Long Does It Take to Earn Your Marriage and Family Therapy Doctorate Degree Online?

Online marriage and family therapy graduate programs usually require the completion of around 90 credit hours. Full-time students need about three to four years to complete the course credits. Part-time students need an additional one or two years, depending on their course load. All states require marriage and family therapists to be licensed. Any additional clinicals or internships, which are required for licensure, add an additional 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised experience. In addition, degree candidates must also pass a state-recognized exam and complete continuing education classes each year.

Admission Requirements for an Online Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy Degree

All marriage and family therapy graduate programs require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree in psychology, marriage and family therapy, or a related mental health field. Some online programs require applicants to submit their GRE scores. Students who have a master's degree are often not required to submit GRE scores. Depending on the college's program and specialties, you may need prior work experience in clinical and human services environments and research experience. Some online programs may require a video interview and a background check. Degree seekers should also prepare to submit a personal letter of application, professional or academic letters of recommendation, and official transcripts.

Courses in an Online Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy Program

Depending on the school and your desired specializations, doctorate programs in marriage and family therapy will have differing curricula. Nearly all online programs focus on three major areas: premarital and marital counseling, family issues and development, and individuals' issues within families. While some programs prepare graduates for counseling-intensive positions in healthcare settings, others focus on teaching and research in public and private sectors.

  • Foundations of Mental Health Counseling: Students learn the roles, functions, and contexts for mental health counselors who work in the public sector. This course prepares students to deal with diverse populations with a variety of mental health and counseling needs.
  • Marriage and Family Therapy Ethics and Issues: Distance learners pursuing a doctorate in marriage and family therapy must also understand the ethical, legal, and professional issues that may arise with their clients. Ethics courses provide students with a foundational understanding of counseling ethics.
  • Addictions in the Family: These courses give students wide exposure to theoretical models and treatment techniques to deal with addiction among family members. They examine the role of larger social systems on family units and help therapists determine potential treatment programs.
  • Introduction to Family Therapy: Most marriage and family therapy graduate programs offer multiple introductory courses, wherein distance learners take the first course and then advance. The baseline knowledge needed for this degree covers an expansive amount of content, including cutting-edge and contemporary family therapy models, general systems theory, and cybernetics.
  • Sex Therapy: More specialized courses, such as those that explore sexual disorders and sexuality, are found in marriage and family therapy programs. In this case, graduate degree seekers learn how to treat sexuality-related disorders and issues from both an individual's and couples' perspective.

Job and Salary Outlook for Online Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy Graduates

It is an excellent time to pursue a doctorate in marriage and family therapy online. According to the BLS, job prospects are excellent for the near and distant future. By 2026, employment rates for marriage and family therapists are expected to increase by 23%. For counselors, social workers, and other community social service specialists, the BLS projects a 16% increase. Only one in five marriage and family therapists has a doctoral degree.

States With the Highest Employment of Marriage and Family Therapists

State/District Employment
California 16,420
New Jersey 4,220
Florida 3,290
Arizona 1,510
Maryland 1,370
Source: BLS.gov

What Does a Marriage and Family Therapist Do?

Those who earn a doctorate in marriage and family therapy work in various industries and settings, depending on their specializations and clients. Individual and family services employ the highest percentage of marriage and family therapists. About half as many work in outpatient care centers and offices of other health practitioners. These professionals are also employed by state government agencies, excluding educational facilities and hospitals, or are self-employed.

Some professionals work independently in Employee Assistance Programs, wherein they help companies provide counseling for employees. Marriage and family therapists typically work full time. Depending on the position, the day-to-day schedule can be a predictable daytime schedule while others must work in the evenings and on weekends in order to accommodate their clients' schedules.

Top-Paying States and Districts for Marriage and Family Therapists

State/District Annual Mean Wage
New Jersey $74,130
Colorado $68,200
Hawaii $67,020
Maine $66,360
Arizona $64,480
Source: BLS

Licensing and Certification for Marriage and Family Therapists

Those who complete marriage and family therapy graduate programs often become licensed counselors and therapists. Licensure requirements vary by state. In order to be licensed, therapy professionals need a master's degree and must pass at least one examination. Some states require the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). In some cases, states require students to take both exams or allow them to choose one. Passing either one of the exams results in the national certified counselor certification.

The NCE exam is a 200-item multiple-choice exam that assesses one's knowledge, skills, and abilities. The NCMHCE consists of 10 clinical simulations that cover a broad range of important field-specific competencies. This exam is required for the certified clinical mental health counselor national certification. Both exams are regularly updated to ensure they accurately represent the profession's realities and challenges. Registration for either exam is $275. All board-certified counselors must complete a master's degree, have 3,000 hours of counseling experience, and participate in 100 hours of supervised counseling over a two-year period.

Accreditation for a Marriage and Family Therapy Degree Online Program

When you are researching marriage and family therapy graduate programs, it is important to look for accredited schools. The two specialized accreditors in this area of the field are the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs and the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education. The stamp of approval from a specialized accrediting commission recognizes that the program meets or exceeds national standards and adequately prepares graduates for professional practice.

Accreditation also acknowledges that your program is designed specifically to educate students in professional counseling, not in psychology, education, or related healthcare professions. Accrediting bodies regularly review and revise standards and policies to promote the best and up-to-date practices for marriage and family therapy programs. When you attend an accredited school, you will receive a quality education with faculty members who are invested in your education and future career.

In addition to preparing you for licensure, coursework credits and clinical hours from accredited programs are often transferable between other schools and marriage and family therapy graduate programs. Regionally accredited schools are widely considered to be the gold standard for higher education. This is the most widely recognized type of college accreditation. Nationally accredited schools are often career, vocational, and trade schools, and offer practical, career-oriented majors.

Professional Organizations for Marriage and Family Therapists

Professional organizations provide special opportunities for graduate students, recent graduates, and young professionals. Many organizations host annual meetings where field experts and aspiring counselors and therapists can interact. These memberships often include access to job postings, email listservs, academic journal subscriptions, and discounts on membership and conference fees.

  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy: AAMFT boasts more than 50,000 therapists worldwide. This group is associated with various research facilities and schools, and develops standards for graduate education, training, clinical supervision, professional ethics, and therapy.
  • International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors: IAMFCOnline is a division of the American Counseling organization that works with counselors, therapists, social workers, psychologists, and other mental health professionals. It fosters collaborative research and networking opportunities and provides publications and media products.
  • National Council for Family Relations: NCFR publishes three international scholarly journals, organizes annual conferences, connects counseling professionals, and helps protect the integrity of family science programs in the U.S. and Canada.
  • American Family Therapy Academy: AFTA boasts about 600 professionals around the globe who work in family therapy and related fields. It promotes interdisciplinary collaboration, produces specialized publications, helps clients locate therapists, and hosts an annual academic conference.
  • European Family Therapy Association: EFTA is a nonprofit with members from 29 European nations and about 1,100 members. It hosts international meetings, conferences, and seminars, and publishes an academic book series. It also connects counseling and other healthcare professionals with potential employers and training opportunities.

Online Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy Scholarships

American Addiction Centers Academic Scholarships
Who Can Apply: AAC offers three awards for students in marriage and family therapy and related fields. Graduate students are eligible to apply if they are full- or part-time with a 3.2 GPA or higher.
Amount: $2,500-5,000

California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists: Clinton E. Phillips Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This scholarship is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Clinton E. Phillips, who was one of California's pioneers of marriage and family therapy. Graduate students who demonstrate financial need may apply.
Amount: $4,000

American Counseling Association: Courtland C. Lee Multicultural Excellence Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This award is for graduate students in counselor education whose work demonstrates excellence in the theory and practice of multicultural counseling. Current or prospective Ph.D. candidates who are affiliated with an accredited U.S. college may apply.
Amount: $2,500

Eugene R. Bonynge Family and Woodland Centers Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This scholarship, in memory of the former chief executive officer of the Woodland Centers, is for U.S. residents who graduated from a Minnesota high school. Applicants must be full-time students in a graduate program majoring in marriage and family therapy or a related field.
Amount: $1,000

Future Counselors of America Scholar
Who Can Apply: DatingAdvice.com offers this annual scholarship for undergraduate and graduate students majoring in psychology who seek a career in relationship counseling or a related field.
Amount: $1,000

Heartland Counseling Center Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This scholarship is for master's-level students attending college in Missouri. Applicants must be full-time students and pursuing an education in mean health, marriage and family therapy, or community counseling.
Amount: $1,000

National Latino Behavioral Health Association: Josie Torralba Romero Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The NLBHA offers this scholarship to students pursuing degrees in social work, counseling, psychology, psychiatry, and related fields. Students must reside in New Mexico and demonstrate financial need.
Amount: $1,000-2,000

Lindsey Hoskins and Associates Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Currently enrolled master's degree students pursuing a degree in a mental health field with a strong interest in relational therapy may apply. Acceptable related fields include marriage and family therapy, counseling, art therapy, and pastoral counseling.
Amount: $500

National Board of Certified Counselors Foundation: Rural Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Students who are currently enrolled in a master's program, live in a rural area, and show a commitment to serving rural areas for a minimum of two years may apply. Students must be enrolled in an accredited master's program in counseling or related field.
Amount: $8,000

Sandra Koscielniak Graduate Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Offered by the Association of Illinois Township Committees on Youth, this scholarship is for students currently enrolled in a graduate program and majoring in psychology, counseling, family therapy, or a related field with an interest in working with children and their families.
Amount: $1,000