15 Best Online PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy Programs [2024 Guide]

By David Garcia
Updated on February 20, 2024
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A PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy can help you grow your expertise and qualifications in the field of family therapy.

Best Online PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy Programs

Similar programs focus on narrowing the curriculum so that graduates can directly enter the field of counseling or psychology as practicing professionals. A PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy is more versatile than similar degrees because it can help prepare students to become educators, researchers, or clinical practitioners.

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Read on to see if a PhD program in marriage and family therapy fits your goals.

PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy Programs Online

Man taking PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy online

A PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy is a terminal degree that aims to advance your knowledge and skill sets in this growing field.

Professionals pursuing a PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy likely want to help others with their knowledge of psychology. They may have prior experience or just a general interest in the field. MFT PhD programs discuss the topic of family dynamics and their effect on an individual through their lifespan. The topic is approached through various perspectives, including social issues, theory, and research.

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Upon graduation, many students go on to become practicing marriage and family therapists. Other students may advance the field of psychology through education or research. As such, there are numerous career paths related to this area of study, including:

  • Marriage and family therapist
  • Social worker
  • Behavioral therapist
  • Clinical director
  • University professor
  • Researcher

Of course, what you do with your degree is up to you and isn’t limited to the above positions. As for the subjects you’ll study, they will predominantly be limited to clinical practice and theory. Some of these subjects may include:

  • Critical thinking
  • Professional Research
  • Information literacy
  • Leadership

An MFT PhD program can help prepare you for MFT licensure if you do not yet have a license and want to enter clinical practice. This program is also beneficial for advancing your qualifications for positions in leadership and academia.

Marriage and Family Therapy Careers & Salaries

Marriage and Family Therapy Careers & Salaries

MFT doctoral programs focus on relationships as well as how an individual’s relationship with their loved ones affects their mental health. Many professionals in this field work as marriage and family therapists to a range of clientele.

Since a PhD emphasizes theory and research, many graduates choose to go into research, leadership, and teaching positions as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are some potential career paths, along with their median salaries, that are related to the advanced study of marriage and family therapy.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Medical and Health Services Managers $101,340
Postsecondary Education Administrators $96,910
Postsecondary Teachers $79,640
Marriage and Family Therapists — State Government $77,960
Social and Community Service Managers $74,000
Marriage and Family Therapists — Outpatient Care Centers $57,930
Social Workers $50,390
Marriage and Family Therapists — Offices of Other Health Practitioners $49,630
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $48,520
Marriage and Family Therapists — Individual and Family Services $48,340

It’s not uncommon for graduates to work as behavioral therapists, mental health counselors, social workers, university professors, clinical directors, and more.

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Just as with an on-campus or online PhD in Mental Health Counseling, while a PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy could help you qualify for a range of positions, holding this degree will not guarantee any specific position or salary. There are many factors that influence the hiring process.

Marriage and Family Therapy PhD Curriculum & Courses

People pursuing PhD Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy

Many of the courses you will take during a PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy program are focused on clinical practice. Here is a list of sample courses to help give you an idea of what to expect:

  • Theology of Marriage and Family: This course teaches you about how theology influences the understanding and practice of marriage and family therapy.
  • Introduction to Systems Theory: This course is designed to build the foundation for your understanding of family therapy through personal reflection and group discussion.
  • Human Development and Family Systems: In this course, you’ll study human development from the lens of family systems.
  • Adult Personality and Character Development: This course focuses on the adult personality in relation to family systems.
  • Human Sexuality: Students will study all aspects of human sexuality, including intimacy, sexual desire, and sexual trauma.
  • Reading, Writing, and Editing for Doctoral Scholars: This course develops your reading, writing, and editing skills so that you can make scholarly contributions.
  • Systemic Family Therapy I: In this course, you are introduced to the systemic therapies and the cybernetics that affect them.
  • Language Systems: This course looks at therapy through the perspective of philosophy, culture, and science.
  • Thinking Systems: In this course, you’re introduced to systemic theory.
  • Collaborative Divorce: This course will familiarize you with mediators and attorneys so that you can work with them when patients are undergoing a divorce.

It’s beneficial to check the curriculum of the program you’re interested to see if its course load aligns with your interests.

Admissions Requirements

Woman preparing requirements for Marriage and Family Therapy PhD

MFT PhD programs can have various requirements for admission. Below are a few common admissions criteria for doctoral-level programs:

  • Current resume or CV
  • Statement of intent
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Minimum college GPA of 3.0, on average
  • GRE or GMAT scores (not required by all schools)

Some PhD programs require you to hold a masters, specifically an on-campus or online masters in marriage and family therapy. However, others are fine with applicants having a masters in a related field, such as an on-campus or online masters degree in counseling in general, or an on-campus or online masters in behavioral health, while others accept applicants with a bachelors.

Since these requirements can vary, it’s strategic to check the specific admissions requirements for each of your prospective schools. You can also reach out to a school’s admissions office to ask any questions you may have about the admissions process.

Accreditation

University offering PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy

When researching marriage and family therapy doctoral programs, it’s strategic to only consider programs from regionally accredited colleges and universities.

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During the process of accreditation, a school’s standard and quality of education is assessed by a formal accrediting agency. This status testifies to an institution’s credibility. Only accredited institutions can receive federal financial aid. In addition, employers and certification boards are likely to require candidates to hold degrees from accredited institutions.

COAMFTE Accreditation

The Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) is the programmatic accreditation for marriage and family therapy programs.

While regional accrediting agencies evaluate the overall quality of a school, COAMFTE ensures that an institution is providing marriage and family therapy programs that are up to industry standards. Enrolling in a COAMFTE-accredited program can help prepare you for licensure and ensure that you’re receiving a high-quality education.

Marriage and Family Therapy Licensure and Certifications

Marriage & Family Therapist discussing with a couple

If you wish to become a practicing marriage and family therapist, then it’s necessary to pursue licensure. Here is a list of typical requirements for state licensure:

  • Master’s degree in MFT or related field
  • 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience
  • Passing grade on a state-recognized exam

Licensing requirements may vary by state, so it’s helpful to research the specific criteria of the state in which you plan to practice. Most states also require annual continuing education classes in order to maintain your license.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy financial aid

If you’re considering financial aid to help you pay for your doctoral education, there are many options you can explore. Many students turn to federal aid as their primary option. You can fill out the FAFSA to see if you’re eligible for student loans and other forms of need-based aid.

Other viable options for financial aid include scholarships and grants. These opportunities may be offered by your school or outside organizations. If you’re currently working, you can also see if your employer offers any tuition benefits.

What Can You Do with a Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy?

Social & Community Service Manager discussing proposal to the team

An MFT PhD program can help prepare you for research, teaching, and advanced clinical positions. Many graduates work as a marriage and family therapists in established organizations or private practice. A PhD program in the field can also help you qualify for licensure if you are not yet certified.

Related counseling positions include social workers and behavioral therapists. Other PhD graduates go on to become educators in universities or researchers. Those interested in teaching may also supervise prospective therapists during their clinical experiences.

A PhD is also beneficial for those interested in leadership positions. For instance, graduates may pursue leadership roles in postsecondary administration, health facilities, and clinical practices.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy?

student taking online PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy

Doctoral programs typically take 3 to 5 years to complete with full-time enrollment. A doctorate program might be completed in as little as 3 years if it doesn’t require a dissertation.

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PhD in Couple and Family Therapy programs usually require an internship or supervised experience and culminate in a dissertation. Both an internship and a dissertation will likely extend the length of the program. Part-time studies could extend your completion time as well.

What’s the Difference Between a PhD vs. Doctor of Marriage and Family Therapy?

Here are some of the key differences between Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in MFT programs and Doctor of Marriage and Family Therapy (DMFT).

PhD in MFT Programs DMFT Programs
  • Research program for practitioners and scholars
  • More research-intensive
  • May lead to positions in clinical practice, research, or education
  • Typically requires a dissertation
  • Clinically focused program
  • Not as research intensive
  • Focuses on skills and practices that are directly applicable to the MFT field
  • Generally leads to positions in clinical practice

Understanding the differences between these programs can help you decide which degree path best fits your goals.

What’s the Difference Between a PsyD vs. PhD in Family Therapy?

Here are some differences between a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Family Therapy and a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) in Family Therapy.

PhD in Family Therapy PsyD in Family Therapy
  • Studies are based more on research and theory
  • May lead to positions in research, teaching, or clinical practice
  • Often requires a dissertation
  • Geared toward clinical practice
  • Emphasizes practical skills for the field
  • May lead to MFT or psychologist licensure

The type of degree that’s best for you may depend on your interests and long-term career goals.

Is a Doctorate in Family and Marriage Therapy Worth It?

Marriage & Family Therapist in a session with a family

Yes, a doctorate in family and marriage therapy is worth it for many professionals. In MFT PhD programs, professionals can advance their expertise in research, teaching and supervising leadership, and clinical practice.

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A doctoral program in this field can also help you qualify for licensure as a marriage and family therapist. The increased emphasis on therapy as a wellness tool has resulted in a growing demand for therapists. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, marriage, and family therapists are expected to see 14% job growth over the next ten years, which is much faster than average.

Universities Offering Online Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Amridge University

Amridge University campus

Amridge University offers a PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy. The program is research-oriented and requires the completion of 60 semester hours beyond a master’s degree. It is available in a distance format to provide flexibility for working adults. Potential courses include Analysis of Substance Abuse Interventions, Applied Adult Development, and Medical Family Therapy.

Amridge University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Antioch University

Antioch University campus

Antioch University offers a low-residency program for a PhD in Couple and Family Therapy. The program requires three 5 day residencies each year and participation in local practical experiences. The rest of the classes are attended via video conferencing. The degree can typically be finished in 3 years of full-time attendance, 2 for coursework and 1 for the dissertation.

Antioch University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Chaminade University of Honolulu

Chaminade University of Honolulu campus

The Chaminade University of Honolulu offers a Doctor of Marriage and Family Therapy. The program is 100% online. Some classes are synchronous, while others are asynchronous. Each course is 10 weeks long, and the full program can usually be completed with a cohort in 3 years.

Chaminade University is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Drexel University

Drexel University campus

Drexel University’s Doctor of Couple and Family Therapy program aims to provide advanced training in clinical practice. The program offers 100% online courses and one-on-one faculty mentorship. For a hands-on experience, the completion of a teaching practicum and an internship are required. The program is designed to be completed in 3 years of part-time study.

Drexel University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Eastern University

Eastern University campus

Eastern University’s PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy requires the completion of 60 credits. The program is mostly online but does require some on-campus residencies. The curriculum includes the completion of a dissertation and the study of counseling techniques from a Christian point of view. New students may begin every May. The program usually takes 4 to 6 years to complete.

Eastern University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Fuller Theological Seminary

Fuller Theological Seminary campus

Fuller Theological Seminary offers a Doctor of Marriage and Family Therapy. The program is mostly online but does require weekend intensives. It consists of 70 quarter units that can typically be completed in 2 years. The curriculum emphasizes culturally competent practice and the application of Christian faith in counseling.

Fuller Theological Seminary is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.

Liberty University

Liberty University campus

Liberty University offers an EdD in Community Care and Counseling: Marriage and Family. Courses can be taken fully online, and each course is 8 weeks long. The program requires the completion of 57 credit hours and takes an average of 2.5 to finish. The dissertation process is integrated into the coursework.

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Loma Linda University

Loma Linda University campus

Lorna Linda University seeks to provide a Christian environment that emphasizes compassion and respect for everyone. The school offers a Doctor of Marital and Family Therapy. Courses are offered online through synchronous and asynchronous formats. The required practicum may be completed locally. The program requires the completion of 77 quarter units and usually takes 3 years to finish.

Loma Linda University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Mount Mercy University

Mount Mercy University campus

Mount Mercy University’s PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy program requires the completion of 60 credit hours and usually takes 3 years to complete. It is available on campus, and select courses are also available online. There are three specialization tracks to choose from Advanced Couples Therapy, Leadership, and Social Justice, and Neuroscience and Psychophysiology.

Mount Mercy University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Oregon State University

Oregon State University campus

Oregon State University offers a hybrid program for a PhD in Counseling. The program’s face-to-face classes meet twice each quarter during the weekends, and it is otherwise online. Internships may be completed locally. New students can begin every summer, and it typically takes 3 to 4 years to graduate. The program requires the completion of 150 quarter credits.

Oregon State University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Regent University

Regent University campus

Regent University offers a PhD in Counseling and Psychological Studies—Marriage and Family Ministry that can be earned online. The curriculum aims to teach how to apply biblical and scientific principles to mental health care. The program requires the completion of 51 credit hours. Potential courses include Marriage and Relationship Counseling, Concepts of Family Systems, and Counseling Children and Adolescents.

Regent University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Trevecca Nazarene University

Trevecca Nazarene University campus

Trevecca Nazarene University offers a PhD in Clinical Counseling: Teaching and Supervision that can be earned online or on campus. The program requires the completion of 66 credit hours and usually takes 3 years to finish. Classes are attended 2.5 days a week. They are small and taught by faculty with real-world experience.

Trevecca Nazarene University is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

University of Louisiana – Monroe

University of Louisiana Monroe campus

The University of Louisiana—Monroe offers an online program for a Doctor of Philosophy with a concentration in Systemic Studies. This non-clinical program emphasizes scholarly research and a theoretical understanding of systemic family therapy. It requires the completion of 60-semester units and can usually be finished in 2 years of full-time study.

The University of Louisiana Monroe is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of West Georgia

University of West Georgia campus

The University of West Georgia offers a Doctor of Education in Professional Counseling and Supervision. The program is completely online, with new students starting every summer. It requires the completion of a dissertation, an internship, and courses like Ethical Leadership in Education, Doctoral Seminar: Professional Issues, and Quantitative Research Methods.

The University of West Georgia is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Walden University

Walden University campus

Walden University offers an online program for a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision with a specialization in Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling. The program is designed to allow students to continue working while pursuing their degrees. Class sizes are small to better enable engaging discussions.

Walden is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Getting Your PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy Online

student pursuing PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy online

Getting a PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy can help you advance your expertise in this growing field. Marriage and family therapy PhD programs are not exclusively focused on clinical practice.

Graduates may also choose to pursue positions in research, teaching, or leadership within the field. You might consider growing your professional qualifications by earning a PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy online.

The sooner you begin exploring accredited institutions, the sooner you may find the MFT doctoral program that best aligns with your interests and goals.

Ready to start your journey?
WRITTEN BY
David has a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in Film from Syracuse University. While in school, much of his time was dedicated to Syracuse’s literary magazine, both as a writer and editor. David’s current interests include literary and film studies as well as social justice.