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Marriage and Family Therapy Degree Programs

What is marriage and family therapy?

Marriage and family therapy (MFT) is a form of mental health counseling that is focused on helping individuals, couples, families, and groups manage and overcome mental or emotional disorders as well as relational conflict. Marriage and family therapists diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders including depression, anxiety, trauma, child-parent conflict, relationship problems, adult schizophrenia, alcoholism, bipolar disorder, drug abuse, childhood autism, and anorexia. In contrast to other modes of therapy, many marriage and family therapists practice short-term therapy—usually between nine and 50 sessions focusing on helping people return to functioning healthily in the community.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists is positioned to grow much faster than the average for other occupations.

Those working in this field have the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of individuals and families by providing a much needed resource that far too many communities throughout California are lacking.


How do I become a marriage and family therapist in California?

Steps at a glance:

  1. Earn a master’s or doctoral degree from a qualifying college.*
  2. Register with the BBS as an MFT Associate.
  3. Apply to take the California Law and Ethics Examination.
  4. Earn 3,000 hours of post-degree client hours.
  5. After accruing the required client hours, apply for the clinical exam.
  6. After passing the clinical exam, apply for initial licensure.
  7. Receive LMFT license.

In California, those interested in becoming a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) must first possess a qualifying* doctoral or master’s degree in marriage and family therapy before sitting for the licensure examination.

Upon graduation from the qualified MFT degree program, the pre-licensee must register with the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) as an MFT Associate in order to accrue post-degree hours of supervised experience. Pre-licensees must complete 104 weeks of supervision and 3,000 hours of supervised work experience. Within the first year of registration as Associates, they are required to take the California Law and Ethics Examination.

Once the supervision and work experience requirements have been met, which usually takes two to six years, MFT Associates can apply for eligibility for licensure from the BBS. After receiving notification of eligibility, candidates may schedule an examination date at any one of the official testing locations throughout California.

*For a program to be qualified, it must satisfy all of the requirements of the SB 33 and the BBS (Business and Professions Code Sections 4980.36c, d e 4980.39, 4980.40, and 4980.41).


Why choose a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy degree from Pacific Oaks?

The Pacific Oaks’ Marriage and Family Therapy degree program offers a traditional MFT program along with four MFT specializations centered on addressing the unique needs and feelings of individuals and families in these cultural communities or with these experiences.

Students pursuing a degree in any of our three culturally centered MFT specializations may choose to add a secondary specialization in Trauma Studies. Those interested in this additional specialization must submit a request to their academic adviser prior to the completion of their second semester.

The master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy at Pacific Oaks College offers multidisciplinary, inclusive curricula based on developmental and family systems theories and evidence-based theory and practice. With years of experience in the field, faculty help students maintain a commitment to understanding their patients holistically—taking into account life experiences, culture, oppression, and social-political context.

All programs provide students with a robust blend of theory and hands-on practice. By maintaining relationships with clinics and community agencies throughout the greater Los Angeles and San Jose areas, we are able to provide students with extensive choices of locations in diverse communities to fulfill their supervised fieldwork practicum requirement.

Marriage and Family Therapy Licensure

The Pacific Oaks’ Marriage and Family Therapy degree program prepares graduates to sit for the California MFT exams and to earn a Marriage and Family Therapist License awarded by the California Board of Behavioral Science.

Fieldwork Requirements

MFT students must complete 225 clinical hours of the pre-graduate portion of the 3,000 supervised clinical hours required by the BBS for licensing to qualify for graduation. LPCC students must complete 280 hours. Students secure clinical training placements within community agencies and schools in California in the Los Angeles, Pasadena, and San Jose areas.

Non-Licensure M.A. Program

Pacific Oaks also offers an M.A. in Cultural and Family Studies for those interested in a non-clinical degree program that does not lead to professional licensure.

Marriage and Family Therapy Sample Courses

Couples Therapy

This is an introductory marriage and family therapy course for working with domestic partners. This includes an overview of approaches from various schools of thought, as well as training in relationship skills, including the dynamics of bonding and attachment, communication skills, conflict management skills, and negotiating differences. The course will include reflections upon one’s own significant relationships; role-playing and skill practice; and application of therapy skills to issues of diversity.

Theories of Marriage, Family and Child Counseling

This MFT course will review the major psychotherapeutic approaches in marital and family therapy. There will be a focus on interpersonal theories, family systems theories, and feminist theory and how each informs work with individuals, couples, families, and children. The class will present an inclusive framework so that students develop competency working with bicultural populations.

Personality Theories and Clinical Intervention

This course is designed to explore the various personality theories and develop a beginning understanding of these through an application in psychotherapy. An overview of psychological testing will be introduced. This class meets the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) requirements for the California MFT license.

Information Session Recordings

Click here to view the MFT-Traditional and MFT-Trauma Information Session Video

During this recording of an information session you’ll learn the importance of becoming a culturally-competent and supportive clinician with an M.A. degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Pacific Oaks College. Discover how an optional specialization in Trauma Studies can prepare you to provide supportive, trauma-informed care for clients and families who have experience a broad-range of trauma, from PTSD to immigration. During this event participants heard from and asked questions of Dr. Andrew Kami, Core Faculty member in the School of Cultural and Family Psychology.

Click here to view the MFT, LGBTQIA+ Specialization Virtual Information Session Video

During the recording of this virtual information session participants learn why having an M.A. MFT degree with a Specialization in LGBTQIA+ Family Studies from Pacific Oaks College will provide training and background in the history, identity, and belief systems in LGBTQIA+ individuals and families and will empower them to provide affirmative therapy for all communities and individuals.  During this event Dr. Eugenia Rodriguez, Core Faculty, School of Cultural and Family Psychology, answered participants questions about the degree program.

Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Specialization

For those who wish to expand the scope of their degree to include groups and individuals outside of a marriage and family therapy setting, students may elect to enroll in the Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) Specialization. To complete this specialization, students will need to take these additional courses and have a total of 280 face-to-face clinical training hours before graduation.

  • MFT 670 Career Development Theories and Techniques (3 units)
  • MFT 681 Advanced Topics in Addictions Counseling (1 unit)
  • MFT 683 Advanced Topics in Psychopharmacology (1 unit)


Careers in Marriage and Family Therapy

Marriage and family therapists work as clinicians in a variety of settings, including:

  • Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers
  • Facilities that address intellectual and developmental disabilities, mental health, and substance abuse
  • Hospitals
  • Individual and family services
  • State and local government, excluding education and hospitals
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Practitioner offices
  • Nursing and residential care facilities
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