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How to Become a Marriage and Family Therapist in California

Earning a California marriage and family therapist license requires clear steps. Learn how to become a marriage family therapist in California with this blog.

Marriage and family therapists (MFTs) assess, diagnose, and treat mental and psychological issues in relationships, marriage, and families. If you are passionate about providing solutions to individuals struggling with premarital, marital, divorce, and/or family issues, you may want to pursue a career in marriage and family therapy might be the right choice for you.

To become a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) in California, you will need to become licensed to practice by the state. This blog will cover all the degree, practice, and license requirements needed to become a marriage and family therapist in California in five steps.

What is a marriage and family therapist?

An MFT is a mental health professional trained to listen, assess, diagnose, and provide mental and emotional treatment for couples and families to improve their well-being.

MFTs evaluate and provide treatment for other health and behavior-related issues in relationships and the family system, such as affective mood disorders, marital distress and conflict, drug and alcohol abuse in adults and adolescents, and more.

Before you can become a licensed marriage and family therapist in California, you must have graduate training in MFT with at least two years of clinical experience.

As a California marriage and family therapist, you can provide your services in mental health clinics, residential care homes, state government, outpatient care centers, private practice, and other sectors and institutions where mental health services are required.

How to become a marriage and family therapist in California

To become a licensed MFT in California, you must accomplish a few key steps, including an academic degree and licensure requirements.

Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree.

This undergraduate degree allows you to apply to master’s programs in California for marriage and family therapy. The major or minor of your bachelor’s degree doesn’t have to be in any particular field. However, you must have completed courses in therapy, psychotherapy, and some other program within psychology, depending on the requirements of your master’s school of choice.

If you are interested in a marriage counselor degree, or any other marriage and family therapy programs, check out our MFT programs page for more information!

Step 2: Complete a master’s degree program in marriage and family therapy.

As a potential California MFT, you should only apply to schools approved by the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and duly accredited by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy or the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education. Being accredited by these organizations will ensure higher chances of employment upon graduation and a smooth licensure process.

A master’s program normally takes two to three years, including clinical fieldwork and a research thesis. To be an MFT in California, you can major in either Marriage and Family Therapy or any related mental health field.

Stage 3: Complete two years of clinical experience in the state of California.

This experience can be gained through working for nonprofit organizations, private practice, institutions, charities, and other mental health service organizations.

Stage 4: Pass the California marriage and family therapy licensing exams.

To obtain a California marriage and family therapist license and become an LMFT, you must sit for and pass two MFT exams, the LMFT California Law and Ethics Exam and the LMFT Clinical exam. Both tests will be administered through Pearson Vue, and licenses are issued by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences.

These marriage and family therapist license exams will test you in various areas pertaining to the practice of MFT, including client diagnosis, treatment, and ethics. Learn more about the California MFT exam process here. After passing this exam, you can now apply for licensure and start working as a licensed MFT.

Stage 5: Participate in continuing education (CE).

CE courses are not only required for license renewal but also provide additional learning and professional development in your field. Continuing education allows MFTs to remain up to date and trained on any new developments in the field, as well as provide opportunities to specialize or advance in their career.

Continuing education courses are available at a variety of accredited institutions, boards, and more. Confirm with the California Counseling Board to ensure the current requirements and schedule for valid MFT CE programs.


Ready to become a licensed MFT? Start with Pacific Oaks College. Our master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy provides students with a blend of theory and hands-on experience in the field. Learn more by visiting our program page.

For more insight into the world of marriage and family therapy, explore our digital magazine, VOICES.

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