The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 23% increase in marriage and family therapy positions over the next decade, which would lead to the creation of nearly 10,000 new positions. You can claim a place in this expanding workforce by earning a Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy online. Not only does this field provide numerous opportunities for employment, an advanced degree opens the door to leadership positions, advocacy roles, and increased annual earnings.
In Western countries, more than 90% of people marry before the age of 50. However, nearly 50% of American marriages end in divorce, which indicates a need for both preventative education and expert intervention. Your compassion and advanced training may help alleviate the strain of daily challenges and emotional dysregulation experienced by couples and their families.
For career information, skip down:
- What Else Can I Expect from an Online Doctorate in Family Counseling Program?
- Accreditation for Online Doctorate in Family Counseling Degrees
- Online Doctorate in Family Counseling Careers
- Paying for Your Online Doctorate in Family Counseling
What Are the Best Online Doctorate in Family Counseling Programs?
1. Liberty University Online
Located in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty is a Carnegie-classified doctoral research university offering over 550 programs of study to more than 110,000 students. The Christian university teaches nearly 300 programs through online learning, including 28 doctorates.
Among Liberty's marriage and family counseling degree programs is the 57-credit Ed.D. in community care and counseling, an online degree available in three specializations: MFT, pastoral care and counseling, and traumatology. The marriage-and-family concentration prepares students for professional counseling in a ministry setting through coursework grounded in statistical and research design. A non-licensure degree, students in the Ed.D. refine their skills in research, assessment, and treatment of couples and families. Courses last eight weeks, and there are eight start dates a year.
Admitted candidates can transfer up to 15 credit hours into the program. To qualify for enrollment, prospective students must have a master's degree in counseling, psychology, human services, or related field, along with a minimum 3.0 GPA.
Liberty University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
2. University of Louisiana at Monroe
Founded in 1931, ULM is one of nine universities in the University of Louisiana system. In 2016, enrollment at ULM topped 9,000 students, while the school's online programs reached over 1,200 distance learners.
In 1996, the university launched the Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy, a theory-based program focused on cybernetics and its impact on family systems therapy. The MFT doctorate with a concentration in systemic studies is a scholarly program of study, not a clinical degree. Students learn as part of a cohort and through synchronous teaching, exploring topics such as cybernetic and ecological perspectives, creative transformation, and the theory of absurdity. While full-time students can complete the 60-unit Ph.D. in two years' time, a typical course sequence takes three years, with the final year devoted to a doctoral dissertation.
Applications must include transcripts of undergraduate/graduate work, GRE scores, a curriculum vitae, scholarly writing sample, doctoral program goal statement, and three recommendations.
ULM is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The MFT doctorate is also fully accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE).
For over 25 years, Amridge has been a leader in online education. Today, the Church of Christ-affiliated university employs distance learning in every program. Based in Montgomery, Alabama, Amridge enrolls around 700 students.
The university's Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy online degree is a 60-semester hour research program focused on building therapeutic expertise. Students learn to conduct original research, classify syndromes of mental disorders, and establish appropriate treatment plans. The blended program requires residency for one seminar, and students may return to Montgomery for their dissertation qualifying exam. Full-time students can complete all requirements in four years; however, this program does not prepare candidates for licensure.
Applicants must hold a graduate degree from a regionally accredited institution of higher learning -- or from select nationally accredited programs -- and submit a scholarly writing sample. All candidates must interview prior to admission decisions, and test scores are not required.
Amridge University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
What Else Can I Expect from an Online Doctorate in Family Counseling Program?
The classes listed below represent some of the most critical courses students complete when pursuing an advanced family counseling degree, with topics in family systems, addiction treatment, and research design. While details differ from school to school, marriage and family counseling degree programs generally offer the following courses.
Curriculum for an Online Doctorate in Family Counseling
- Couples Therapy: Encompassing theories of couple relationships and clinical approaches, knowledge acquired during this course provides the foundation for careers in couples and family therapy. The course familiarizes students with frequent problems that arise in partnerships and examines attachment styles, relationship stages, and counseling methods for couples.
- Human Sexuality: This course explores the many facets of human sexuality, including the biological, psychological, and social factors that influence sexual behaviors and attitudes toward sex. Students enrolled in this course learn about sexual dysfunctions and challenges in relationships. Learners also acquire the skills needed to work with individuals and couples with sex-related problems.
- Research Methods: In addition to learning how to conduct literature reviews, students enrolled in this course select and use statistical analyses to measure quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods data. This course also prepares students to carry out their dissertation. Clinicians and researchers use knowledge of research methods to conduct original studies and build upon the results of previous scholarly inquiries.
- Substance Abuse Treatment: This course provides an overview of the theories of addiction and treatment techniques. Students learn how to implement formal assessments and conduct biopsychosocial interviews. The class explores addiction from the perspective of individuals and family systems, and learners become familiar with intervention strategies appropriate for addicted individuals and their families.
- Systems Theory: This course examines mental health issues from a systems approach. Students explore the various levels of social interactions that influence individual and group behavior. The course includes topics in prominent family systems theories, family dynamics across the human lifespan, and roles of family members, preparing individuals to work in family therapy settings.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Doctorate in Family Counseling?
Most doctoral-level family counseling degree programs consist of 60 credits and take full-time students approximately four years to complete. Factors that influence program completion time include fieldwork requirements, course load limits, and student enrollment status. For example, programs that require full-time enrollment take significantly less time to complete than programs that allow students to take just one course per term. Additionally, learners who complete a specialization may need to fulfill additional credit requirements, extending the length of the program.
Online Ph.D. programs in marriage and family therapy feature individually paced or cohort learning program structures. Individually paced programs typically offer rolling admissions, numerous start dates, and more flexibility. Alternatively, cohort programs require students to take classes in lock-step with their classmates. Many doctoral programs use a cohort model to promote peer cohesion, collaboration, and networking.
Accreditation for Online Family Counseling Doctorate Degrees
In addition to preventing prospective students from enrolling in low-quality academic programs, accreditation ensures that programs across the country adhere to a codified set of standards and produce graduates with comparable educational training. This standardization process advances professional practices while maintaining academic integrity. Regional and national accreditation agencies represent the primary accreditors of U.S. colleges, with nearly 90% of schools receiving regional accreditation. Considered the gold standard for accreditation, regional accreditation ensures that colleges offer quality academic experiences. Credits earned from regionally accredited schools easily transfer to graduate programs, while many programs do not accept credits earned from nationally accredited or unaccredited schools.
Other accrediting agencies that prospective family counselors should familiarize themselves with include the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, for online programs, and the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). CACREP promotes excellence in counselor education, including within online MFT programs, by assessing curricula and faculty qualifications.
Accreditation is carried out through the regulatory functions of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). While the ED does not play an active role in accrediting higher education programs and schools, its does provide supervisory influence by ensuring that accrediting bodies enforce certain rules and maintain standards. Similarly, the CHEA recognizes academic programs and schools that meet its stringent accountability measures. The oversight of the ED and CHEA safeguard students from enrolling in inadequate or fraudulent programs. These governing agencies provide databases of all accredited colleges and programs in the country; students can review both ED and CHEA accreditation resources.
Employment Outlook for Doctorate in Family Counseling Graduates
Doctorate in Family Counseling Careers
Online Ph.D. programs in marriage and family therapy equip students with the knowledge needed to pursue careers at private mental health clinics, community resource centers, and higher education institutions. Professionals use counseling and research skills to creatively approach client problems, implement evidence-based treatments, and evaluate the effectiveness of intervention techniques. Counselors and therapists exhibit strong listening, speaking, and critical thinking skills. Careers in family counseling require patience, empathy, and compassion, in addition to technical skills.
Marriage and Family Therapists: These professionals work with couples and families to overcome mental health obstacles. More than a quarter of marriage and family therapists work in private mental health facilities with individuals and families. Professional duties include conceptualizing problems that arise within family systems, establishing a safe environment for emotional exploration, and equipping clients with coping strategies.
- Median Annual Salary: $49,170
- Projected Growth Rate: 23%
School and Career Counselors: Working closely with students and their families, these professionals balance clinical and administrative job duties. They address the emotional and behavioral issues of individual students and participate in schoolwide functions, including teacher collaboration and career counseling. Earning a Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy online prepares school counselors for supervisory and consulting positions at the district level.
- Median Annual Salary: $54,560
- Projected Growth Rate: 13%
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors: Employed by private agencies, outpatient centers, and residential facilities, addiction professionals help clients overcome compulsive behaviors, such as drug abuse, overeating, and gambling. Mental health counselors help individuals and families suffering from emotional distress triggered by daily stressors, loss, and mental illness. Many mental health counselors specialize in a specific area.
- Median Annual Salary: $42,150
- Projected Growth Rate: 23%
Social and Community Service Managers: Employed by community mental health agencies and social service agencies, these professionals implement and evaluate mental health programs. They collect and analyze program data, communicate with stakeholders, and secure funding through grants.
- Median Annual Salary: $64,680
- Projected Growth Rate: 18%
Postsecondary Teachers: Full-time college professors teach courses, advise students, and conduct research. Adjunct professors may teach one or two courses a semester while also maintaining off-campus employment. Doctoral students enrolled in marriage and family counseling degree programs acquire the training needed to teach graduate-level courses and conduct departmental research.
- Median Annual Salary: $75,430
- Projected Growth Rate: 15%
Doctorate in Family Counseling Salary
Counseling Careers by Experience
Data from PayScale reveals that workers in the field earn higher salaries as they gain additional work experience. Licensed marriage and family therapists make a yearly average of $50,000 to begin their careers, and that number jumps 10% within a decade or less. Armed with a terminal degree, graduates of family counseling programs who already have professional counseling experience can expect to earn wages even higher than those depicted below; doctoral-level social science professionals make 17% more than their peers who only hold a master's degree.
|Job Title||Overall Median Salary||Entry-Level Employees||Mid-Career Employees||Late-Career Employees|
|Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist||$51,287||$50,000||$55,000||$73,000|
|Mental Health Counselor||$40,098||$38,000||$41,000||$46,000|
|Mental Health Program Manager||$54,012||$48,000||$56,000||$64,000|
|Social Services Director||$51,471||$41,000||$49,000||$55,000|
|Professor, Postsecondary/ Higher Education||$87,546||$60,000||$71,000||$99,000|
Family Counseling Professional Organizations
Students and graduates of online MFT programs can broaden their opportunities for employment and continuing education by joining a professional organization. In addition to serving their members through advocacy and peer collaboration, these organizations advance professional standards by implementing ethical regulations. A major resource for individuals just beginning fieldwork, professional organizations often provide student liability insurance and access to scholarly research. The organizations highlighted below include some of the leaders in the fields of counseling and marriage and family therapy.
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT): With more than 50,000 members, AAMFT supports marriage and family therapists across the globe. Students and recent graduates benefit from AAMFT's emerging professionals network, which hosts an online community and opportunities for face-to-face networking.
- American Counseling Association (ACA): Serving the counseling profession for more than 65 years, ACA features 20 divisions that provide support to counselors working in areas such as adolescent counseling, college counseling, and marriage and family counseling.
- American School Counselor Association (ASCA): An organization for school counselors working in various educational settings, ASCA promotes systemic transformation through continuing education programs and professional advocacy. Members receive a subscription to ASCA's professional school counseling journal and access to professional development workshops.
Paying for Your Online Doctorate in Family Counseling
In addition to providing busy students with the flexibility needed to earn a terminal degree, many online Ph.D. programs in marriage and family therapy feature payment plan options, scholarships, and flat-rate tuition for online students. Learners seeking financial assistance to attend college may also qualify for institutional scholarships through their school. Merit-based scholarships allow students to cash in on their academic success, and professional organizations, corporations, and private donors supply additional scholarship and grant opportunities. For example, the ACA hosts two essay contests that award grant money to winning participants.
The ED also supports students monetarily through its college financial aid programs. Students may qualify for loans, grants, and work-study programs offered by the federal government. To determine their federal financial aid eligibility, students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This free, online application operates in conjunction with a student's college to calculate attendance costs and financial need. Furthermore, students who take out federal loans and go on to find employment at a government agency or nonprofit may qualify for loan forgiveness. Another source of financial assistance may come from your employer; some companies feature tuition reimbursement programs for employees who return to school to earn an advanced degree.