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Top 10 Online Master’s Programs in Marriage & Family Counseling

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Marriage and family therapists offer guidance to couples, families and groups who are dealing with issues that affect their mental health and well-being. Many therapists approach their work holistically, using a “wellness” model (as opposed to an “illness” one) which highlights and encourages client’s strengths. Typically, earning an undergraduate degree in counseling, psychology, sociology or social work is the first step in becoming a marriage and family therapist. Then, you’ll earn a master’s degree in counseling or marriage and family therapy. However, the degree itself doesn’t guarantee success as a counselor. There key attributes required of a counselor, such as being an attentive listener. Without a keen sense of listening, there cannot be effective counseling. Equally important is the ability to be empathetic. Some psychologists see empathy as  that which creates a psychological bond between individuals. In essence, to place yourself as counselor in the client’s shoes.

Regarding the ranking system, we have relied upon the professional journals (ex. US News & World Report) and accolades from independent sources, as referenced in this report. Another consideration is the respective programs recognition by national associations, as the Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Also within the ranking mosaic is the school’s history, the details of their marriage/family counseling curriculum, and our own assessment of each degree program. No matter what criteria is utilized for the rankings, the best judge is you-the reader. Ultimately, it is your decision which college/university suits your professional aspirations.

1. Regent University

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Founded in 1978 and located on 70 acres in Virginia Beach, Virginia, Regent consists of seven graduate schools and one undergraduate school. The school is nationally recognized as a Top 20 Best Online Bachelor’s Program by U.S. News & World Report, 2016, and offers the highest-ranked Online Graduate Education Programs in Virginia. Regent is also ranked #15 in Online Programs for Veterans, and a Top 5 Online MBA Programs in Virginia, 2016. They are also recognized as a Best National University by U.S. News & World Report, 2015.  Three of many accreditations are: American Psychological Association (APA) and Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), and Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC).

Regent’s School of Psychology & Counseling offers a Master of Arts in Marriage, Couple & Family Counseling is an online or on-campus degree that will equip you for a fulfilling career in counseling by preparing you to sit, in most states, for the marriage and family therapy licensing examination. Combining the study of progressive counseling techniques and theories, hands-on clinical fieldwork and a Christ-centered perspective, you will gain professional development that is second-to-none. The principal outcomes of this 60 credit hours program are:

  • Learn to apply systematic research and theories that encourage real self-awareness and understanding
  • Transform in professional development as you participate and lead in organizations
  • Gain valuable experience from a supervised clinical experience in community, agency and school settings
  • Be poised for the pursuit of doctoral degrees including the Ph.D. in Counselor Education & Supervision

Regent believes one of the strengths of the School of Psychology & Counseling lies in their distinguished faculty and talented staff. This faculty is made up of professional clinicians, researchers and educators who are dedicated to excellence in their own lives and in the lives of the students they teach. Faculty members, often partnering with students, make national and international presentations, participate in conferences, and contribute to hundreds of peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters and other scholarly works.

Tuition: $710 per semester hour

2. Messiah College

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Messiah College received its charter in 1909. Founded by the Brethren in Christ Church, its orientation to Christian service is reflected in its first name—Messiah Bible School and Missionary Training Home. Originally located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, it is now located in Mechanicsburg, PA. By the early 1950’s the school had developed four-year college programs in religious education and theology. It now offers more than 60 academic majors.

The Master of Arts in Counseling program at Messiah College is designed to help prepare students to become competent counselors who are capable of working with a variety of clients in multiple settings. As such, they will be prepared to serve others in the counseling process, develop their leadership abilities in the counseling field, and seek to reconcile relationships within the counseling setting.

The curriculum for the Master of Arts in counseling is designed as a developmental model where students begin as novice counselors and progress to become professional counselors by advancing through the program. There is a core set of courses taken by all students (30 credits) and an additional set of courses for each of the following specific tracks: Clinical Mental Health, School, Marriage, Couple and Family Counseling. The latter track (30 credits) meets the standards for accreditation under the Council of Accreditation for Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and academically prepares you to take the exam to become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) in Pennsylvania as well as many other states.

Tuition: $625 per credit hour; total cost 2016-17: $37,500 (60 credits)

3. Capella University

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Dr. Harold Abel and Stephen Shank founded Capella University in 1993. Today, the school has 2 competency-based online learning formats: GuidedPath and FlexPath. With GuidedPath, you stay motivated and on track with pre-set deadlines. However, you create your schoolwork habits based on your personal schedule. With FlexPath, you can still build the career-advancing skills and knowledge you need, but with a class schedule entirely controlled by you. With FlexPath, once you complete a course, whether that takes you two weeks or 12, you’re free to move on to the next course without having to wait for a new term to begin.

Capella’s Master of Science in Marriage and Family Counseling/Therapy will prepare you for increased career opportunities in the counseling field. This program includes online coursework that incorporates a credit-bearing residency and a practicum/internship to allow you to apply your knowledge directly through practical application. This Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) and CACREP-accredited program features a rigorous combination of online education and face-to-face experiences that prepare you for state licensure eligibility. Capella offers comprehensive resources that assist you in securing an internship, a practicum or fieldwork opportunities.

The curriculum applies research and theories in the practice of marriage and family therapy, including relational/systemic theories, theories of individual and family development across the life span, and other foundational theories in marriage and family therapy to clinical practice. You’ll also learn to think critically and write effectively in the discipline by analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating the theoretical and practice issues relevant to family dynamics and systems theory in the field of marriage and family therapy. Graduates will be gain the knowledge to seek employment as a general marriage and family counselor including marriage and family therapist, child and adolescent counselor, educational counselor, couples therapist, couples counselor, substance abuse counselor, and therapist.

This is a 92 quarter credits program with 10 week courses; students may transfer up to 20 credits.

Tuition: $487 per credit

4. Walden University

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Walden University was founded in 1970 by two teachers seeking a better way for adults to pursue advanced degrees without leaving the workforce. That vision meant rethinking a brick-and-mortar classroom to allow broader access through distance education. Their proven track record in online higher education has grown our learning community to include more than 52,600 students and more than 96,000 alumni worldwide. Another testament to their success is that 90% of graduates stated they were satisfied or very satisfied with Walden in a 2015 survey.

This CACREP-accredited Master of Science in Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling program can help prepare you to work with families to address a range of issues, including the impact of crises, disasters, and other trauma-causing events as well as family conflicts that must be resolved in the criminal justice system. This program offers face-to-face residencies that allow you to network with expert faculty members and other doctoral students while you hone your research, writing, and critical-thinking skills. Depending on the state in which you intend to practice, you may be eligible to pursue the appropriate credentials and licensure, including licensed marriage and family therapist or licensed professional counselor with a specialization in marriage, couple, and family counseling.

Graduates from the program consistently achieve passing scores higher than the professional average on the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors. In April 2015, 74% of eligible School of Counseling graduates who sat for the exam earned a passing score. More importantly, upon completion of the program, 68% of these graduates were employed full time.

Tuition & Fees: $47,195 (39 months average completion)

5. Abilene Christian University

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Founded in 1906, Abilene Christian is a private, non-profit university affiliated with Churches of Christ and committed to transformative, energized learning. Their faculty of Christian scholars and professionals include: 253 full-time faculty members, 93 percent of whom hold the highest degree in their field. Their commitment to excellence has resulted in these accolades: Forbes Magazine (Top Colleges), US news & World Report (#2 Most Innovative in the West), Apple Distinguished School, and 2016 Military Friendly School.

ACU offers an online Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy and an online post-graduate certificate in Medical Family Therapy designed to equip students to serve in a wide range of counseling, therapy, and mental health settings. The 60-credit master’s program of Marriage and Family Therapy combines relevant courses in marriage and family therapy and a clinical internship experience to provide professional clinical training for students seeking mental health licensure. The program provides practical training in couple, family, and child therapy; mental illness; substance abuse and addiction; and assessment and diagnosis. Students may also elect to pursue a specialization in Medical Family Therapy, a growing area of interest in the mental health profession.

The degree plan for the online Marriage and Family Therapy program consists of 48 credits in the foundational curriculum and 12 credits in the student’s choice of specialization: general Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) or Medical Family Therapy (MedFT). Upon completion of these courses, students will be evaluated to determine whether or not they may proceed into the clinical training portion of the program. Students must earn a minimum cumulative 3.0 GPA in the first 15 credits ; receive a minimum grade of B in BMFT 601 Pre-Internship; and pass a Clinical Readiness Assessment completed by program faculty.

Tuition: $800 per credit

6. Touro University Worldwide

The Sun Never Sets on Touro University. (PRNewsFoto/Touro University Worldwide)

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Touro University Worldwide’s story starts with the founding of Touro University International (TUI). Dr. Yoram Neumann and Dr. Edith Neumann established TUI in 1998; it was the first university in the world to offer a regionally accredited doctorate program online with no residency requirements. It was also attractive to government and military students. In 2007, TUI was sold to a private equity group. In 2008, Dr. Bernard Luskin founded Touro University Worldwide to replace the educational void that the sale of TUI left.

TUW’s Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) graduate program helps you meet the demands of a new health care market. This demand has been influenced by the Health Care Reform Act, which has created a push for using health care teams when treating patients.The MFT profession has gained ground in recent years with the increased recognition and understanding of the relationship between marital and family dysfunction. In addition to the serious mental and emotional disorders such as chemical dependency, substance abuse, eating disorders, disorders of childhood and adolescence and other forms of psychopathology. To deal with these societal issues, their fully online marriage and family therapy graduate program delivers a course of study focused on this mental health sector. The curriculum prepares graduates to function in this critical discipline to foster the well-being of couples and families. The program offers multiple tracks, so you can choose the option that best fits your chosen career path.

The 3 tracks offered are:

Non-clinical: 18 courses/54 credits; no practicum or clinical hours

Clinical: 20 courses/60 credits; 2 courses/6 credits of practicum; 225 hours of clinical and 300 of practicum

Licensed Professional Clinical Counseling (LPCC): 25 courses/73 credits; 3 courses/9 credits practicum; 280 hours of clinical; 450 hours of practicum

The Marriage and Family Therapy program at Touro is approved by the California Board of Behavior Sciences (BBS), and is designed so that graduates are eligible for MFT Licensure in the State of California (and most other states) without requiring any additional coursework.

Tuition: $500 per semester credit unit: A range of tuition assistance programs are available to prospective students to help reduce the out-of-pocket expenses associated with continued education, including scholarships and students loans.

7. Northcentral University

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Founded in 1996, Northcentral University has utilized the 21st-century Internet to connect faculty to motivated students seeking a quality education that is accessible, professionally relevant and applicable in today’s diverse global society. In 2003, Northcentral University was accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. The Marriage and Family Therapy master’s (MA) and doctoral (PhD) degree programs were designed to follow the Educational Guidelines of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).

NCU’s Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) program will help you develop key skills and facilitate the personal and professional growth needed for effective practice in the field of marriage and family therapy. You will gain rigorous training and coursework to help you develop into a competent, ethical, culturally-sensitive and licensable marriage and family. The courses are primarily online, however, practicum/internships/and clinical supervision activities include traditional engagement in the communities where their students reside.

This  60 credit hours program is the only  Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) accredited Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy degree without a residency requirement.  In addition, this rigorous program is led by our highly-credentialed faculty who all hold doctoral degrees and have significant experience in the MFT field. Hence the faculty offers a “world-class degree” in a variety of specializations, examples are: couple therapy, military family therapy, LGBTQ couple and family therapy, and California licensure.

Tuition: $40,815 (total estimated cost)

8. Mid-America Christian University

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Mid-America was established originally as South Texas Bible Institute (STBI), Houston, Texas, September 14, 1953 with 26 students in the first class. STBI responded to this demand in the fall of 1955 by restructuring to a three-year institute to a four-year. In that same year, the board of trustees voted to change the name of the institution to Gulf-Coast Bible College (GBC). Due to space restrictions, the college was relocated to Oklahoma City in 1984. In recognition of the relocation, the college was renamed: Mid-America Bible College (MACU).

Today, MACU is a private, Christian liberal arts college that’s experiencing unprecedented growth. In the last four years alone, the school has grown from 909 students to over 2,400. The school is accredited through the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and is affiliated with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

The Adult School of Psychology and Behavioral Science at MACU offers a  Master of Science in Counseling program in five specialties. One of which is Marital, Couples and Family Counseling/Therapy Emphasis that is designed for those licensure as a licensed Marital and Family Therapist. This program focuses on critical thinking skills, scientific method, practical application and the integration of discipline-specific knowledge, blended with a Christian faith-based perspective to equip students for success in both secular and ministry settings.

One of the core course is titled: Marriage and Family Systems and Treatment that explores recurring family patterns, as well as the foundational theories and principles of family development, family subsystems, and the role of individual members of the family. A sampling of other requirement courses includes: Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy, Human Development, and Family Treatment Techniques. The total hours required for graduation is 60-63.

Tuition: $594 per credit hour    

9. Grand Canyon University

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Grand Canyon University (GCU) was founded in 1949 by the Southern Baptist Church. Then known as Grand Canyon College, our first campus was located in an abandoned armory building in Prescott, AZ. Two years later, the school relocated to Phoenix, where it began developing a strong reputation as a premier private Christian university in Arizona.

The Master of Science in Professional Counseling with an Emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy program is designed for students interested in becoming professional counselors. Within this program, advance your knowledge and develop skills necessary to identify, assess and address marriage and family-related issues, including, but not limited to, communication and substance use issues, parent-child relationships, different family dynamics and couple’s issues. You also explore facets of spousal and child abuse, crisis intervention and trauma counseling. The varied coursework encompasses counseling theory, addictions and substance use disorders, social and cultural diversity issues and human growth and development.

During the 74 credits program, you will acquire knowledge of the role, value and benefits of family systems theory as it applies to the assessment and treatment of couples and families. Other areas of expertise include systemic perspectives of couples and family dynamics, diverse family systems and the impact of addictive disorders. Supervised practicum and internship experiences enable you to develop practical counseling skills that you can apply to confidently perform all activities of a qualified professional counselor.

The marriage and family therapy program within the College of Humanities and Social Sciences has been aligned to the standards established by the National Board for Certified Counselors. This degree does not lead to marriage and family licensure; make sure to review your state’s marriage and family licensure board to see requirements. However, students graduate with the essential comprehensive training for moving onto national certification and licensure in Arizona as a counselor.

Tuition: $500 per credit

10. Amridge University

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Amridge refers to their school as an “affordable online University.” The university was founded in 1942 as Montgomery Bible School in Montgomery , Alabama. In 1991, the Board of Regents officially approved the change of the name of the institution to Southern Christian University. The Board changed the name to Amridge in 2008 where it sits on 650 acres of new campus as of 2006. Currently, it is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award Associate of Arts, Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts, Master of Science, Master of Divinity, Doctor of Ministry, and Doctor of Philosophy degrees.

The Master of Arts (MA) in Marriage and Family Therapy is a professional-level degree program.  Experiences provide the foundation for marriage and family therapy theory, scientific research, and clinical practice.  In this context, students learn the different approaches and clinical techniques required for today’s practitioners offering therapeutic services to individuals, couples, and families.  Also, a major goal of this program is to help prepare students for licensure in Marriage and Family Therapy in their resident state.

A total of 60 semester hours are required for graduation, and at least 33 must be from Amridge. You must also complete all required coursework including the specified practicum and clinical courses.  This requirement includes the accumulation and documentation of at least 600 hours of face-to-face clinical experience.  Of these 600 hours, a minimum of 500 must be client contact, and a minimum of 100 must be concurrent supervision of that client contact with an approved supervisor, for a minimum ratio of 1 hour of supervision for each 5 hours of client contact. Students are responsible for locating and making arrangements for their practicum and clinical experiences and courses.

Tuition: $650 per semester hour (full-time); $750 (part-time)

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