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Pepperdine | Graduate School of Education and Psychology

Marriage and Family Therapy Programs

MFT programs

If you're drawn to the mental health field and considering a master's program, exploring Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) could be your calling. As a marriage and family therapist, you'll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in a career where each day is about forming meaningful connections and genuinely impacting lives.

We'll cover everything you need to know about getting the best marriage and family therapy education out there, including what you'll learn in family therapy programs and how to choose the MFT program that is right for you.

How to Become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)

To become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), you'll need to meet all the academic requirements and obtain a marriage and family therapy license in the state you wish to practice. After you complete your bachelor's degree you'll need to find a graduate-level family therapy program such as a Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy.

You'll also need to complete clinical training hours and pass the required exams for MFT licensure. Your graduate program will include supervised experience under the direction of a licensed therapist. After receiving your license, you may also be required to complete ongoing education throughout your career.

Degree Requirements

Licensed family therapists are typically required to hold a minimum of a master's degree. A good MFT program prepares students by providing the knowledge and skills necessary for a successful career in therapy. Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology provides several options for completing an MFT program, including a daytime program, an evening program, as well as an online program. There's even an option with an emphasis on working with Latinx communities.

The coursework covers a range of topics and family therapy theories, including human development, psychological assessment, and therapeutic techniques. Students learn to approach therapy with empathy, understanding, and a strong ethical framework, preparing them to handle various challenges they may encounter in their professional lives.


A significant part of your family therapy education includes working directly with clients under the supervision of a licensed therapist. In California, you are required to complete at least 3,000 hours of supervised experience. This needs to be done within six years of completing your graduate program. Of these hours, a minimum of 1,750 hours must be direct counseling experience, with at least 500 hours in diagnosing and treating couples, families, and children. The remaining hours can include non-clinical experiences like supervisor contact, administering and evaluating psychological tests, writing clinical reports, and attending workshops related to the field.

During your clinical work, you'll have the opportunity to provide therapy to individuals, couples, families, and groups. This clinical experience is where theoretical knowledge meets real-world challenges and complexities.

Working in a real-world setting helps students understand the nuances of different relationships and how to apply various therapeutic techniques. You'll learn to navigate human emotions and behaviors, developing the ability to tailor your unique approach to suit individual client needs. This hands-on training is fundamental in building confidence and competence in future therapists.


To become a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in California, there are several other requirements you'll need to fulfill in addition to your education requirements and supervised clinical work:

  1. You need to pass the California Law and Ethics Exam and the national exam developed by the Association of Marital & Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB). Additionally, you need to pass the California LMFT Clinical Examination.
  2. If you're licensed in another state and seeking licensure in California, you'll need to provide verification of your out-of-state license and demonstrate that the licensure requirements you met are equivalent to or exceed those in California.

Ongoing Education

To provide the most effective care and stay on top of the latest developments in the field, ongoing family therapy education is essential. This may involve participating in workshops, attending seminars, or enrolling in advanced studies. In California, you must complete continuing education every 24 months. An LMFT license involves 36 hours of continuing education.

These continuous learning opportunities enable therapists to refine their skills, learn new techniques, and keep up-to-date with the latest trends and best practices in therapy. Staying informed and educated is crucial for maintaining the quality and effectiveness of the therapy provided, ensuring that therapists can offer the best possible support to their clients.

What You’ll Learn in a Marriage and Family Therapy Program

MFT programs

Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) programs are designed to offer a deep dive into the nuances of human relationships and the various factors that can impact familial and marital dynamics. Graduate students explore a wide range of topics, from the theoretical foundations of human behavior to practical counseling techniques.

Courses cover topics like developmental psychology, psychopathology, and ethics in therapy, along with specialized training in areas such as child and adolescent therapy, substance abuse, and crisis intervention. These programs emphasize cultural sensitivity and the importance of understanding diverse backgrounds and experiences. This comprehensive knowledge equips you with the skills to support and guide your clients through their unique challenges and toward healthier, more fulfilling relationships.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Mental Health Disorders

Learning to diagnose and treat mental health disorders properly is the backbone of any MFT program and prepares you for success in your professional practice. You'll learn how to identify and treat a wide range of mental health issues, understanding the symptoms and underlying causes of various disorders.

Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy

You'll explore different theoretical frameworks that guide the practice of marriage and family therapy. From classic psychoanalytic theories to modern cognitive-behavioral approaches, understanding these theories is crucial for developing your unique therapy style.

Professional Ethics and the Law for Mental Health Professionals

You'll also get a deep understanding of the ethical and legal standards in the practice of mental health. Understanding these principles is important to ensure you provide the highest standard of care while adhering to legal requirements.

Multicultural Counseling

Recognizing and respecting cultural differences is key in therapy. This part of the curriculum focuses on developing skills to work effectively with clients from diverse backgrounds, acknowledging the influence of culture on mental health.

Techniques of Counseling and Psychotherapy

Here, you'll learn various therapeutic techniques and how to apply them in practice. These range from individual counseling methods to more complex psychotherapeutic interventions.

Clinical Interventions With Children and Adolescents

Specializing in working with young clients requires understanding their unique developmental needs. You'll learn how to effectively engage with children and adolescents in a therapeutic setting.

Individual and Family Treatment of Substance Abuse

You'll learn about the dynamics of substance abuse and how it impacts individuals and their families. This includes understanding the challenges of addiction and the strategies for treatment and recovery-oriented care.

Interpersonal Skills and Group Therapy

Developing strong interpersonal skills is essential for any therapist. This area focuses on enhancing your ability to communicate and facilitate group therapy sessions, an important aspect of MFT practice.

Trauma in Diverse Populations

You'll study the effects of trauma on different groups of people. You'll learn about the varied manifestations of trauma and the best practices for treatment.

Psychopharmacology for Mental Health Professionals

While MFTs don't prescribe medication, understanding psychopharmacology is important. This knowledge helps you collaborate effectively with other mental health professionals and understand the role of medication in treatment.

Research Methods in Psychology

This area equips you with the skills to understand and conduct psychological research, an important aspect for those who wish to contribute to the academic field of psychology.

Mental Health Systems, Practice, and Advocacy

Here, you'll learn about the broader mental health system, including how to navigate it, advocate for clients, and understand the role of mental health professionals within this system.

Career Development Theory and Techniques

This area of study is geared towards understanding the theories of career development and the techniques used in counseling clients on career-related issues.

How Long Does it Take To Become an LMFT?

MFT programs

At Pepperdine University, the daytime format of the Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology program spans two academic years. This is an intensive period of full-time attendance, as students are required to enroll in a pre-specified sequence of courses across the Fall, Spring, and first Summer sessions. Each term requires a commitment of 11 to 14 units in the Fall and Spring, and 6 to 8 units in the Summer, depending on the specific term.

There is also a 60 to 66-unit curriculum available in an evening format for working professionals and full-time students. It takes students an average of 2.5 to 3 years to complete. 

Who Do Marriage and Family Therapists Work With?

Marriage and Family Therapists—whether in private practice or clinical settings—work with a wide range of clients, each presenting unique challenges and needs. Their clients extend across various demographics, ages, and situations.


Family therapists play a crucial role in helping couples navigate through relationship challenges. They provide a safe space for partners to explore issues like communication breakdowns, trust issues, and conflicts. Through therapy, couples learn to understand each other better and develop healthier ways of interacting, which can lead to a more fulfilling relationship.


MFTs assist families in dealing with various dynamics, conflicts such as domestic violence, and transitions such as divorce or the loss of a family member. They work to improve communication among family members, resolve conflicts, and foster a healthier family environment. The therapist's role is to understand the family's unique dynamics and guide them toward more harmonious relationships.

Children and Adolescents

Working with children and adolescents, MFTs address issues like behavioral problems, academic concerns, and emotional challenges. They use age-appropriate techniques to help young clients express themselves and cope with their situations. The therapy often involves the family, focusing on strengthening the support system for the child or adolescent.


MFTs also provide therapy to individuals struggling with personal issues or emotional disorders that affect their mental health and relationships. This could include anxiety, depression, self-esteem issues, or life transitions. Individual therapy focuses on personal growth, coping strategies, and building healthier relational patterns.


In group therapy settings, MFTs facilitate sessions where members share common issues. This approach provides a supportive environment where individuals can learn from each other’s experiences. Group therapy often focuses on specific themes like grief, addiction, or parenting challenges.

Clients with Mental Health Disorders

MFTs are trained to work with individuals suffering from mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. They provide therapeutic interventions tailored to the individual's needs, helping them manage symptoms and improve their quality of life.

Substance Abuse Cases

Therapists in this field often work with individuals and families impacted by substance abuse. They focus on understanding the underlying causes of addiction and work towards recovery and rebuilding relationships affected by substance misuse.

Trauma Survivors

MFTs provide support to individuals and families who have experienced trauma. They use specialized therapeutic approaches to help clients process traumatic events, reduce symptoms of trauma-related disorders, and regain a sense of control in their lives.

Diverse Populations

MFTs are equipped to work with clients from various cultural, socioeconomic, and religious backgrounds. This requires cultural humility and a strong understanding of the unique challenges and perspectives of diverse populations.

How Much Money Do LMFTs Make?

As of 2024, the average salary for a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the United States is around $63,764 annually. However, this figure can vary significantly depending on factors like location, experience, and type of practice. For example, entry-level positions may start at a lower range, around $47,000, while more experienced therapists can earn upwards of $88,000. It's important to consider these variables when assessing the financial prospects of a career in marriage and family therapy​.

Is a Master’s in MFT Worth It?

Deciding whether a Master's in Marriage and Family Therapy is worth it requires you to weigh the estimated cost and time commitment against the anticipated returns in terms of career satisfaction and financial rewards. This degree provides not only comprehensive training in counseling and psychotherapy but also equips students with skills for handling a range of mental and emotional challenges in diverse populations.

Graduates often find themselves in rewarding careers where they can make significant positive impacts on the lives of individuals, couples, and families. Additionally, considering the average salary of LMFTs and the growing need for mental health professionals, the financial aspect of this career can also be promising. The decision ultimately depends on your passion for the field, commitment to helping others, and career aspirations in the realm of therapy and counseling.

Explore MFT Programs at Pepperdine University

If you want to make a significant impact in the field of marriage and family therapy, starting your career journey at Pepperdine University could be the next step. The Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology program is not just academically rigorous but also rich in practical experiences. With over 130+ practicum sites across Southern California, the program ensures that students are not just prepared for the theoretical aspects of the job but are also well-equipped with real-world clinical practice.

The cohort-based structure of the program and the top-notch department faculty encourage a collaborative learning environment. You'll not only learn from your instructors but also from the student body, who bring their diverse perspectives and experiences.

A career as an LMFT offers the unique opportunity to positively impact lives and contribute to the well-being of individuals and families. With a program like the one offered at Pepperdine University, you're not just gaining an education, you're setting the foundation for a rewarding and impactful career.

For more information on admissions requirements, program costs, and financial aid, prospective students can attend various information sessions or connect with an enrollment services officer.