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Doctor of Philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy (PhD-MFT)

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100% Online PhD-MFT

Complete your studies on your own time.

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New Start Date Every Monday

Start your first course when it’s convenient for you.

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Accredited PROGRAM

COAMFTE and IACSTE Accredited

National and Northcentral have merged, and this program is now offered by NU. Learn more.

Home » Programs » Doctor of Philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy

Doctor of Philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy

Help individuals, couples, and families navigate life’s stressors with the 100% online Doctor of Philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy (PhD-MFT) degree program at National University. This program provides you with advanced clinical education, research opportunities, and supervision training and experience.

National University’s PhD-MFT degree will help you acquire the knowledge, skills, practical application, and values to thrive as a skilled, ethical, and culturally sensitive marriage and family therapist. You’ll be earning a degree from a program that is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) and International Accreditation Commission for Systemic Therapy Education (IACSTE). 

Prepare to Advance Your Marriage and Family Therapy Career

You’ll gain hands-on experience through face-to-face clinical training and a nine-month internship in your local community. In addition to this local experience, you’ll also gain experience by working with an NU faculty member on a distance-based, practicum/internship. You’ll build your clinical skills and knowledge by meeting regularly with your faculty member and your peers to watch and discuss recorded client sessions. 

Tailor your NU online PhD-MFT to match your interests with one of these specializations: 

  • Child and Adolescent Therapy
  • Couple Therapy
  • Culture, Diversity, and Social Justice in a Global Context
  • Education and Supervision
  • General Family Therapy
  • Medical Family Therapy
  • Systemic Leadership
  • Therapy with Military Families
COAMFTE Logo

The Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) is the accrediting body for the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). National University’s Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy and Doctor of Philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy Programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

WASC logo

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accredits public and private schools, colleges, and universities in the U.S.

International Accreditation Commission for Systemic Therapy Education Logo

National University’s Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy and Doctor of Philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy Programs are also accredited by the International Accreditation Commission for Systemic Therapy Education (IACSTE). Created as a semi-autonomous body under the auspices of the International Family Therapy Association (IFTA), IACSTE focuses on the development and implementation of quality standards for programs around the world that provide systemic therapy education and training.

Course Details

  • Credit Hours: 63 
  • Courses: At least 23
  • Average Time to Complete: 78 months

The Doctor of Philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy (PhD-MFT) degree program can be completed in 63 credits. Courses run either 4, 8, or 12 weeks, and you’ll generally receive 3 semester credits per course.

Course Sequence

The PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy requires the following courses for every specialization:

Students in this course will be prepared for success in the Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) doctoral program at the University. Students are introduced to relevant academic communities, professional standards, and doctoral level expectations. Essential skills, including critical thinking, comprehending complex scholarly texts and research articles, as well as ethical and effective written communications are emphasized. Students will begin to explore potential research topics for use in their doctoral studies and complete the course with a roadmap to navigate their way to degree completion. Students will also develop a personal philosophy of diversity and cultural competence, as well as continue to explore a personal fit of MFT theories.

This course provides an advanced overview of the theoretical literature related to the practice of marriage and family therapy. The course offers an opportunity to critically examine systems theories from cybernetics to natural systems. Students will also have an opportunity to reflect on common factors influencing MFT clinical practice and integration of various systems-based models.

This course examines the theoretical and empirical contributions to the understanding of diverse couple and family systems. The specific focus of the course is on the processes and dynamics of interaction within these relationships, highlighting that from a life course perspective, these dynamics change over time. The course will include content on the history of family life and diverse family types, exploring various family structures and roles. Legal processes related to families will also be reviewed. Conceptualizations of effective functioning in couple and families will be studied and various factors that impact couple and family systems will be addressed.

This course provides students the opportunity to prepare a collection of documents or artifacts that represent their progress through the program, as well as the achievement of specific academic and professional goals.

This course focuses on the scholarly review of literature and academic writing in the field of Marriage and Family Therapy. The course emphasizes preparation for an applied dissertation focused on issues at the local, community, or societal level. In this course, students will a) conduct effective literature searches; b) critically read and synthesize current research; c) write comprehensive, critical, and synthesized reviews of research literature; d) critically review and write about theoretical frameworks; e) address issues of diversity and ethics pertaining to research topics; and f) exercise cultural awareness while apprising a possible research topic. The overarching goal of this course is for students to conduct an exhaustive search of the peer-reviewed research literature in their topic area and identify potential areas of inquiry for their dissertation in the framework of the field of Marriage and Family Therapy.

This course provides students with an opportunity to demonstrate their competence in advanced MFT practice. Emphasis is placed on the clinical competence in working with diverse populations, advanced application of family and couple therapy models, ethical decision-making, and professional growth. Students must be clinically active during the course and participate in weekly clinical supervision.

This course provides students with an opportunity to demonstrate their competence in advanced relational/systemic practice. Emphasis is placed on the clinical competence in working with diverse populations, advanced application of family and couple therapy models, ethical decision-making, and professional growth. Students must be clinically active during the course and participate in scheduled supervisory sessions with their University supervisor.

This practicum course provides students opportunities to enhance their ability to help MFT students begin their growth toward clinical competence and professional identity as an MFT. Students will be invited to participate in the supervision of the University’s MFT master’s students while receiving guidance from the University instructor on the development of their supervisory skills. The course will provide an opportunity to engage in discussions and practice of supervisory tasks enhancing students’ ability to further develop their identities as MFTs and future MFT supervisors.

This course introduces the fundamentals of systemic supervision with an emphasis on the importance of contextual variables such as culture, SES, and ethnicity. There is also an exploration of the impact of gender on the supervisory relationship. The design of the course meets the criteria for the 30-hour supervision fundamentals course for the AAMFT Approved Supervisor track. The intention is for the course also to be useful for any professional who is actively engaged in clinical supervision. Learning methods include short writing exercises and 15 hours of participant involvement in videoconferences with colleagues and course faculty. During the videoconferences there will be critiques of vignettes, role playing exercises, and discussion of short papers. Participants wishing to pursue the AAMFT Approved Supervisor designation should verify their eligibility with AAMFT.

This graduate-level introductory research methods course builds on the Scholarly Literature Review course. In addition, it provides a foundation for subsequent research courses in preparation for successfully completing a dissertation at the University. Students will practice some of the skills learned in the Scholarly Literature Review course, such as how to critically analyze the work of others, but now with a focus on methods utilized. In addition, students will learn to critically discuss the primary research methodologies used in scholarly research, determine the steps to collect data, and begin to explore techniques used to analyze original data relating to marriage and family therapy. Students will also identify what criteria are needed for a quality research project and be able to recognize whether the various elements of a research study are aligned and cohesive. These topics and others will be examined with the goal of enhancing a student’s independent scholarly skills and preparing them for their own dissertation research and future scholarly endeavors.

In this course, you will learn how to use statistical analyses in research. You will explore key aspects of descriptive and inferential statistics and learn how to use statistical software to analyze data. You will gain skills as an independent scholar by enhancing your scientific and statistical literacy. Therefore, emphasis will be on comprehending statistical concepts, analyzing, interpreting, and critically evaluating data and statistical information, and communicating statistical information and knowledge.

In this course, students are trained to develop and evaluate research studies in behavioral sciences. Students will become familiar with sampling, research design, reliability, validity, and the creation and interpretation of measures in marriage and family therapy. Students will also identify and critique specific measures and evaluation tools and methods for potential use in their own research projects.

In this course students will add to and refine the collection of documents or artifacts that represent their progress through the program, as well as the achievement of specific academic and professional goals.

This course will provide you with the philosophical foundation of interpretive qualitative inquiry and addresses beginning skills essential to the critique and execution of qualitative research in marriage and family therapy. You will become familiar with the major research paradigms and the assumptions inherent to qualitative inquiry. You will learn to identify elements critical to the credibility of a qualitative study and apply this knowledge by evaluating selected published research. You will also develop basic skills in qualitative data analysis, and develop a research purpose statement and research question that can be addressed qualitatively while incorporating contextual knowledge and ethical guidelines promoted by the AAMFT Code of Ethics.

The APEC is the capstone clinical experience. During each APEC course, students propose activities they will engage in that are congruent with their programmatic clinical specialization. Students must also select at least two areas from the following to focus on during the APEC: advanced research, grant-writing, teaching, supervision, consultation, advanced clinical theory, clinical practice/innovation, program development, leadership, or policy. Students may also propose to pursue opportunities for presenting and professional writing. As part of the APEC contract, students identify the artifacts or deliverables they will submit at the end of each of the three APEC courses as evidence they have achieved their goals for the experience.

The APEC is the capstone clinical experience. In this course, students propose activities they will engage in that are congruent with their programmatic clinical specialization. Students must also select at least two areas from the following to focus on during the APEC: advanced research, grant-writing, teaching, supervision, consultation, advanced clinical theory, clinical practice/innovation, program development, leadership, or policy. Students may also propose to pursue opportunities for presenting and professional writing. As part of the APEC contract, students identify the artifacts or deliverables they will submit at the end of the courses as evidence they have achieved their goals for the experience.

The APEC is the capstone clinical experience. In this course, students propose activities they will engage in that are congruent with their programmatic clinical specialization. Students must also select at least two areas from the following to focus on during the APEC: advanced research, grant-writing, teaching, supervision, consultation, advanced clinical theory, clinical practice/innovation, program development, leadership, or policy. Students may also propose to pursue opportunities for presenting and professional writing. As part of the APEC contract, students identify the artifacts or deliverables they will submit at the end of the courses as evidence they have achieved their goals for the experience.

This course will provide students with an overview of the major types of qualitative inquiry and advance their skills toward the execution of qualitative research in marriage and family therapy. Students will practice multiple types of data collection and analysis. In addition, they will develop a paper that lays the foundation for their dissertation proposal. This process will require application of the assumptions inherent to the qualitative research paradigm: select an appropriate study type, and design a qualitative methodology appropriate to the research question developed in the framework of the qualitative design.

This course will introduce you to the uses and techniques of advanced quantitative design and analysis in marriage and family therapy and related fields. You will become competent consumers of quantitative research by learning how quantitative information is generated, summarized, evaluated, and represented. You will be prepared to design studies using methodology associated with multivariate analysis, regression, latent variable modeling, factor analysis, and structural equation modeling. The course provides a theoretical and practical basis for choosing and employing the wide range of current analysis techniques available to social science researchers.

In this course students will add to and refine the collection of documents or artifacts that represent their progress through the program, as well as the achievement of specific academic and professional goals.

Students in this course will be required to complete Chapter 1 of their dissertation proposal including a review of literature with substantiating evidence of the problem, the research purpose and questions, the intended methodological design and approach, and the significance of the study. A completed, committee approved (against the minimum rubric standards) Chapter 1 is required to pass this course successfully. Students who do not receive approval of Chapter 1 to minimum standards will be able to take up to three supplementary 8-week courses to finalize and gain approval of Chapter 1.

Students in this course will be required to work on completing Chapters 1-3 of their dissertation proposal and receive committee approval for the Dissertation Proposal (DP) in order to pass the class. Chapter 2 consists of the literature review. Chapter 3 covers the research methodology method and design and to includes population, sample, measurement instruments, data collection and analysis, limitations, and ethical considerations. In this course, a completed, committee-approved Chapters 2 and 3 are required and, by the end of the course, a final approved dissertation proposal (against the minimum rubric standards). Students who do not receive approval of the dissertation proposal will be able to take up to three supplementary 8-week courses to finalize and gain approval of these requirements.

Students in this course will be required to prepare, submit, and obtain approval of their IRB application, collect data, and submit a final study closure form to the IRB. Students still in data collection at the end of the 12-week course will be able to take up to three supplementary 8-week courses to complete data collection and file an IRB study closure form.

In this dissertation course students work on completing Chapters 4 and 5 and the final Dissertation Manuscript. Specifically, students will complete their data analysis, prepare their study results, and present their findings in an Oral Defense and a completed manuscript. A completed, Committee approved (against the minimum rubric standards) Dissertation Manuscript and successful Oral Defense are required to complete the course and graduate. Students who do not receive approval for either or both their Dissertation Manuscript or defense can take up to three supplementary 8-week courses to finalize and gain approval of either or both items as needed.

Program at a Glance

8 professionally relevant specializations
Total Credit Hours: At Least 63 Credit Hours
Courses: 23 Courses
Average Completion Time: 78 Months
Next Start Date: Every Monday
Classroom Size: One

The PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy degree requires a minimum of 63 credit hours at the graduate level beyond the master’s degree.

NU may accept a maximum of 12 semester credit hours in transfer toward the doctoral degree for graduate coursework completed toward a doctoral degree at an accredited college or university with a grade of “B” or better. Transfer credit is only awarded for coursework that is evaluated to be substantially equivalent in content with the required coursework for the PhD degree program in Marriage and Family Therapy.

The PhD degree program in Marriage and Family Therapy (all specializations) has the following graduation requirements:

  • A minimum of 51 credit hours of graduate instruction must be completed through NU
  • Successful completion of all required degree program courses with a Grade Point Average of 3.0 (letter grade of “B”) or higher
  • Official documents on file for basis of admission: a conferred master’s degree from an accredited academic institution
  • Official transcripts on file for all transfer credit hours accepted by the University
  • All financial obligations must be met before the student will be issued their complimentary diploma and/or degree posted transcript

Beyond these standard graduation requirements, the Marriage and Family Therapy doctoral program has the following degree requirements:

  1. Online Video Conferencing – In order to complete some of the course requirements and to participate in weekly online supervision process that is used during the practicum and internship courses, students are required to participate in online video conferencing meetings throughout their time in the program. In order to participate in these video conference sessions, students are required to own or otherwise have access to a computer, a web cam, a headset, a video recording device, and a high-speed internet connection.
  2. Client Contact – Doctoral students will be required to complete 300 hours of direct client contact, which includes conducting face-to-face therapy with individuals, couples, families, and groups (face-to-face includes telehealth, but at least 50 of the 300 hours must involve therapy that is not telehealth—the therapist and clients in the same physical space). At least 150 hours of client contact must be relational (e.g., with couples or family members). For more information, please read the practicum and internship course descriptions.
  3. Supervision – In conjunction with client contact, doctoral students must receive a total of 160 hours of supervision conducted by an AAMFT-Approved Supervisor, AAMFT Supervisor Candidate, or state-approved supervisor. In some cases, students may be required to pay for local supervision. This will depend on the clinical placement location and/or local supervisor they contract with to complete their practicum and internship requirements. The decision and responsibility to pay for local supervision is entirely up to the student and not a requirement of NU. 
  4. Doctoral Internship (Advanced Practical Experience Component, or APEC) – Doctoral students are required to complete a 9-month, 20 hour a week, doctoral internship that aligns with their doctoral specialization. Students will be required to have a local supervisor with whom they can meet in-person with a minimum of 4 hours per month (i.e., one hour per week). For more information, please read the practicum and internship course descriptions.
  5. Liability Insurance – Prior to beginning any clinical experience, PhD-MFT students are required to submit proof of professional liability insurance.
  6. Supervision Coursework – In addition to advanced coursework in marriage and family therapy, students in the doctoral program must complete a course in MFT supervision methodology. The supervision course will be conducted in connection with the requirements established by AAMFT for students to become Approved Supervisors. Not all requirements will be completed for the students to achieve the designation while in the program at NU. The supervision coursework is pre-approved by the AAMFT to count for the 30-hour supervision course requirement. Students will have to complete the direct supervision and supervision mentoring requirements outside of the program in order to qualify for the Approved Supervisor designation.
  7. Doctoral Portfolio – Students are required to complete three 4-week portfolio courses in which they develop a portfolio that showcases their academic, research, clinical, and professional competence. Students will upload a variety of documents to the portfolio, such as their degree plan, resume, and key course assignments, as evidence of their progress and abilities. Students must pass the final portfolio course, which is the last course taken, in order to become a doctoral candidate and advance to the dissertation sequence.
  8. Dissertation – The capstone of doctoral training is the completion of the dissertation process. All programs at NU use a facilitated dissertation process that is purposefully designed to help students follow a step-by-step sequence in the preparation and completion of a doctoral dissertation. For students in the MFT program, the dissertation must be related to marriage and family therapy and be consistent with the student’s selected area of specialization. (Note: The dissertation portion of the PhD-MFT program can be completed with a minimum of 12 credit hours in Dissertation Courses, but may require additional credit hours, depending on the time the student takes to complete the dissertation research.)

The National University PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy degree can equip you with the specialized skills that employers seek, in roles such as*:

  • Marriage and family therapists
  • Mental health counselors
  • Behavioral health clinician/behavioral care manager/coordinator/counselor
  • Telehealth counselor
  • Behavioral Health Agency Clinical Director
  • Postsecondary teacher (faculty, instructor, professor)
  • Clinical Supervisor
  • Researcher

Career opportunities arise in both telecounseling and in-person settings alike, such as:

  • Private and independent counseling practices
  • Hospitals
  • Individual and family service providers
  • In-home family therapy
  • Schools
  • Colleges and universities

*SOURCE: Emsi Labor Analyst- Report. Emsi research company homepage at https://www.economicmodeling.com/company/ (Report viewed: 7/06/2022). DISCLAIMER: The data provided is for Informational purposes only. Emsi data and analysis utilizes government sources to provide insights on industries, demographics, employers, in-demand skills, and more to align academic programs with labor market opportunities. Cited projections may not reflect local or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Current and prospective students should use this data with other available economic data to inform their educational decisions.

*As of May 2023, Kansas and New Hampshire do not or may not accept the NU MAMFT degree as meeting their educational requirements for licensure. Please review your local MFT license requirements to make sure you will meet local requirements.

State Supervision Requirements
Each state has rules and regulations outlining the requirements regarding the supervision experience, how many supervision hours are required, and the requirements for someone to be accepted as a supervisor in their state. In addition, some states specifically count client contact hours and supervision hours completed during the practicum experience at a COAMFTE-accredited program as applicable to post-graduate requirements.

Ask a Licensure Question
While each state board is the ultimate authority on their own rules and regulations governing the practice of marriage and family therapy in their state, sometimes it is difficult to know where to start or what to ask. If you are an applicant, student, or alumni and you have a question about licensure in your state do one or both of the following:

  • Each state has rules and regulations outlining the types of licenses offered, requirements for licensure, including specific educational components, post-graduation clinical experience and supervision, and examination requirements. Licensure requirements are subject to change, so you must keep up with the current licensure legislation in your state.
  • Contact our Clinical Training Administrative Team at MFTTraining@nu.edu.

Click here to view licensure requirements by state.

Program Learning Outcomes

  • Students will cultivate relational/systemic innovations addressing contemporary issues in the field of marriage and family therapy. 
  • Students/graduates will develop expertise in an area of specialization related to the field of couple/marriage & family therapy. 
  • Students will cultivate competence in working with diverse populations in various contexts. 
  • Students will create new knowledge in couple/marriage and family therapy through independent research. 
  • Students will appraise relational/systemic ethical behaviors in various settings. 

Accredited: May 2015
Advertised Program Length: 6.5 years

Cohort Year Students Entered Program # of Students in Program Graduation Rate in Advertised Time (%)* Job Placement Rate (%)***
2015 – 2016 37 24.3% 93.3%
2016 – 2017 61 21.3% 100%
2017 – 2018 44 In process (IP) In process (IP)
2018 – 2019 43 IP IP
2019 – 2020 53 IP IP
2020 – 2021 54 IP IP
2021 – 2022 39 IP IP
2022 – 2023 37 IP IP
2023 – 2024 6 IP IP
*Graduation Rate is the program’s Advertised Length of Completion which is how long the program is designed to complete as written.
**Job Placement Rate is the percentage of graduates from the cohort year that are employed utilizing skills learned in the COAMFTE accredited program.

***In Process (IP): Students are still in the process of completing the program within the advertised timeframe.
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Why Choose Doctor of Philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy at National University

  • Eight and Twelve Week Courses
  • Online Delivery
  • Year-Round Enrollment
  • One-to-One Teaching and Learning
  • Courses Taught by Doctoral Faculty
  • Military Friendly

We're proud to be a Veteran-founded, San Diego-based nonprofit. Since 1971, our mission has been to provide accessible, achievable higher education to adult learners. Today, we educate students from across the U.S. and around the globe, with over 230,000 alumni worldwide.

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Program Disclosure

Successful completion and attainment of National University degrees do not lead to automatic or immediate licensure, employment, or certification in any state/country. The University cannot guarantee that any professional organization or business will accept a graduate's application to sit for any certification, licensure, or related exam for the purpose of professional certification.

Program availability varies by state. Many disciplines, professions, and jobs require disclosure of an individual's criminal history, and a variety of states require background checks to apply to, or be eligible for, certain certificates, registrations, and licenses. Existence of a criminal history may also subject an individual to denial of an initial application for a certificate, registration, or license and/or result in the revocation or suspension of an existing certificate, registration, or license. Requirements can vary by state, occupation, and/or licensing authority.

NU graduates will be subject to additional requirements on a program, certification/licensure, employment, and state-by-state basis that can include one or more of the following items: internships, practicum experience, additional coursework, exams, tests, drug testing, earning an additional degree, and/or other training/education requirements.

All prospective students are advised to review employment, certification, and/or licensure requirements in their state, and to contact the certification/licensing body of the state and/or country where they intend to obtain certification/licensure to verify that these courses/programs qualify in that state/country, prior to enrolling. Prospective students are also advised to regularly review the state's/country's policies and procedures relating to certification/licensure, as those policies are subject to change.

National University degrees do not guarantee employment or salary of any kind. Prospective students are strongly encouraged to review desired job positions to review degrees, education, and/or training required to apply for desired positions. Prospective students should monitor these positions as requirements, salary, and other relevant factors can change over time.