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If you’re looking for a psychology, therapy, or clinical counseling master’s program, you might be considering programs with COAMFTE or CACREP accreditations. 

While these accreditation institutions are relatively similar—and somewhat equally respected in the mental health field—they do pose distinct differences for students in their accredited programs. 

How does accreditation work? What’s the difference between COAMFTE vs. CACREP? Should you choose a COAMFTE-accredited program or a CACREP-accredited one? We’re answering all of these questions (and more) in this guide for prospective graduate students. 

What is an Accredited Program?

In higher education in the United States, institutions that wish to maintain the highest possible quality standards for instruction must become accredited. Accreditation involves three separate types of institutions, formally recognized as the Triad:1

  1. Non-governmental accreditation organizations – These non-governmental, private institutions aren’t affiliated with any college or university. They collectively set standards for the institutions that seek and maintain accreditation from them, using industry standards and research to support their criteria. Both COAMFTE and CACREP fall into this category. 
  2. State government agencies – State government agencies also approve both educational institutions and regional accreditation agencies in their respective states. These agencies also typically set state licensure requirements.
  3. Federal government agencies – As of 2023, the US Department of Education is responsible for overseeing and approving non-governmental regulatory agencies and state government agencies to accredit colleges and universities around the country.

So, to be accredited, an educational institution must:

  1. Receive approval from a state government agency
  2. Receive accreditation from a non-governmental accreditation organization approved by the US Department of Education
  3. In some cases, receive a regional or state accreditation from another entity (typically specified by state licensure requirements for graduates)

While this process is nuanced, students should note a few key takeaways before enrolling in a program:

  • Review requirements for your future career – Your state or specific career track may have highly specific requirements you must meet to apply for licensure or work. This might include graduating from a psychology or counseling program accredited by a specific institution, like COAMFTE.
  • Ensure your program of choice meets those requirements before enrolling – Make sure that the educational program you choose provides a psychology or counseling degree and learning experience that will meet the licensure or hiring requirements for your chosen career. 
  • Stay up-to-date on changes – As you progress through your educational program, take note of any regulatory or accreditation changes that could impact your future licensure. 

What Do Universities Have to Do to Earn (and Maintain) Accreditation?

To earn accreditation from an organization like COAMFTE or CACREP, an educational program’s team must:2,3 

  1. Implement the standards of the accreditation they’re pursuing and become eligible
  2. Start collecting data on student and program performance
  3. Submit a letter of intent to the accrediting body
  4. Submit a self-study report of their program and its performance
  5. Receive a self-study review from the accrediting body
  6. Host the accrediting body for a site visit and await a site visit report
  7. Respond to the site visit report
  8. Await the accrediting body’s decision about whether or not to accredit the program

The process is similar for renewing an accreditation. 

What is COAMFTE?

Students pursuing graduate degrees in psychology, counseling, and other mental health fields must choose between two major accreditation bodies: COAMFTE and CACREP. Let’s begin our comparison by breaking down the former. 

Brief History of COAMFTE

The Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy (COAMFTE) is one accrediting body regulating marriage and family therapy graduate education in the United States.4

  • In 1974, the organization formed as the Committee on Accreditation, and their goal was to establish and promote best practices for marriage and family therapy education programs at the graduate and post-graduate level.
  • The Committee published its first standards in 1975—the Manual on Accreditation. Educational programs began to adopt these standards ahead of formal accreditation processes. 
  • By 1978, the Committee changed its name to the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) and began accrediting educational programs per its intended goal. 

COAMFTE Standards

COAMFTE aims to develop and support best practices in marriage and family therapy education programs specifically. To accomplish this goal, they publish and routinely update their standards. A COAMFTE accredited program must comply with these standards to maintain their accreditation. 

The most recent version of the COAMFTE standards covers six major areas:5

  1. Outcome-based education
  2. Commitment to diversity and inclusion
  3. Infrastructure and environmental supports
  4. Curriculum
  5. Program effectiveness and improvement

Programs must document and self-analyze their performance in each of these areas to achieve and maintain accreditation—and this performance must be deemed satisfactory by the COAMFTE accreditation board.

The Role of COAMFTE in Counseling Education

Want to learn how to get counseling experience throughout your studies? In addition to accrediting educational programs and setting training standards, COAMFTE also supports the marriage and family therapy field as a whole by:

  • Offering training and resources to accredited programs and professionals in the field
  • Compiling industry-related research and reports
  • Offering a system for graduates to track and verify their clinical experience for licensure

They also maintain a database of accredited programs that prospective students can use as they search for educational tracks for their future careers. 

What is CACREP?

Like COAMFTE, CACREP is an accrediting body for mental health education programs. Let’s explore this body’s history, standards, and role in more detail.

Brief History of CACREP

So, what is CACREP? The Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) was founded in the late 1960s as ACES, or the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision.6

Throughout the late 60s and early 70s, ACES maintained standards for voluntary accreditation for counseling programs around the country. By 1981, they had merged with another regulatory body—the American Personnel and Guidance Association—to cooperatively accredit educational programs under the CACREP name. 

CACREP aims to promote excellence in counseling and related training programs, develop standards, and provide leadership in the field. 

CACREP Standards

CACREP standards were most recently updated in 2016, covering four major areas of counseling education:7

  1. The learning environment
  2. Professional counseling identity
  3. Professional practice
  4. Evaluation in the program

CACREP’s reach is broad, and they also offer more specific standards for a variety of counseling fields, including:

  • Addiction counseling
  • Career counseling
  • Clinical mental health counseling
  • Clinical rehabilitation counseling
  • College counseling and student affairs
  • Marriage, couple, and family counseling
  • School counseling
  • Counselor education and supervision

The Role of CACREP in Counseling Education

In addition to accrediting a variety of counseling education programs, CACREP also engages in the mental health field by:

  • Publishing reports and guides for member programs, professionals, and students
  • Conducting research and connecting graduate students with research opportunities
  • Issuing awards to mental health education professionals
  • Posting news articles related to counseling education and mental health at large

However, their primary role is accreditation—recognizing educational programs that meet or exceed their quality standards for mental health counselor or therapist training. 

What is the Difference Between COAMFTE and CACREP?

With a clear picture of what each accrediting body does in counseling education at large, let’s compare the two organizations.


One clear distinction between COAMFTE and CACREP is each organization’s scope:

  • CACREP accredits programs in a wide variety of counseling fields
  • COAMFTE accredits programs for marital and family therapy only

This is key for prospective students, especially those who are unsure of which counseling field they’re interested in. Although marriage and family therapy is a discipline with wide-ranging applications (and a variety of career prospects), future students should make sure that their program of choice will cover the entire scope of their ideal career. 

Licensing Impacts

No matter what kind of state counseling license you decide to pursue after graduation, read your state’s accreditation requirements closely. 

For instance, in Arizona, different licenses require education from differently accredited programs:

  • The Associate Counselor and Professional Counselor licenses require a degree from a CACREP accredited program.8
  • The Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and Marriage and Family Therapist licenses require a degree from a COAMFTE accredited program.9

Students should choose a program (and its accreditation) carefully before committing to a program—it could impact their licensure process or eligibility in the future.

When Should You Consider COAMFTE vs. CACREP Programs?

Both COAMFTE and CACREP are highly rigorous accreditation programs backed by the US Department of Education—they represent the gold standards of mental health education in today’s training landscape. 

But if you’re not sure which degree track to choose, when should accreditation become a significant factor to consider?

  • If your state only accepts one accreditation – If your state licensing board will only accept a degree from a CACREP or COAMFTE accredited program, you’ll need to comply with their regulations if you want to pursue licensure in that state. 
  • If you’re pursuing a highly specialized field or career – If you have a highly specific career, post-graduate program, or agency role in mind, confirm that your chosen program (and its accreditation) is compatible with your goals. 

In most cases, students will be able to secure a license and work in their field (provided they meet other licensing requirements outside of degree completion) whether their training program was accredited through COAMFTE or CACREP. Both bodies are widely recognized and respected throughout the mental health profession.

Discover Graduate Programs at Alliant International University

Whether you’re just starting the research process or you’re ready to start applying to graduate mental health educational programs, the COAMFTE vs. CACREP consideration is an important one. While both organizations are well-respected, some licenses and careers may require degrees accredited by a specific body. 

If you’re ready to start your career training, take your education to the next level, or discover graduate school opportunities, learn more about Alliant International University. We offer graduate degrees in clinical counseling, marital and family therapy, and other professional psychology-related fields to lay the groundwork for a successful career in mental health. 

Whether you choose to attend one of our beautiful campuses in California and Arizona or complete your degree online, Alliant International University can help set you on a path to success. 


  1. “Accreditation in the United States.” US Department of Education. June 15, 2023. Accessed June 20, 2023.
  2. “Accreditation Process Timeline.” COAMFTE.…. Accessed June 20, 2023.
  3. “Program FAQs.” CACREP. Accessed June 20, 2023.
  4. “About COAMFTE.” COAMFTE.…. Accessed June 20, 2023. 
  5. “Accreditation Standards for Graduate and Post-Graduate Marriage and Family Therapy Training Programs.” COAMFTE. August 2017.…. Accessed June 20, 2023.
  6. “About CACREP.” CACREP. Accessed June 20, 2023.
  7. “2016 CACREP Standards.” CACREP. Accessed June 20, 2023.
  8. “Counseling.” Arizona State Board of Behavioral Health Examiners. Accessed June 20, 2023. 
  9. “Marriage and Family Therapy.” Arizona State Board of Behavioral Health Examiners. Accessed June 20, 2023. 

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