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What is a LMFT? Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs) help couples and families reconcile their issues and build stronger, more caring relationships. And, with nearly 15 million married people and over 13 million households in California, The Golden State is a prime place for aspiring LMFTs to set up their practice.1

Becoming an LMFT in California isn’t an overnight process, however. If you’re wondering “Is an MFT degree worth it?”, prospective therapists must undertake a multi-year journey of education, experience, and certification before treating their first clients.

If you have a keen interest in Marital and Family Therapy (MFT), however, the process can be both academically stimulating and personally rewarding. So, to get you started toward a fulfilling future, this guide unpacks how to become a LMFT in California—from schooling to testing and licensure.

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Educational Pathway to LMFT Licensure

Determining how to become a marriage and family therapist in California means finding your starting line. LMFTs in California require a relevant master’s or doctoral degree to apply for licensure.2 So, if you have yet to obtain either, that’s your jumping-off point.

Unless you already have another related postgraduate degree and plan to pursue a PhD in MFT, a master’s is your likely first step. Generally, MFT program master’s degrees don’t need an undergraduate degree in psychology or a similar discipline, instead allowing students to switch fields to pursue their passions. The master’s in marital and family therapy at Alliant, for instance, requires:3 

  • A bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution
  • A two to four-page essay explaining your interest in, and readiness to, study MFT
  • A completed application
  • Your resume
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • A faculty interview
  • Transcripts from your undergraduate degree indicating solid academic performance

Enrolling in our MFT master’s program and continuing education can provide you with the practical and theoretical skills necessary to assess and treat patients in clinical and therapeutic settings. It will also give you the opportunity to accumulate hands-on experience in mental health counseling through client contact and professional development. Not only can this real-world training be crucial to securing future opportunities in the field, it counts toward California's minimum practice hours for MFT licensure.

Upon completing a relevant postgraduate degree program, the state allows you to register as an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (AMFT). Before you can turn your AMFT into an LMFT, however, you'll have to attain 3,000 hours of clinical practice under the supervision of a licensed mental health professional.4 By completing our program and earning the MFT degree, students can both complete the educational requirements for licensure and obtain up to 1,300 of their clinical practice hours.

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Licensing Process for LMFT in California

After satisfying California’s educational and experiential prerequisites, you’ll be well on your way to gaining licensure. Your next hurdle will be passing the two examinations the state mandates for all LMFTs:5

  • The California Law and Ethics Exam
  • The LMFT Clinical Exam

A robust master’s or doctoral degree in MFT, such as those from Alliant, can help prepare you for success on these tests. Rigorous and structured self-study, however, can also increase your chances of doing well. 

So, when preparing for the Law and Ethics Exam, consider this topic breakdown to guide your review:6

  • Confidentiality, Privilege, and Consent (14%)
  • Limits of Confidentiality / Mandated Reporting (16%)
  • Legal Standards for Professional Practice (10%)
  • Professional Competence and Preventing Harm (18%)
  • Therapeutic Relationships (27%)
  • Business Practices and Policies (15%)

Likewise, when getting ready to write the LMFT Clinical Exam, keep this sectional analysis in mind to help keep your study efforts on track:7

  • Clinical evaluation (27%)
  • Developing a diagnostic impression (11%)
  • Managing crisis situations (11%)
  • Case conceptualization and planning (12%)
  • Treatment (29%)
  • Managing legal and ethical obligations within the therapeutic relationship (10%)

After taking and successfully passing both of these exams, you’ll have officially completed all the prerequisites for becoming a LMFT. Now, the only thing left to do is apply for licensure through the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS).  The process can be quite simple and may be completed by:8

  • Applying online with your assigned AMFT registration
  • Mailing the application form to the BBS’s office in Sacramento

As you’ll only be able to register as an AMFT after completing your degree and be permitted to take the California clinical exam after completing your practice hours, the BBS will quickly know whether or not you’re qualified for the LMFT license. Thus, they’ll need little more than your Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), $200, and about 30 days to process your request. 

The BBS will have an in-depth history of your education and experience by this point and may review it thoroughly before issuing your license. So, make sure to only enroll in accredited programs as you’re studying to avoid denial upon completing your long and challenging journey. 

Is it Hard to Become an LMFT in California?

There are different pros and cons of being a marriage and family therapist, and the path to becoming an LMFT is indeed lengthy and taxing, but those with a genuine interest in psychology, whether it's clinical psychology or counseling psychology, should find it informative and rewarding as well. Plus, if you enroll in a reputable, accredited institution such as Alliant, you’ll receive a first-rate education administered by some of California’s best and brightest psychology scholars. 

Alliant offers two postgraduate degrees in LMFT: a master’s in marital and family therapy and a doctorate in marital and family therapy. Both can qualify you to write California’s clinical and ethical exams and help prepare you for a successful career as an LMFT in the Golden State and beyond.

Benefits of Master's and Doctorate MFT Programs at Alliant

Alliant is one of the few schools in California with Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) accreditation. Being COAMFTE-accredited makes it far easier to transfer your LMFT license to another state than other accreditation standards. So, if life beckons you beyond the Golden Coast, you won’t have to restart your education to continue your career.

Additionally, choosing Alliant means learning from some of the finest educators the field has to offer. With a diverse faculty specializing in a wealth of relevant disciplines, you’ll benefit from a robust education that spans the LMFT field. Some primary areas of study include:9

  • Group therapy
  • MFT law and ethics
  • Trauma and crisis intervention
  • MFT theories and techniques
  • Diversity and the family
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Chemical dependence

Our MFT programs also allow you to accumulate up to 1,300 of the 3,000 practice hours required by the BBS—meaning you’ll be able to write your exams and start practicing sooner upon graduation.

With a comprehensive curriculum, top accreditation, and the opportunity for ample clinical hours, Alliant offers everything aspiring LMFTs can want in a postgraduate program—the only thing missing is your application


  1. “California.” Data Commons.…. Accessed November 13, 2023. 
  2.   “Information for Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (AMFT) and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) Applicants.” California Board of Behavioral Sciences. Accessed November 13, 2023.
  3. “Admissions and Registration.” Alliant International University.…. Accessed November 13, 2023. 
  4. “MFT TRAINEE & ASSOCIATE MARRIAGE AND FAMILY THERAPIST SUPERVISOR INFORMATION & QUALIFICATIONS.” California Board of Behavioral Sciences. January. 2022. Accessed November 13, 2023. 
  5. “Information for Associate Marriage and Family Therapist (AMFT) and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) Applicants.” California Board of Behavioral Sciences. Accessed November 13, 2023.
  6. “The Law and Ethics for Associate Marriage and Family Therapists in California.” California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. April, 2023.…. Accessed November 13, 2023. 
  7. “Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists Clinical Examination Outline.” Pearson Vue. January 1, 2021.…. Accessed November 13, 2023. 
  8. “Application for Initial License Issuance. “Board of Behavioral Sciences.” Accessed November 12, 2023.
  9. “Doctor of Psychology in Marital and Family Therapy.” Alliant International University.…. Accessed November 14, 2023 

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