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What Courses Do You Have to Take When Doing an MFT Program?

In early human development, the family plays a huge role in shaping a child's behavior, and family life isn’t always as happy-go-lucky as it’s made out to be on early 2000s sitcoms. When complex family situations arise, marriage and family therapists (MFTs) can help turn rough patches into opportunities for building connection and trust. For this reason, many families turn to counseling to resolve their familial problems. 

If you're interested in family therapy education, earning a master’s degree (or an equivalent degree) in marriage and family therapy may help you in your pursuit to becoming a practicing MFT.  And if you’re preparing to enter this type of program, you may wonder what kind of marriage and family therapy classes you should expect to take.

Do you want to become a family therapist? Then enroll in our MFT program. The following is a simple guide to MFT courses. We’ll be exploring courses common to both MA and PsyD degrees. From ethics to biology, get ready for a little pre-education for your future MFT program.

MFT Law and Ethics

When you become an MFT student, one of the first aspects of getting an MFT degree is typically understanding applicable law and medical ethics. While you may want to delve into the actual practice or scientific background of therapy, it’s necessary to have a strong grasp on how the field has developed its own code of ethics.

An MFT Law and Ethics class might spend significant portions of time exploring:

  • Confidentiality – What you can and cannot say to others as a therapist is complex and multifaceted. This course will investigate HIPAA requirements for therapists, and discuss how medical records might be protected from unwanted disclosures.
  • Code of ethics – From advocacy to diversity, the code of ethics will detail the responsibilities you have to both clients and staff. It may also contain information about advertising, court subpoenas, and general enforcement. Ethical codes are frequently updated and revised and based on specific organizations, though you can expect similar principles to be included in most codes.
  • Crimes – Occasionally, you may be in a scenario where you are privy to a crime that has been committed, or you may gather information about a potential future crime. Different states have different requirements when it comes to reporting threats and crimes, and it is an ethically complex mandate that can be explored in detail.

Trauma and Crisis Intervention

Depending on your future career, you may deal in high-intensity situations where potential crises can occur. To prepare for whatever the therapeutic world throws at you, MFT students typically spend time in a trauma and crisis intervention course.

This course may explore subjects like:

  • Identifying potential crises – The warning signs of a crisis aren’t always clear to the average person, but a trained MFT will know the key clues for spotting a potential personal safety risk through investigative coursework.
  • Psychological profiles – Often, those who have been the victims of trauma exhibit a variety of shared characteristics. This course will spend time examining common factors in trauma, allowing you to more effectively diagnose and treat those suffering from trauma.
  • PTSD treatment – Post-traumatic stress disorder is found frequently in those who have lived through excessive physical or mental trauma. To further your practice as an MFT, this course will provide the tools necessary to help patients dealing with PTSD and create safe and effective means for assisting them with their illness.


Practicing marriage and family therapists typically have a strong educational background in the prescribed medicines used to treat various disorders. Depression, anxiety, and ADHD are common ailments that may come up in therapeutic practice, therefore a course in psychopharmacology should adequately prepare you to use everything the medical field has developed to aid your patients.

A class in psychopharmacology or pharmacotherapy will entail lessons such as:

  • Basic brain chemistry – The engine that powers it all. Mental health and therapy are all about the brain, so a general chemical and biological understanding of the various mechanisms of your gray matter is a key part of a holistic MFT education.
  • Pharmacology – Get to know the tools of the trade. While things like talk therapy are one aspect of therapy, pharmaceutical drugs are frequently used in tandem for stronger results. You should expect to study various chemicals, their effects on the brain, potential side effects, dosage, and more.
  • Case studies – You may spend significant class time examining various case studies of psychiatric disorders and the pharmaceutical drugs used to treat them. You’ll develop an understanding of drug combinations and the various results that have been found in clinical trials and specific cases.

Chemical Dependency and the Family

Those interested in the adjacent field of addiction health will find plenty of utility in classes focused on chemical dependency and the family. In fact, marriages and family therapists may choose to specialize in the chemical dependency field to allow for a unique career path and employment opportunities.

An MFT student in this class can be expected to learn about:

  • Interventions – Addiction specialists are frequently called to assist with interventions for those suffering from various addictions. This delicate and unique process may be an integral part of your coursework. 
  • 12-step recovery – This decades-old program continues to be of use to many people struggling with addiction. You may find yourself exploring the various therapeutic methods that exist in various fellowship recovery programs.
  • Biopsychosocial model – Discover the symbiotic relationship between personal biology, psychology, and social situations and the understood effects all three have potential addiction problems.

Couples Therapy

Couples therapy is another avenue that marriage and family therapists can explore in their work. As such, most MFT students can expect to take one or several courses expanding on the practices of effective couples therapy.

Couples therapy courses typically cover a range of subjects, including:

  • Communication – Discover ways to address communication issues, deal with trust and intimacy problems, and resolve conflicts through honesty and interpersonal exchanges. Helping your clients hear each other is paramount for a marriage therapist.
  • Power dynamics – Understand how to clarify and adjust various power dynamics within a relationship. Power dynamics between couples in therapy may become more pronounced when a therapist is involved, so you will also need to learn to mitigate your involvement in the existing dynamics.
  • Reconciliations – Often couples seeking therapy are dealing with long-developing traumas or histories resulting in a lack of trust. Helping your patients meet the reconciliatory goals and further their agency within their relationship may be a necessary skill for many therapists.

Biological Aspects of Behavior

There is more to the field of therapy and psychology than just the chemicals in the brain. Those pursuing an advanced degree in therapy will likely spend time learning about the physiological, biological, and genetic aspects of human behavior.

Courses in this subject may spend ample time discussing concepts like:

  • Behavior genetics – Can your ancestors really influence what you do today? Expect to explore the scientific link between hereditary genetics and human behaviors.
  • Hormonal and chemical regulation – Learn about how your body processes various chemicals. Additionally, expect to tackle the biological functions of regulating hormones that play a large role in mental health and cognition.
  • Information processing – Determine the various biological factors involved with learning and information acquisition. Memory and your central nervous system are inextricably linked in unique and surprising ways.

Social Basis of Behavior

How we behave in the larger world, at work, in public, or even as a local community may be a field of inquiry for those involved in both therapy and clinical research. While focusing on mental health and therapy as an individualistic experience is important, the greater context of our social structures can have a massive effect on human behavior.

Course work for a social basis of behavior could include the following subjects:

  • Group dynamics – How people act both in and outside of groups has been a major field of research. This class may outline various cases, research, and developed methods of studying group dynamics.
  • Context of culture – Those seeking to understand how the greater culture shapes individuals should find plenty to investigate in this course.
  • Sex roles – Explore how gender and sex come to define individuals within a large social context. The class will likely help you develop a practice for understanding performative roles, and the entrenchment of heteronormativity.

History and Systems of Psychology

Much has changed since the advent of psychology. With nearly 200 years of study, it’s now the place of contemporary students to understand the development and historical context of the field. History and systems of psychology courses typically offer a student the chance to learn about topics such as:

  • Psychology pioneers – You may study Freud, Jung, Adler, and other figures best known for their historic contributions. 
  • Historical developments – Learn about the creation of various schools of psychology as well as the medical organizations that have come to represent the field. This historical background can help ground a student in the overall practice and provide them with helpful context for their own studies.
  • Systems of thought – Prepare to discuss the more philosophical end of psychology. You may come to understand how abstract concepts like knowledge, reality, and existence play a role in the practice even today.

Start Your Courses at Alliant

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, it’s a great sample of what may lie ahead of you in an MFT program. And when you begin your education at Alliant, you’ll have access to hands-on training, internship opportunities, and more beyond these types of courses.

The Marital and Family Therapy degree program is COAMFTE accredited with flexible classes, and designed for the students of today. Check out our options, request info, and learn more about our programs today.


  1. “Marriage and Family Therapists : Occupational Outlook Handbook.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, September 8, 2021.…. Accessed: December 30, 2021.
  2. “The Role of Family in Child Development.” Children’s Bureau,…. Accessed: February 15, 20211

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