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If you want to make a meaningful impact on the lives of others, you may feel called to look up what is an MFT therapist and maybe pursue a career as a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT). 

To become an MFT, it’s beneficial to start by undergoing your state’s required education, training, and licensure. One of the first steps in this process is earning your Marriage family therapy masters or doctoral degree. Choosing the right counselor education graduate program is important. You’ll want to make sure your marriage family therapy program is accredited and sets you up to qualify for California licensure.

If you want to learn more about clinical psychology and MFT programs in California, you’re in the right place. Below, we’ll explain how to apply, what you might expect from your family therapy degree program, and how to obtain your MFT license after your graduate study.

MFT Program Application Process in California

So what is an MFT degree, and how do you apply? Before you can apply for MFT programs in California, it’s smart to earn your bachelor’s degree. Many MFT graduate programs accept all majors, but taking a few courses in psychology can help set you as a MFT up for success. 

Beyond having a bachelor’s degree, MFT graduate program eligibility requirements can vary quite notably from university to university. For example, some California-based MFT programs may require:

  • Specific GPA (often 3.0 or above)
  • Bachelor’s degree in psychology or a closely-related field
  • Certain GRE test score
  • Completion of prerequisite classes
  • Resume and cover letter
  • Letters of recommendation

As a future MFT student, putting together your MFT program application can take anywhere from a few days to a few months, depending on the required materials and prerequisites for your graduate study therapy program.

Components of an MFT Program

The purpose of attending an MFT graduate program is to acquire the knowledge, clinical psychology skills, and experience that can help you pass your state’s licensure exam and work as a professional MFT.

Most MFT master's programs consist of at least 60 total credit, which may take two to three years to fulfill. Most MFT doctoral programs are even more comprehensive. 

The family counseling coursework in MFT graduate programs will typically cover the following topics:

  • Diagnosis, assessment, and treatment of mental disorders
  • Stages of development
  • Developmental issues
  • Relationships
  • Cultural sensitivity
  • Socioeconomic impacts
  • Substance use disorders
  • Human sexuality
  • California law and professional ethics

Learning about these behavioral science subjects is just one component of an MFT graduate education. The other crucial component is engaging in supervised clinical practice and putting your family counseling knowledge to the test. In California, the MFT practicum requirements are as follows1:

  • At least six-semester units or nine quarter units of supervised fieldwork or clinical training work experience
  • At least 150 hours of face-to-face counseling experience
  • 75 hours of client-centered advocacy work, face-to-face counseling, or a combination of the two

After Graduation: Becoming a Licensed MFT in California

Once you’ve earned your marriage family therapy degree, the next step is to apply for your license. You have to take a test whether you are deciding between MFT vs MSW.

To become eligible for a license post-graduation, you should:2

  • Register as an associate MFT (AMFT) 
  • Pass the two Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) exams:3
    • Law and Ethics exam
    • Clinical exam
  • Complete 3,000 hours of supervised MFT work over a minimum of 104 weeks
  • Acquire your official LMFT license

These steps can take as little as two years, though they may take longer depending on your schedule. You’ll also need to stay up to date on your continuing education requirements to be eligible for license renewal every two years.4

Job Opportunities and Employment Outlook for MFTs in California

Counseling psychology, particularly MFT, prepares students to be adept in different clinical settings. A licensed professional clinical counselor can practice school counseling in college environments, child counseling in nursery schools, rehabilitation counseling in hospitals, or clinical mental health counseling in behavioral health centers. In summary, licensed MFTs can pursue a variety of rewarding employment opportunities in the following settings:

  • Mental health clinics
  • Residential care homes
  • State government agencies
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Private practices
  • Other institutions that provide mental health services

MFT careers can also come with lucrative salaries, flexible schedules, and outstanding job fulfillment.

MFT Program Accreditation Requirements in California

Not all MFT programs are created equal. If you want to set yourself up for success, it’s important to select a counseling program that’s accredited by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) or the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE).

Accredited Marriage and Family Therapy Graduate Programs typically meet the following family therapy education criteria5:

  • At least 60 credit hours
  • A minimum of 150 hours of counseling experience and 75 hours of practicum experience
  • Rigorous MFT coursework

If you’re not sure if a certain MFT counseling program is accredited, you can reach out to the university or contact the accrediting institution.

Consider an MFT Degree from Alliant International University

As you can see, there are many steps involved in becoming an MFT in California. Once you complete these steps, you can embark on a rewarding career path that includes making a difference in the lives of your clients.

If you want to practice as an MFT in California, it’s helpful to earn your degree from a California-based university, like Alliant International University. Our California School of Professional Psychology offers a COAMFTE-accredited MFT masters program and doctoral program. We are one of the few California universities to possess this gold-standard credential. 

In addition to being COAMFTE-accredited, our MFT programs include hands-on clinical training, flexible schedules, and cultural competency training. You can also attend classes online or on campus, depending on your preference. 

Learn more about the exceptional MFT programs at Alliant today. 


  1.  “Handbook for Future LMFTs.” California Board of Behavioral Sciences. January 2022. Accessed February 16, 2022.
  2. “Important Answers to Frequently Asked Questions for Associate Marriage and Family Therapists and MFT Trainees.” California Board of Behavioral Sciences. January 2022. Accessed February 16, 2022.
  3.  “Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.” California Board of Behavioral Sciences. 2022. Accessed February 16, 2022.
  4. “Continuing Education (CE).” California Board of Behavioral Sciences. 2022. Accessed February 16, 2022.
  5.  “Important Answers to Frequently Asked Questions for Associate Marriage and Family Therapists and MFT Trainees.” California Board of Behavioral Sciences. January 2022. Accessed February 16, 2022.

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