Master of Arts in Marital and Family Therapy

Department of Counseling & Marital and Family Therapy

Program of Study


The Marital and Family Therapy Program’s mission is to educate and actively support a community of future professionals who embody the philosophy of a biopsychosocial, systems oriented approach to mental health care.

The Master of Arts in marital and family therapy (MFT) is a non-thesis degree program requiring 60 units of coursework  and successful completion of a comprehensive written examination. As part of the program, students complete a 12-month clinical practicum where they accumulate 500 direct client contact hours of which at least 250 hours are with couples and families. Students also receive more than 200 hours of supervision from both faculty and practicum site supervisors. The MFT program meets the guidelines for family therapy training set forth by the Board of Behavioral Sciences, which regulates licensure of marriage and family therapists in California. Additional requirements beyond the master's degree must be completed to obtain the license, primarily post-degree supervised clinical experience. The program has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) since 1992. The Commission on Accreditation is the standard setting organization for family therapy designated by the Department of Education. Ours is one of only 10 master's programs in California recognized by the Commission.

The schedule of coursework may vary each semester, but most courses are offered at least twice a year. Students choose coursework for each semester with the help of their advisors.

Clinical Emphasis

The program emphasizes teaching students the clinical skills they need to be proficient marriage and family therapists. The program believes that all competent clinicians need to be able to utilize a biopsychosocial perspective. This perspective conceptualizes problems as the result of the complex interaction of biological, psychological and social variables. Our students are taught the importance of considering possible biological factors in the etiology of presenting concerns and how to collaborate with the multiple professionals who come in contact with their clients.

Further, the biopsychosocial perspective emphasizes the importance of social systems as important contexts for consideration during assessment and treatment. Although primary emphasis is put on the family as the key social system, the program also considers the role that larger social systems have on individual and family functioning. Students are taught to consider, for example, the role of extended family, legal, medical and school systems. A course on gender issues examines how gender socialization impacts individuals, couples, families and the therapeutic process. Issues of diversity, such as ethnicity and race, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation are also emphasized in the program.

International Experience

At SOLES, all masters and doctoral students participate in an international experience designed to support the growth of cultural competency. Our goal is to inform best practices in working with culturally diverse populations locally, nationally and globally.

For many students, this experience will include a one- to two-week, faculty-led course abroad. For students who prefer to stay in southern California, this experience may be fulfilled through research or coursework on international issues. Service trips and site visits across the border in Tijuana are offered regularly.

MFT courses with an international component include

  • Family Development in New Zealand (Spring 2014)
  • Family Development in Slovenia & Austria (Spring 2015)
  • Introduction to Family Counseling in England and Portugal (Fall 2013)


Prerequisite Courses

Core Curriculum (60 units)

MFTS 500 Evidence Based Practice in Family Therapy
MFTS 523 Family Therapy Theories I
MFTS 524 Family Therapy Theories II
MFTS 528 Psychopathology in the Family
MFTS 529 Ethical & Legal Issues in Family Therapy
MFTS 532 Human Diversity in Family Therapy
MFTS 533 Family Development
MFTS 541 Systemic Treatment of Children
MFTS 543 Developmental Psychopathology
MFTS 544 Psychopharmacology and Systems
MFTS 546 Couples & Sex Therapy
MFTS-562 Recovery-oriented Case Management
MFTS-563 Collaborative Care
MFTS-566 Individual, Family, & Community Trauma
MFTS 570 Systemic Treatment of Substance Abuse
MFTS 571 Family Violence
MFTS 574 Aging Issues in Family Therapy
MFTS 575 Social Neuroscience for Family Therapists
MFTS-577 Treatment of Severe Mental Illness
MFTS 578 Spiritual Issues in Family Therapy
MFTS 595 Practicum in MFT 1
MFTS 596 Practicum in MFT 2
MFTS 597 Practicum in MFT 3

Electives (1 unit)

Take 1 of the following 3 courses:

MFTS 542 Families of Children with Special Needs
MFTS 572 Gender Issues in Family Therapy
MFTS 573 Group Therapy
MFTS 576 Self of the Therapist

Frequently Asked Questions

How long will the program take me?

Full-time students complete their degree in two years, including summer and intersession coursework. Students who begin this program in the Spring semester will require a minimum of two and a half years to complete it. Most students pursue this degree full-time.

Part-time students complete their degree in two and a half to three years. Part-time students are required to take 6 units/semester and usually work in a related mental health profession.

How many units are included?

This program consists of 60 master's level units.

When are classes scheduled?

Classes typically meet once per week with start times between 9:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. for 2 hours and 50 minutes. Summer and intersession classes typically hold more frequent class meetings. Most students take 12-14 units per semester and also take coursework during the summer.  

Can I work while completing this program?

It is difficult to work full-time while completing this program. Classes take place during the day and students also complete clinical experiences that are typically during the daytime hours.

Some students choose to hold part-time jobs on- or off-campus while completing the program, though this may be difficult during the practicum portion of the program.

Is this program offered online?

No, this program is offered on campus at USD only. There is no online, hybrid or distance learning option available.

How does the program prepare MFT students to serve diverse clients?

Effectively promoting diversity requires work on several fronts.  These include promoting the diversity of our student body (57% minority), the diversity of our faculty (26% minority), the diversity of our clinical supervisors (17% minority), and effectively addressing issues of diversity during academic and clinical training.  In addition to infusing diversity into each course, we continue to expand clinical opportunities that will better prepare our students to work with a diverse population.

Licensing Requirements

MFT Licensure in California

California is one of more than 40 states that regulates the practice of marriage and family therapy through either certification or licensure. Requirements for obtaining the MFT license are decided by the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) in Sacramento. The BBS also issues the license to practice. Requirements for licensing often change at the BBS's discretion. Students in the MFT program at USD are kept informed of changes as they are published by the BBS. However, students are ultimately responsible for this information. The easiest way to keep informed of these changes is to join the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT), which regularly publishes and keeps their members up to date on all BBS activity. The faculty also strongly encourages students to join the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), the national professional organizations for family therapists.

Current requirements for licensing include:

  1. A master's or doctorate with a specialization in Marital and Family Therapy. The MFT degree from USD meets the current educational requirements for California licensure.
  2. 3,000 hours of supervised experience. The supervisor must be a licensed MFT, a licensed psychologist, a licensed clinical social worker, or a psychiatrist. At the present time, 750 direct client contact and supervision hours can be completed by a candidate before the graduate degree is completed. The 500 hours of client contact needed for graduation from the USD program and the supervision received at practicum placements count toward this requirement. Pre-graduate degree hours must be done in an agency setting. Post-degree hours can be done with a supervisor in a private practice setting if desired.
  3. When the graduate degree and the supervised experience hours are completed, the candidate for licensing must pass a written and oral examination given by the BBS and pay appropriate fees.