What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s in Marriage and Family Counseling Program?

As a student seeking an online degree, you can expect the same types of classes and course load that you would expect in an on-campus degree program. Obtaining your degree online provides flexibility and makes it easier to balance work, school, and personal time so you can finish your degree in your own time. Because all programs are different, looking around and finding the program that aligns with your career goals is essential.

Available concentrations

Because marriage and family counseling is a specialization within the larger counseling field, concentration options may be limited. Below are some common focus areas for individuals earning a degree in this field.

  • Addiction/substance abuse: Some marriage and family counselors choose to work with individuals coping with addiction and substance abuse issues. They may work with individuals and their families to address the root causes of substance abuse, create a healthy support network for people in recovery, and help family members impacted by drug use. A concentration in this area prepares students for careers as case managers, victim advocates, treatment specialists, and health educators.
  • Divorce and co-parenting: This concentration prepares students to work with couples and families considering or going through the process of divorce. They’ll guide individuals through the divorce process and help them establish healthy boundaries and habits around co-parenting. They may also work with the couple’s children.
  • Grief and trauma: Trauma-informed care is a framework designed to help clients work through traumatic events without re-traumatizing them. Practitioners can work with individuals and families to help them heal from traumatic experiences and grief. This degree focus may overlap with other concentrations, such as substance abuse or mental health.
  • Sexual orientation: Marriage and family counselors can also choose to focus on working with individuals or families addressing issues related to sexual orientation. Many counselors with this focus work primarily with individuals in the LGBTQIA+ community to help them navigate issues like gender identity, HIV/AIDS counseling, and intimate partner violence.

Common degree curriculum

Most marriage and family counseling programs focus on a curriculum that covers topics related to the core competencies of the practice, including courses in clinical assessment and diagnosis, treatment planning and case management, intervention methods, and ethical and legal issues. Many programs also offer electives that allow students to gain more in-depth knowledge of a specific area of marriage and family counseling. Students will also complete field experience, usually through a supervised internship.

Classes students can expect to complete in a marriage and family counseling program include:

  • Theoretical Issues in Child Development: Examines the theories of change that take place during childhood development.
  • Social Science Statistics: Introduces students to the statistical concepts used in evaluating research in social sciences and applying that research to real-world situations.
  • Marriage and Family Relationships: Helps students understand family theory and the use of theories to understand how families interact.
  • Leadership and Social Justice: Exposes students to current literature on leadership as it relates to leadership and strategic planning in regard to social justice.
  • Professional Development: A capstone course that allows students to explore and specify their career goals and how they plan to obtain them as they relate to marriage and family counseling.

Certification and license preparation

All marriage and family counselors are held to strict licensure requirements because they are considered mental health specialists who treat and diagnose mental health and psychotherapy disorders. Licensure varies from state to state, but these individuals must complete a master’s degree and log between 2,000 and 4,000 training hours under a licensed therapist. Every state requires counselors to pass an exam, and continuing education credits are required to maintain their credentials. The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) regulatory board oversees licensing requirements across the United States.

Program accreditation

Both the master’s and the doctorate in marriage and family counseling and therapy programs require accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Earning a degree from a dual-accredited program helps facilitate career and academic progression and ensures students receive a quality education that meets or exceeds industry standards.

Program completion timeframe

An online master’s degree in marriage and family therapy takes two to three years to complete, depending on whether an individual takes a full-time or a part-time course load. Part-time students typically take one class at a time in the master’s program, while full-time students take two courses per semester. The completion time also depends on whether you take self-paced courses or sign up for cohort classes. With cohort classes, a group of students enters the program simultaneously, take the same class schedule, and matriculate together. Self-paced courses allow you to pick and choose what classes you want to take and when you want to take them, which will enable you to finish faster. Students can expect to complete 48 to 60 hours of classwork and several fieldwork hours.

Employment Outlook for Master’s in Marriage and Family Counseling Graduates

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of marriage and family therapists is projected to grow by 15% through 2032. Advanced degrees offer higher salaries and create more opportunities for advancement.

All licensed professional counseling jobs require a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling. While there are some entry-level positions for those with a bachelor’s, a master’s degree opens a wide variety of doors in professional counseling and the business world.

Professional students who complete an online master’s degree in marriage and family counseling are qualified for various career positions. Eligibility for these positions depend on the state and the industry, including substance abuse centers, health care centers, hospitals, and schools. Consider some of the following career opportunities.

Job Title Job Description Median Yearly Salary Projected Growth Rate
Substance Abuse/Mental Health Counselor Substance abuse/mental health counselors advise individuals who suffer from drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues, and behavioral problems. They also help find treatment options for those recovering from addictions. $49,710 18%
School and Career Counselor School counselors help students develop academic and social skills needed to succeed in the learning environment. They work in high schools, colleges, career centers, and private practices. $60,140 5%
Rehabilitation Counselor Rehabilitation counselors help people with mental, developmental, physical, or emotional disabilities live independently. They also help them overcome any challenges related to employment and independent living. $39,990 2%

Professional organizations

Professional memberships provide many benefits, including educational opportunities, networking, and subscriptions to national industry journals. Many organizations offer annual conferences to help you keep up with changes in technology and standards. Some of the top organizations for those majoring in marriage and family counseling include:

  • American Counseling Association (ACA): This is the world’s largest organization representing professional counselors across various concentrations. The organization offers continuing education, career advancement help, networking connections, and advocates for the industry.
  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT): The AAMFT exists solely to advance the practice and profession of marriage and family therapy. It offers various online classes and hosts an annual conference at the end of August.
  • International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors (IAMFC): This organization is a division of the American Counseling Association. It promotes excellence in the practice of family and couples counseling. The organization hands out media and publications to provide a forum for exploring diverse family issues and encourages other counselors to advocate for all families.
  • National Employment Counseling Association (NECA): The NECA is an organization dedicated to helping individuals find employment in counseling. It offers professional development and national, state, and local advocacy.

Financing Your Online Master’s in Marriage and Family Counseling Degree

Earning an online master’s degree is typically cheaper than earning that same degree in traditional on-campus study. Expenses associated with travel, for instance, are eliminated when participating in a distance learning program. Despite it costing less overall, many students still need financial aid to help them pay for the cost of their master’s degree.

Navigating the different financial aid options available can be confusing, but a good place to start is with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Filling it out and submitting it provides information about grants, scholarships, loans, and other forms of financial aid available to you through the federal government.

Many nonprofit organizations, private companies, and even individual schools offer their own scholarships and grants. Be sure to investigate the programs you’re interested in to determine whether you qualify to apply for any scholarships.

Student Finance Resources and Guides

A key consideration for students enrolling in a marriage and family counseling program is how they will pay for their degree. Many options are available to help students pay, including student loans, scholarships, grants, and more.

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