Location, Location, Location

Caroline Wiita Marriage and family therapy therapist psychotherapist graduate student masters degree doctorate phd MFT licensed prelicensed clinical social worker trainee intern associate

If you're trying to decide where to go to graduate school for marriage and family therapy, one of your primary concerns will most likely be location.

It seems like most people select an MFT program that is close to where they live--I know that's what I did. But I do know some people who were willing to relocate for school. Why would anyone uproot their life for school, when chances are pretty good there's at least one program within driving distance??

Let's take a look at some of the reasons physical location of a graduate program is important, and then maybe you'll have a better idea of how important location is to you--and whether you're willing to uproot yourself.

Fieldwork

During your program, you will need to get direct client-contact experience in order to graduate (the specifics of this are laid out on the BBS website). Some schools have an on-campus clinic and guarantee you that you can meet this requirement at their clinic. Others, however, require you to "go out into the field" (the community) and find your own placement--this is also called a traineeship, as you are considered a "trainee" when you are enrolled in a graduate program and seeing clients (check out my post on fieldwork for a more thorough look at the differences between those options).

If you're in an area like Los Angeles, you will have absolutely no problem finding such a placement--your challenge becomes deciding which one you want.

If, however, you're in a more rural part of California, your opportunities for field placement sites may be limited. Trainees are not allowed to earn hours in private practices, so you will need to find some sort of local non-profit or agency that can meet the requirements (including supervision) of the BBS.

As I've gleaned from some forum discussions online, this can be really hard. I have no personal experience with what you do if you're in a rural program and you can't find a traineeship, but it seems like a real problem, and one of the reasons I suggest attending a program in an area with robust mental health services options.

Networking

Hopefully, during your time in graduate school, you'll be building the foundations of your professional network. The mental healthcare field is largely a community-oriented profession, and while the internet provides opportunities for you to connect with other therapists anywhere in the world, the most important contacts will probably be the ones you make in real life. If you attend a graduate program in an area you are not considering practicing in, you are depriving yourself of a head-start on building that important professional network.

Where You Want to Practice

This kind of goes along with networking. If you want to practice in San Diego, but you go to school in San Francisco, once you get to San Diego you will need to begin at square one in building your professional network. To some extent, this goes for whether you're looking for an agency job or thinking about opening a private practice. But if you begin practicing in the same area where you went to school, chances are a little better that your network can help boost you as you're starting out.

Of course, there's a flip side. If you live in an area that's low on mental health resources, you may benefit from attending school somewhere else for a couple reasons. First, you personally may benefit training-wise from having fieldwork opportunities in a higher-density area. And second, when you return to your home base, your credentials of having attended school and worked in a more metropolitan area may give you an advantage in getting work.

And finally, if you're planning on going to school in California but think there's a chance you may want to practice in another state, you will definitely want to investigate the accreditation of any school you're attending. The MFT is not a very "portable" license, meaning that it's hard to qualify for licenses in other states just by virtue of having qualified for an MFT license in California. Part of this is because of the graduate programs that qualify for licensure here versus other states. Some states (not California) require that a licensee's graduate degree be granted by a COAMFTE-accredited program, but there are only nine programs in California that currently have that accreditation status. If license portability is important to you, you may want to think about making attending a COAMFTE program a priority.

Personally, I had no intention of practicing out of state, and I hope to practice in the city I'm currently living in--Los Angeles. And there are plenty of MFT programs in Los Angeles to choose from. However...I didn't know about MANY of them. Some simply don't show up when you Google "MFT program Los Angeles."

I wanted to make things easier for you, if you're looking to narrow down your choices by location. So on my website, MFT California, I created a map that plots the locations of every MFT program approved by the BBS in California. 

I hope you'll find it a handy resource as you hunt down the perfect program for you!

 

 

Points of Interest:

Learn about the many benefits of membership in California's largest Marriage and Family Therapy Association, from unlimited access to our on-staff legal team, to our enriching educational and networking opportunities, and so much more. Become a CAMFT member and enjoy the many benefits that await you.