If You Want to Be an MFT, You Don't Want a Master's in Psychology (Probably)

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

One of the horror stories I came across as I was researching MFT programs was the tale told by a young woman who had almost completed her master's program in psychology when she realized that the program did not qualify her to sit for the MFT licensing exam (which was her goal). She believed that to become an MFT, she just needed to get a master's in psychology! Unfortunately, this is only partly true.

This is critical: If, like me, you want to eventually qualify for the "marriage and family therapy" license in California, you need to attend a program that meets the requirements set forth by the licensing body, the Board of Behavioral Services (BBS). 

See, there's a broad spectrum of master's degrees in psychology. 

There are some schools that offer a masters in psychology that is intended to prepare students to pursue a doctorate (this is also sometimes the program that students drop down into when they are kicked out of the school's doctorate program). Most of the time, this program DOES NOT meet the requirements you would need to get your MFT license! They offer different classes, don't require the right direct client contact hours, etc. 

Let me make this super clear: If you accidentally enroll in a masters program like this, you WILL NOT be able to become a marriage and family therapist! You would need to RE-ENROLL in a qualifying program. So...do it right from the beginning, yeah?

If you want to become an MFT in California, you need to make sure you're enrolling in a qualifying program. Unfortunately, they come with a variety of different names:

M.A. in Marital & Family Therapy
M.A. in Clinical Psychology
M.S. in Counseling, Option in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling

M.A. in Psychology - Marriage and Family Therapy
M.A. in Counseling
M.A. in Marriage & Family Therapy

You get the point. Hilarious, right? Those are all very different names for essentially the same degree.

Luckily, almost every qualifying program declaratively says so somewhere on the website. So it should be pretty clear. Let's look at example.

The school I currently attend is California State University, Northridge (CSUN). CSUN has a College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, and this college has a Department of Psychology that offers an master's in Psychology with two different options--Clinical Psychology and General Experimental Psychology.

Click to enlarge!

Click to enlarge!

NEITHER OF THESE PROGRAMS QUALIFY. If you attend these programs, you are not qualified to get your MFT license. You would have to attend this program:

That is, the M.S. in Counseling, Option in Marriage & Family Therapy, offered through the College of Education.

So, at CSUN, a master's degree in Clinical Psychology does NOT qualify you to become an MFT, but at Antioch, it DOES. It just has to do with how each school picks its degree names.

There is, of course, an exception that exists simply to screw with you.

At San Francisco State University, both the MS in Clinical Psychology, Concentration in Clinical Psychology degree (offered through the Psychology Department in the College of Science & Engineering) AND the MS in Marriage, Family, and Child Counseling degree (offered through the Department of Counseling in the College of Health & Social Sciences) meet the BBS requirements for MFT education.

Because sure, why not.

I wanted to make it easier to figure out which program at a given school was in fact an MFT-qualifying program. The site I created, MFT California, lists every single program in California that meets the BBS degree requirements--you can clearly see the name of the qualifying degree at the top of every profile page, and I've included links to the specific degree's program page.

I hope you find it helpful, and that it saves you the horror of enrolling in the wrong kind of master's program!

 

Points of Interest:

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