What Are the Prerequisites for a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Counseling?

Many aspire to obtain a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Counseling. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this occupation is expected to grow by 23 percent from 2016 to 2026 which is much faster than all occupations. Those with a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Counseling would be considered qualified applicants for this high need field. However, there are several prerequisites required to be issued this highly desired degree.

Graduate Courses

A typical doctoral level program in marriage and family counseling requires 60 credit hours of post-master’s graduate coursework. Students take a variety of courses which include theories of marriage and family therapy, research methods, human development, addiction, and cultural awareness courses. A student completing the program on a full-time basis can do so in about four years when including clinical requirements. A summer session is usually reserved for practicum work that allows for the practical application of theories. It is here where students practice utilizing the skills that they’ve learned through the coursework that has already been completed. A typical program also usually includes at least 18 hours of courses teaching students how to be supervisors of counselors-in-training. This requirement is necessary to be eligible for being an approved supervisor with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). To be eligible for graduation, students will usually need a minimum grade point average of a 3.0 as well as pass a comprehensive exam for the program.

Clinical Experience

Ample clinical experience is required in obtaining this doctoral degree. This is necessary as the majority of the work that marriage and family counselors do is direct counseling with clients. A typical program will require a minimum of 1,000 clinical hours of therapy with 200 hours being supervised. Some programs allow for 500 clinical hours and 100 supervised hours from a master’s program to count towards this requirement. Programs that prepare students to be counselor’s in training also spend some time supervising students who are usually in their first year during their practicum experience.


All states require that a family and marriage counselor be licensed. Most doctoral programs require that an applicant already is licensed. Some programs allow for licensure to begin after starting the program but the student will have to take additional courses.

See: 5 Best Online Ph.D. Marriage and Family Counseling Programs


The hallmark of doctoral programs is the dissertation. The requirement for the doctoral degree in marriage and family counseling is no different. Up to 12 credit hours for a program can be used for dissertation completion. Students are required to conduct original research that will culminate in a rather large manuscript. The student will form a committee and select a supervising professor who guides the student through the process. After this process, which typically occurs over a few years, students present their research to the committee and satisfactorily answer questions regarding their research which is referred to as the dissertation defense. Students must successfully defend their dissertation to complete this requirement.

Concluding Thoughts

A great level of commitment is needed to complete a doctoral program as the prerequisites are numerous. However, if one does make this commitment, then there are great accolades, job prospects, and meaningful work to be completed after obtaining a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Counseling.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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