The demand for qualified mental health professionals remains high in the United States. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for substance abuse, behavioral health, and mental health counselors to grow by 23% through 2026. Licensed therapists and counselors also benefit from flexible schedules and high salary potential. According to the BLS, median salaries for MFTs are close to $50,000 per year, while those in the top 90% earn above $80,000.
Online MFT programs vary by school in the specific courses and specializations they offer. Some programs promote a particular religious focus, while others emphasize multiculturalism and diversity, for example. Make sure your chosen program matches your values and career goals.
The curricula for all online MFT programs aim to prepare therapists to serve clients from diverse backgrounds as they cope with a wide variety of challenges, including marriage problems, job and financial stress, mental illness, addiction, and trauma. Master's courses may address many of the same topics as undergraduate classes, but they also emphasize the professional application of these topics to practice as a family counselor.
Required courses train students to diagnose and treat disorders and adapt specific therapy models and strategies to their clients' needs. Hands-on practicums and internships allow students to practice their counseling skills in supervised settings and receive feedback. See sample courses below.
Credit requirements for online MFT programs vary widely by school, but most master's programs take about two years to complete full time. Some schools offer more flexible part-time options that may take 3-4 years. Most programs enable graduates to fulfill the 60-credit requirement of most states for licensure as a mental health counselor. The number of required credits and the number of classes you take each term determine how long it takes you to finish your degree.
Cohort programs move a group of students through all of the degree components together. Learners tend to finish these programs in two years, while other programs offer individual pacing, allowing students to finish in more or less time depending on their schedule and needs.
Through required coursework, online MFT programs give future counselors the professional knowledge they need to diagnose and treat mental illness, addiction, trauma, sexual dysfunction, and stress. Classes and fieldwork strengthen program participants' communications skills, helping them become better listeners and facilitators. Any degree program in this field aims to develop ethical, empathetic, culturally responsive practitioners who possess the latest knowledge about available treatments.
See below for some of the skills that this degree imparts.
A large part of a counselor's job is listening. Course activities and field experiences hone participants' active listening skills and teach them to use body language to convey empathy and acceptance.
Family therapists must possess the ability to help people resolve conflicts, since many couples and families seek therapy for this reason. Through coursework and hands-on practice, program participants learn to support people with conflicts as they discuss their problems, try to understand each other, and reach an agreement.
Many people enter therapy to learn to cope with challenges that seem too big to face on their own. Through readings, discussions, class activities, and internships, students learn to identify and break down problems and help their clients find realistic solutions.
Programs that prepare counselors for independent clinical practice include internships that provide hands-on experience and help students prepare for licensure. Online programs allow students to complete these fieldwork requirements at an approved site near them. Some programs may also require a thesis or comprehensive exams, which students may complete entirely online or through minimal synchronous or in-person activities.
Because counseling requires people skills, many online MFT programs include some in-person classes, residencies, or practicums. Much of their coursework, however, takes place entirely online and features the same content as traditional, on-campus courses.
Online master's in marriage and family counseling students may qualify for several rewarding careers in counseling, helping people overcome challenges in their lives and strengthen their relationships. Good listeners who enjoy problem-solving, counselors may work in private therapy practices, healthcare offices, and community agencies helping individuals, couples, and families cope with problems and improve their lives. See below for more information on some positions for which this degree can prepare you.
MFTs typically work for behavioral health providers and treatment centers or in private practices to deliver therapeutic services to individuals, couples, and families. These services may include mediation and conflict resolution, counseling, and diagnosis and treatment of behavioral and mental health disorders. This position requires a master's degree, and those who wish to practice independently must hold state licensure.
Median Annual Salary: $53,860
Social workers help individuals and families overcome challenges, provide therapy, and diagnose and treat mental health disorders, just as MFTs do. Social workers may work in multiple settings and focus more on ensuring that their clients can access available community resources. Social workers who wish to provide mental health services independently need a master's degree and state licensure to practice clinical social work.
Median Annual Salary: $49,470
Some MFTs eventually earn a doctorate in psychology, qualifying them to pursue state licensure as a psychologist. Psychologists diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders and provide therapeutic counseling, just as MFTs do, although they typically earn more and may hold more advanced positions with more responsibilities for clinical care or program management.
Median Annual Salary: $79,010
Counselors help their clients face personal challenges, cope with illnesses and disorders, overcome trauma, and improve their relationships. They work for treatment programs, behavioral health providers, and community agencies. Counselors may either practice under the supervision of a licensed mental health provider or independently with a master's degree and state licensure.
Median Annual Salary: $44,630
Some MFTs run social service programs catering to the mental health and emotional needs of children, couples, and families. These managers make sure their programs run efficiently, obtain sufficient funding and resources, and meet clients' needs. They work for hospitals and other healthcare providers, government and community agencies, and nonprofits. A master's degree benefits graduates applying for leadership positions in this field.
Median Annual Salary: $65,320
The requirements for becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) vary by state. Check with your state licensing board for the specific requirements. States typically require a master's degree and two years of supervised postgraduate clinical experience for counselors such as LMFTs. The number of clinical hours required varies, but in most states it falls somewhere between 1,500-3,000 hours. Candidates for licensure must also typically pass a state-approved certification exam, such as the national MFT exam.
LMFTs who go on to earn a doctorate in counseling psychology may become licensed psychologists. Licensed psychologists specializing in family counseling may earn more and qualify to direct counseling programs or teach at the college or graduate school level. States require licensed psychologists to complete 1,000-4,000 post-doctorate clinical hours and pass a certification exam.
To maintain licensure, all states require mental health professionals to engage in ongoing professional development. Continuing education also helps therapists stay up to date with the latest trends in psychological research and treatments.