Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) Programs in San Diego

A Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) program is a graduate degree at the master’s or doctoral level that is concentrated in the field of psychology and mental health. The program consists of a rigorous curriculum that prepares students for in-depth knowledge in the assessment and treatment of mental health issues. The program usually includes oa clinical training requirement where students get applied experience in the field.

The demand for mental health clinicians in San Diego has been on the rise over the last decade and is projected to continue growing. With more university’s offering the master’s in MFT degree, and many offering various concentrations to go with the standard program, students are graduating with more and more specialized career opportunities.

What does an LMFT do?

Upon graduation from a graduate program in Marriage and Family Therapy, you would have to obtain licensure as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) to practice as a clinician within the mental health field. An LMFT engages in the assessment, diagnosis, and intervention of individuals, couples, and families, in the realm of mental health. LMFTs can practice in a variety of settings, and typically in San Diego, LMFTs work in private practice, in-patient, out-patient, hospitals, schools, and rehabilitation centers.

In general, LMFTs provide psychotherapeutic interventions for a variety of issues, such as family dysfunction, depressive and anxiety disorders, marital discord, disabilities, substance use, trauma, multicultural and sexual issues, or interrelationship issues.

Accredited MFT Programs in San Diego

When choosing a graduate program in Marriage and Family Therapy, oftentimes the goal is to obtain licensure as a clinician upon graduation. One must accrue the core competencies in coursework and clinical training to be able to qualify for licensure in the state they belong to. The California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) is the state board that sets the standards and guidelines through which applicants apply for and obtain licensure in California.

Accreditation is essentially a stamp of approval by a national governing body that promotes the best practices for marriage and family therapy educational programs that ensure the production of competent clinicians in the field of mental health. This is because the organization establishes guidelines and standards for graduate programs to follow. The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT) is a national membership entity through which MFTs can gain resources on training and development, along with information on national standards of practice for professionals.

A nationally recognized accreditation body is the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). COAMFTE accredits master’s, doctoral, and post-graduate degree training programs in the field of MFT. Attending a COAMFTE-accredited program is recommended, as the accreditation ensures your graduate education and training meet the requirements for licensure upon graduation. All states require the completion of core curriculum coursework and a number of hours of supervised clinical training.

The California BBS offers resources for identifying specific programs that qualify for licensure. Some graduate programs are not accredited or are in the process of gaining accreditation, but still offer a program structure that prepares students for licensure upon graduation. While attending an accredited program is not a requirement, it is recommended, as it simplifies the process of obtaining licensure, eliminating the need to partake in additional coursework and training at an additional cost outside of the degree requirements.

COAMFTE Accredited San Diego MFT Programs

NameCityStateDegree LevelModalityAccreditationGRE Required?Full Program NameURL
Alliant International University - San DiegoSan DiegoCAMastersCampusCOAMFTENoMA in Marital and Family TherapyLearn More
Bethel Seminary (MA)San DiegoCAMastersCampus & OnlineCOAMFTENoMA in Marriage and Family TherapyLearn More
Northcentral University San DiegoCAMastersOnlineCOAMFTENoMA in Marriage and Family TherapyLearn More
Northcentral UniversitySan DiegoCADoctoralOnlineCOAMFTENoDoctor of philosophy in Marriage and Family TherapyLearn More
San Diego State UniversitySan DiegoCAMastersCampusCOAMFTENoMA in Marriage and Family TherapyLearn More
University of San Diego San DiegoCAMastersCampusCOAMFTENoMA in Marriage and Family TherapyLearn More

Highlighted below are some COAMFTE-accredited programs in San Diego.

  • Alliant University – This Master of Arts program in Marriage and Family Therapy requires a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution. The program is structured to help students gain licensure in almost all states, offering flexibility in establishing a career. The curriculum is holistic, theoretically based, and focuses on systemic/relational orientation. The program is clinically focused and also offers a chemical dependency specialization track that adds to the professional development of students. This specialization is embedded into the current coursework and does not require additional coursework or time from the original degree plan. Another advantage to this program is the variety of financial aid and scholarship options available. The program itself consists of a 60-credit-hour curriculum that typically takes six semesters (two years) to complete.
  • San Diego State University – San Diego State offers a Master of Science program that can be completed in approximately two and a half years. The program prepares students through an extensive 60-credit-hour curriculum and clinical training across a variety of settings. Students are also offered the opportunity to engage in academic research, which prepares them for further education at a doctoral level or broadens their career options after graduation. This program requires full-time student enrollment and courses are offered in an in-person modality. The main incentive of this program is to prepare students for licensure and to produce competent clinicians across a variety of settings and populations.
  • The University of San Diego – This Master of Arts program is a clinically focused program that prepares students for a career as Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs). The program consists of a rigorous 60-credit-hour curriculum and a 12-month clinical practicum requirement completed in community sites. Students typically graduate within two years if they are enrolled full-time. An advantage to this program is that 1000 of the hours accrued in the practicum training requirement can be counted towards MFT licensure in California, thus reducing the time with a probationary licensure as an LMFT-Associate. The program offers a variety of clinical specialties including family-based care, behavioral health, training and education, couples therapy, interpersonal neurobiology, and culture and global mental health.
  • National University – The Master of Arts degree at National University (formerly Northcentral University) is the first distance education program to receive COAMFTE accreditation. While the entirety of the coursework offerings is online, practicum, internships, and clinical supervision are required to be completed through traditional formats but students have the advantage of completing these requirements in the communities they reside. The program consists of a minimum of 45 credit hours and typically takes 33 months to complete. For those pursuing licensure, the coursework curriculum typically consists of the completion of 60 credit hours. Some specialty tracks include MFT for couples, the LGBTQ community, military families, systemic treatment for addictions, child and adolescents, medical family therapy, trauma-informed systemic therapy, and systemic sex therapy.

As you may have noticed, graduate programs in MFT can be offered as a Master of Arts degree or a Master of Science degree. The main difference is that Master of Arts degrees are clinically focused and emphasize the theoretical conceptualization and training of students to prepare them for careers as clinicians upon graduation. Master of Science degrees, on the other hand, oftentimes offer a thesis track or student involvement in academic research. The purpose of this is to prepare students for further education at a doctoral level, and to widen career opportunities, should they decide not to practice as a clinician. This is an important aspect to consider when choosing a program that aligns with your career goals.

What Will I Learn

Understanding what the curriculum would look like in your graduate program is an important part of choosing which program you apply to. While specialties are a neat additional qualification to have, a priority would be fulfilling the core course requirements for licensure set by the state. Highlighted below are those required courses that are offered in all accredited programs set by COAMFTE in San Diego.

  • Foundations of Relational/Systemic Practice: Theoretical understanding of foundational issues of MFTs. The historical development of theoretical models of MFT includes a biopsychosocial perspective of the model formation.
  • Clinical treatment: Competencies in the assessment, diagnosis, formation of interventions, and treatment of individuals, couples, and families. The programs must also cover crisis intervention.
  • Diverse, multicultural, and/or underserved communities: Knowledge and competence in diversity, power, oppression as it pertains to gender, age, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, disability, culture, and relevant social categories. Identifying means of serving such populations and working with diverse populations.
  • Research and evaluation: Understanding and engaging in academic research development and evaluation methods. Competence in utilizing evidence-based practices, being an informed consumer of academic research, and the reasonable preparation of students to pursue further education at a doctoral level.
  • Professional identity, law, ethics, and social responsibility: Competence and understanding of the ethical and moral code of conduct of MFTs. Being able to identify and practice within the scope of professional duties, obligations, and limitations. Understanding of AAMFT code of ethics and legal duties and responsibilities.
  • Biopsychosocial health and development across the lifespan: Competence in the theoretical conceptualization of individual and family development. Familiarity with various developmental theory formations and applications. Understanding of psychological therapeutic interventions to address concerns in family development, human sexuality, and biopsychosocial health across the lifespan.
  • Systemic/relational assessment and mental health diagnosis and treatment: developing competency in psycho-diagnostic categories based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychological Disorders. Knowledge in psychopharmacology, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health disorders along with other issues including addiction, trauma, intra-family violence, chronic medical conditions, and utilization of a relational philosophy.
  • Contemporary issues: Developing competencies in emerging and evolving contemporary challenges and problems within the scope of couples and marriage and family therapy. Competence in practice in a local, regional, and global context. Addressing issues related to immigration, technology, relationships, etc.
  • Community Intersection and Collaboration: Practice within defined contexts based on the mission and goals of the program. Includes on-site training and multidisciplinary collaboration with other areas including healthcare, social services, and other disciplines.
  • Clinical training: 500 clinical contact hours over 12 months with individuals, families, and others with at least 40% being relational. Students must receive clinical supervision from an adequately licensed professional that is AAMFT approved for at least one hour a week.

Opportunities as an LMFT in San Diego

San Diego is a city of opportunity, especially for up-and-coming marriage and family therapists. Nationally the projected growth of this career is expected to be at 11% over the next decade, being much faster than average in comparison to other occupations. In California, the projected annual job openings in the next decade are approximately 3,170, with a projected employment rate of 32,700 employees.

Based on the data obtained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in San Diego, MFTs typically earn within the range of $39,000 to $78,290 per year, with a median annual pay of $49,250. This is quite similar to the state median of $49,650, and the national median of $49,880.

San Diego offers a variety of work environments for clinicians to choose from, whether it is a private practice, in-patient, out-patient, hospital, mental health clinic, rehabilitation center, school, or consultation work. Clinicians have the flexibility of deciding what work environment and population they will thrive in. You would also have the option of working in the city you earned your degree, which in itself opens up a variety of opportunities as you could explore employment options while still in school. Students could utilize campus connections and resources to complete internships in local agencies, and have a ‘trial run’ of what is the best fit.

San Diego offers a vibrant lifestyle and community that most other cities cannot compete with, being a hub for multicultural and diverse communities, clinicians will have a high demand for all populations in the city. Also, the city offers a number of professional networking and development opportunities that is convenient for people in college, or just starting their careers.

While Marriage and Family Therapy is a rigorous and demanding career, it is also an immensely fulfilling one. Being an MFT offers you the opportunity to see concurrent progress within many individuals or family units as they progress in their lives, which has far-reaching effects on the communities to which they belong. Needless to say, pursuing a career in MFT is a challenge definitely worthwhile taking as it is a field that enables people to thrive in while making a real impact.

San Diego MFT Resources

Alliant University

Association of Marriage and Family Therapists

Bureau of Labor Statistics

California Board of Behavioral Sciences

Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education

National University


San Diego State University

University of San Diego

APA-Accredited Forensic Psychology Programs

NASP-Accredited School Psychology Programs

No GRE Master’s in Psychology Programs

APA-Accredited Clinical Psychology Programs