Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) Certificate

Jessica White

Written by Jessica White

Community Mental Health Worker & Case Manager

Updated & Fact Checked: 1/12/2023

The field of therapy is important to many individuals and families who are suffering from mental illness, trauma, and other complicated issues. Therefore, marriage and family therapy students have a lot to learn in their master’s programs. Those who are especially passionate, or those who want to learn more or get a refresher on what they learned previously, might choose to enroll in a marriage and family certificate program.

What is a Marriage and Family Therapy Certificate?

The MFT certificate is offered for graduates who have just received their master’s degree and want to develop their skills in a specific area of therapy beyond the master’s level. It allows people to expand their education without needing to go through the long process of committing to a PhD. These classes are for students who can work independently, as they are primarily online. However, some programs also have residency work in person to help students explore their topics of choice with the guidance of an advisor. The programs also have the intent to help students who have graduated from their master’s degree programs to develop the knowledge needed to earn their license.

Alternative MFT Certificate Names

Sometimes, some people might think that the process of earning a “certificate in marriage and family therapy” is the same thing as the process of earning a “master’s degree in marriage and family therapy”. However, these two things are not the same thing. Earning a master’s in marriage and family therapy is a very different process, and usually the precursor to pursuing a certificate. Earning a master’s in MFT is a two to six year process depending on what level of education one is starting on, and may involve much less specialized classes than certificate programs. It is the process that is needed to become a licensed marriage and family therapist as a career. Before the career though, one needs to take their license exam. The certificate programs can help one prepare for this step.

MFT certificates may also be called continuing education units, or CEUs. Some educational institutions also refer to CEUs this way. CEUs are also credits that practicing licensed marriage and family therapists must take to renew their license and to stay up-to-date on current therapeutic practices. Some MFT certificate programs might meet the requirements for CEUs that MFTs are required to take, but you would need to look into your individual state requirements to find that out.

What You Will Learn In an MFT Certificate Program

MFT certificate programs offer courses that teach a variety of topics that are intended to help students think critically about family issues, thus enhancing their practice. While some of the topics may have been covered in their comprehensive MFT master’s degree program, the certificate is intensive and gives MFT certificate students the chance to dive more deeply into those subjects or become more refreshed on their knowledge.

These topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Couple Therapy: This course delves deeply into the problems that couples might run into as well as how to help them work through it. It may also offer tools that you can provide to the couples so that they can feel empowered and work through their issues by themselves, particularly when/if their therapeutic sessions have ended. Some courses may also discuss what it’s like to work with couples where one or both are neurodivergent, meaning that one or both couples has ADHD, autism, or another such condition.
  • Military Family Therapy: These courses are helpful for therapists who want to work with families who have someone in military service, or were previously in the service. Military families can experience unique issues, and so the therapist who want to work with them will want to be especially equipped for handling those issues.
  • Systemic Assessment and Treatment Planning: Treatment planning is an important part of therapy that students might not think about until they are at a masters level of education or beyond, but it’s very important for helping families and individuals meet their goals. Creating a good treatment plan is also important when working for a government agency or even when self-employed to prove to insurance agencies that a client is making progress. Knowing how to assess a client and build a good treatment plan with them is a part of having the skill of interviewing, and so building a skill like this in this course can only be beneficial.
  • Diversity in Family Systems: There are many different kinds of families, including families with foster kids, families with adopted kids LGBT families, single parents, multiracial families, and more. Not only that, all these families can have a lot of differences in terms of their socioeconomic status, parenting strategies, and other intersections. Therefore, taking a course like this in a certificate program can really help prepare a therapist for working with families that have a diverse structure.
  • Systemic Leadership: Because marriage and family therapists are at a master’s degree level of education, they have the opportunity to be supervisors eventually at certain places where they might work. If that is the goal of someone, this kind of course within a certificate program teaches them how to take accountability for the impact that an organization has on both the employees and community. It teaches the therapist leadership skills, even if they decide to not take on a leadership role later in life.
  • Diverse Families and Community: Marriage and family therapists need to be prepared to work with individuals and families who have experiences that are not like their own. The beliefs of families often come partially from communities. Discussions on this are had in this course in the certificate program on how to approach these situations as well as what the therapist might come across and how systems work to create certain marginalized communities and their belief systems.
  • Ethical practice in MFT: Working with the ethical standards set by the marriage and family therapy board of one’s state is vital to providing excellent care for one’s therapy clients. Diving deeper into these ethics reasons behind them is the purpose of these courses.
  • Couples Therapy from a Systemic Perspective: This coursework discusses the importance of systemic thinking and how it can play into the conflicts and experiences that couples might be experiencing when they enter into therapy, as these things affect every part of their lives both individually and together. Systemic perspective involves approaching the problem practically, not analytically, looking to identify patterns of behavior that are stagnant and addressing those patterns directly.

Marriage and family therapy programs are usually 15 credit hours and require students to complete 300 client contact hours. However, this may vary among different programs.

Entrance Requirements

To enroll in a marriage and family therapy certificate program, you must have earned your masters degree first. This can be earned over the course of two years, assuming you have your bachelor’s degree already. The reason for this is that these programs are high-level and meant for people who have a basic level of understanding about the topics that they discuss.

MFT certificate programs, such as the one at Antioch University, may have admission requirements depending on the university. These admission requirements are not much different than the ones required to get into a master’s program initially. They may include:

  • Completing the online application, including:
    • Any essay questions
    • Submitting a resume
    • Paying the application fee
  • Submit the official transcripts from where you earned your degree.
  • Send two letters of recommendation from people you know that are able to professionally and accurately evaluate your work in the academic world. Typically, this person cannot be related to you.
  • Complete an interview with the faculty of the department.

What Are the Benefits of an MFT Certificate Program?

Earning an MFT certificate can allow you to learn about things that you did not get the chance to explore deeply enough in your marriage and family therapy masters degree program. Additionally, If you have recently graduated from your master’s program, you can learn more with MFT certificate programs so that you can be confident upon going into your license exam, which you need to officially become a licensed marriage and family therapist.

Much like masters degree programs, these certificate programs promote critical thinking among students. Critical thinking is important in the world of therapy, as many of the issues that therapists may come across can be quite controversial or challenging, so therapists need to be able to work through them in a way that is best for the clients so that problems can be solved in an effective way that meets the clients needs.

Therefore, taking these certificate programs can help uphold the effectiveness of marriage and family therapy. Studies show that marriage and family therapy leads to better outcomes than previous therapy methods in the past. Clients have stated that their work and relationships improve when they have undergone therapy sessions, per the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

How to Afford an MFT Certificate Program

The best way to afford the certificate program for marriage and family therapy program graduates is through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The way that the FAFSA works is that it takes information into account such as your total household income as well as some other factors to decide how much aid is able to be provided. In some cases, you may only be offered a loan, but federal loans may have better options than private loans. The benefit of filling out the FAFSA is that you can figure out if you are eligible for any grants as well, meaning that you don’t have to pay back the money.

Scholarships are also an option if you are looking at how to pay for your MFT certificate program. Good scholarship websites that may be helpful include:

Some schools might also offer internal scholarship or grant programs. To find out if the school or program you are interested in has this option, reach out to them to find out.

Affordable MFT Certificate Programs

Grand Canyon University

  • Program: Post-Master of Science in Counseling: Marriage and Family Therapy Certificate
  • Length of courses: 8 weeks
  • Tuition Rate: $565 per credit
  • Total credits: 15

This program through GCU is meant to further the career growth of master’s and doctorate level professionals. It gives students the chance to analyze perspectives about how families evolve over time and family systems. This certificate program wants to make higher education accessible to busy working professionals, and so their certificate program is available online. Even though it’s online, students can still interact with other students and instructors.

NorthCentral University

  • Program: Post-Master’s Certificate in Marriage and Family Therapy
  • Recommended completion time: 12 months
  • Tuition rate: $1,085 per credit
  • Total credits: 18

This program through NorthCentral University wants to connect students to experienced professors who can provide mentorship. Students will decide upon a particular area of therapy to develop skills and knowledge. This program is also intended to give students a taste of doctorate level education without the initial commitment.

Antioch University

  • Program: Post-Master’s Certificate in Couple and Family Therapy
  • Completion time: 3-10 semesters
  • Tuition rate: $754 per credit
  • Total credits: 27-30

This program is to help those professionals who are busy working but have graduated with their masters in marriage and family therapy to be able to expand their knowledge and gain specialized training. The training is available primarily online, but does have some residency work. The courses not only have master’s level instructors, but also doctoral level professors as well. In this program, students will come up with an individualized plan with their advisor that will help them meet a specific goal in regards to their licensure. In fact, this program can help the student meet the requirements for licensure in many states. This program is unique in that it has options ranging from 3-10 semesters that are able to be attended. The school has a team to help students explore financial aid options.