May 27, 2024  
NCU Catalog - April 2018 
NCU Catalog - April 2018 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Marriage and Family Therapy, Medical Family Therapy Specialization, PhD

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Doctor of Philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy

Description of Program

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Marriage and Family Therapy program at NCU is designed to provide a high quality and rigorous education and training experience for students who wish to prepare for professional life as marriage and family therapists. The program is the first (and currently only) primarily distance-based MFT doctoral program to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). A high standard of excellence is expected. In support of this, program faculty is selected for their expertise and ability to support students and facilitate exceptional educational attainment. The program is focused on developing the skills and personal and professional growth requisite for effective practice in the field of marriage and family therapy. The doctoral program offers advanced clinical education and training, research coursework and opportunities, and supervision training and experience. Graduates of the doctoral program will be prepared to carry out advanced clinical work and supervision and/or education and research in the field of marriage and family therapy. Additional program description, requirements, policies, and procedures are further described in the MFT Doctoral Programs Handbook.


The DMFT program is not yet approved to be offered in the state of North Carolina.

Learning Outcomes

The goals (referred to as Student Learning Outcomes [SLO]) of the PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy (PHDMFT) program are:

  1. Model competence in working with diverse populations in academic, clinical, supervision and research settings. (SLO #1)
  2. Appraise clinical skills and ethical behaviors in systemic therapy and supervision. (SLO #2)
  3. Create new knowledge in marriage and family therapy through independent research. (SLO #3)
  4. Develop professional expertise in an area of specialization related to the field of marriage and family therapy. (SLO #4)

Basis for Admissions

Admission to the Doctoral programs in the Department of Marriage and Family Sciences will be determined by the degree used to meet basis of admission and/or clinical experience. In order to enter the PhDMFT program, applicants must have earned a master’s degree from a nationally or regionally accredited university. The qualifying master’s degree must have been completed in a clinical program (e.g., MFT, psychology, social work, counseling). There are two options for entering the doctoral program in MFT:

  1. Applicants with a previously completed master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from a COAMFTE accredited program meet the educational requirements to enter the 69-credit Ph.D. program. These applicants will still need to complete the additional application steps outlined below (e.g. complete MFT specific applicant packet, one-on-one interview with MFT faculty, complete a national background check).
  2. Applicants with a completed master’s degree in a clinical discipline (counseling, clinical psychology, or social work) and who are licensed or license eligible (i.e., in the process of pursuing licensure) in a clinical discipline must have their previous transcripts evaluated for potential waiver credit to meet some or all of the standard curriculum requirements (taken from the MAMFT program).

Degree Requirements

The PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy degree requires a minimum of 69 credit hours at the graduate level beyond the master’s degree.

NCU may accept a maximum of 12 semester credit hours in transfer toward the doctoral degree for graduate coursework completed toward a non-conferred doctoral degree at an accredited college or university with a grade of “B” or better. Transfer credit is only awarded for course work that is evaluated to be substantially equivalent in content with the required course work for the PhD degree program in Marriage and Family Therapy program.

The PhD degree program in Marriage and Family Therapy (all specializations) has the following graduation requirements:

  • A minimum of 57 credit hours of graduate instruction must be completed through NCU
  • Successful completion of all required degree program courses with a Grade Point Average of 3.0 (letter grade of “B”) or higher
  • Official documents on file for basis of admission: a conferred master’s degree from an accredited academic institution
  • Official transcripts on file for all transfer credit hours accepted by the University
  • All financial obligations to the University paid in full

Beyond these standard graduation requirements, the Marriage and Family Therapy doctoral program has the following degree requirements:

  1. Online Video Conferencing – In order to complete some of the course requirements and to participate in weekly online supervision process that is used during the practicum and internship courses, students are required to participate in online video conferencing meetings throughout their time in the program. In order to participate in these video conference sessions, students are required to own or otherwise have access to a computer, a web cam, a headset, a video recording device, and a high-speed internet connection.
  2. Client Contact – Doctoral students will be required to complete 1000 hours of direct client contact, which includes conducting face-to-face therapy with individuals, couples, families, and groups. At least 500 hours of client contact must be relational (e.g., couple or family). For more information, please read the practicum and internship course descriptions.
  3. Supervision – In conjunction with client contact, doctoral students must receive a total of 200 hours of supervision conducted by an AAMFT Approved Supervisor, AAMFT Supervisor Candidate, or state-approved supervisor.   In some cases, students may be required to pay for local supervision.  This will depend on the clinical placement location and/or local supervisor they contract with to complete their practicum and internship requirements.  The decision and responsibility to pay for local supervision is entirely up to the student and not a requirement of NCU. 
  4. Doctoral Internship – Doctoral students are required to complete a 9-month, 30 hour a week, doctoral internship that aligns with their doctoral specialization. Students will be required to have a local supervisor with whom they can meet face-to-face with a minimum of 4 hours per month (i.e. one hour per week). For more information, please read the practicum and internship course descriptions.
  5. Liability Insurance – Prior to beginning any clinical experience, PHDMFT students are required to submit proof of professional liability insurance.
  6. Supervision Coursework – In addition to advanced coursework in marriage and family therapy, students in the doctoral program must complete a course in MFT supervision methodology. The supervision course will be conducted in connection with the requirements established by AAMFT for students to become Approved Supervisors. Not all requirements will be completed for the students to achieve the designation while in the program at NCU. The supervision coursework is pre-approved by the AAMFT to count for the 30-hour supervision course requirement. Students will have to complete the direct supervision and supervision mentoring requirements outside of the program in order to qualify for the Approved Supervisor designation.
  7. Doctoral Comprehensive Evaluation – Upon completion of all other program requirements and prior to beginning the dissertation process, students are required to complete a doctoral comprehensive evaluation. This evaluation is relevant to the university program only and is in no way related to, preparatory for, or representative of requirements for state licensure or the licensing exam. The evaluation includes four written components and an oral presentation. The written components include: 1) a personal theory of therapy paper, 2) a critique of a research article and proposal, 3) a detailed response to an ethical dilemma, and 4) a written case illustration that is consistent with the theory of therapy paper. Once the written components are completed, the student is required to prepare and complete an oral presentation of the theory of therapy and case illustration. This is completed through online video conferencing with at least three MFT faculty members present.
  8. Dissertation – The capstone of doctoral training is the completion of the dissertation process. All programs at NCU use a facilitated dissertation process, which is purposefully designed to help students follow a step-by-step sequence in the preparation and completion of a doctoral dissertation. For students in the MFT program, the dissertation must be related to marriage and family therapy and be consistent with the student’s selected area of specialization. (Note: The dissertation portion of the PHDMFT program can be completed with a minimum of 12 credit hours in Dissertation Courses, but may require additional credit hours, depending on the time the student takes to complete the dissertation research.)


All PhD students are required to demonstrate competency in the areas listed below.

  1. Competency in Research Writing Skills - PhD students are required to complete both MFT -7101  and MFT -7102  at NCU. Students are required to show competency in writing skills for research purposes throughout their NCU graduate coursework. Students may request on their own behalf or may be recommended to complete an English writing course if the School Dean or faculty determines communication skills are insufficient for doctoral-level work.
  2. Graduate-Level Research Methods Competency - PhD students are required to complete MFT -7103 , MFT -7106 , and MFT -7107  at NCU.
  3. Graduate-Level Statistics Competency - PhD students are required to complete MFT -7104  and MFT -7108  at NCU.
  4. Computer Competency - PhD students are required to have the computer skills that are necessary for completing a dissertation. Students must be able to prepare documents using advanced word processing skills (e.g., creation of tables and figures, headers and footers, page breaks, tables of contents, hanging indents). In addition, students need to use computer programs for the statistical analysis of data (e.g., SPSS). The dissertation oral examination requires the student to produce a computer-based presentation (e.g., PowerPoint).

Time to Completion

NCU allows 8 years to complete all doctoral programs that require more than 60 credit hours.

Students who are unable to complete a degree program within the stated time limits are dismissed. If a student believes they have extenuating circumstances they may document the circumstances and send a request for consideration to their respective School Dean or designee. Exceptions to the policy are determined on a case-by-case basis and are granted only once.

Normal time to completion for this program is 74 months.

Time to completion varies depending upon the pace in which a student completes courses and the number of transfer credits accepted. As most NCU students are working adults balancing educational, professional, and personal commitments, our academic and finance advisors will work with you to develop a program schedule that works best for your needs.

The normal time disclosed above reflects the experience of students who may have entered under different program requirements. In the quest for continuous improvement, academic leadership has revised the program to optimize curriculum and pace, facilitate student learning, and improve chances for success. Therefore, the program is now designed for students enrolling today to take advantage of these revised course structures, lengths, and schedules. New students following the preferred schedule designed by the Dean for this program, and applying no transfer credits, can expect to finish in as little as 56 months.

Dissertation Process

Faculty assists each NCU Doctoral student to reach this high goal through a systematic process leading to a high-quality completed dissertation. A PhD dissertation is a scholarly documentation of research that makes an original contribution to the field of study. This process requires care in choosing a topic, documenting its importance, planning the methodology, and conducting the research. These activities lead smoothly into the writing and oral presentation of the dissertation.

A doctoral candidate must be continuously enrolled throughout the series of dissertation courses. Dissertation courses are automatically scheduled and accepted without a break in scheduling to ensure that students remain in continuous enrollment throughout the dissertation course sequence. If additional time is required to complete any of the dissertation courses, students must re-enroll and pay the tuition for that course. Continuous enrollment will only be permitted when students demonstrate progress toward completing dissertation requirements. The Dissertation Committee determines progress.

Degree Plan

Credit Hours – This program can be completed with a minimum of 69 credit hours, but may require additional credit hours, depending on the need for Foundation Curriculum courses and the time required to complete the dissertation research. If granted, additional dissertation courses will be added to the student degree program in alignment with the SAP and Academic Maximum Time to Completion policies. Students who do not complete their program in accordance with these policies may be dismissed.

Foundation Curriculum – Up to 30 credit hours may be required as determined by formal review during the applicant evaluation process. Any required courses from the Foundation Curriculum are completed in addition to the minimum of 69 credits required to complete the MFT doctoral degree plan.

Foundation Curriculum* - All Foundation Curriculum Areas (FCA) below must be met
Content Area Number of required Credit hours
FCA 1: Foundations of Relational/Systemic Practice, Theories & Models 6
FCA 2: Clinical Treatment with Individuals, Couples and Families 6
FCA 3: Diverse, Multicultural and/or Underserved Communities 3
FCA 4: Research & Evaluation 3
FCA 5: Professional Identity, Law, Ethics & Social Responsibility 3
FCA 6: Biopsychosocial Health & Development Across the Life Span 3
FCA 7: Systemic/Relational Assessment & Mental Health Diagnosis and Treatment 3
FCA 8: Contemporary Issues Some Coverage
FCA 9: Community Interactions & Collaboration Some Coverage
Clinical Experience 3
Must include face-to-face client contact under the supervision of a licensed mental health professional.  
Total Credit Hours: 30
* Courses must have been completed at a regionally accredited institution and passed with a B or higher, and be approved by NCU MFT faculty

Medical Family Therapy Specialization

The Medical Therapy Specialization is designed to prepare students to work with individuals, couples, and families that are facing chronic or acute medical difficulties. Medical Family Therapy incorporates a family therapy, systems perspective in helping client families to understand and deal with their medical difficulties. Students in this specialization are required to focus their course projects, internship work, and dissertation research on issues related to medical family therapy. Eighteen (18) credit hours of coursework are devoted to Medical Family Therapy.

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