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 PhD-MFT Program Handbook.
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The Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy (PhDMFT) program at Northcentral University involves an outcome-based education framework that includes Program Goals and Student Learning Outcomes (SLO). These outcomes are continually measured to determine the program and faculty effectiveness along with student progress. Please see the Program Handbook for more information on the program’s education framework.
- Develop relational/systemic innovations addressing contemporary issues in the field of marriage and family therapy (SLO #1)
- Students/graduates will develop expertise in an area of specialization related to the field of marriage and family therapy (SLO #2)
- Cultivate competence in working with diverse populations in various contexts (SLO #3)
- Create new knowledge in marriage and family therapy through independent research (SLO #4)
- Appraise relational/systemic ethical behaviors in various settings (SLO #5)
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:
- 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 63-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).
- 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 foundational curriculum requirements (taken from the MAMFT program).
The PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy degree requires a minimum of 63 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 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.
The PhD degree program in Marriage and Family Therapy (all specializations) has the following graduation requirements:
- A minimum of 51 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 must be met before the student will be issued their diploma and/or degree posted transcript.
Beyond these standard graduation requirements, the Marriage and Family Therapy doctoral program has the following degree requirements:
- 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.
- Client Contact – Doctoral students will be required to complete 800 hours of direct client contact, which includes conducting face-to-face therapy with individuals, couples, families, and groups. At least 400 hours of client contact must be relational (e.g., couple or family). For more information, please read the practicum and internship course descriptions.
- Supervision – In conjunction with client contact, doctoral students must receive a total of 160 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.
- Doctoral Internship (Advanced Practical Experience Component, or APEC) – Doctoral students are required to complete a 9-month, 20 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 in-person 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.
- Liability Insurance – Prior to beginning any clinical experience, PhDMFT students are required to submit proof of professional liability insurance.
- 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.
- Doctoral Portfolio – Students are required to complete three 4-week portfolio courses in which they develop a portfolio that showcases their academic, research, clinical, and professional competence. Students will upload a variety of documents to the portfolio, such as their degree plan, resume and key course assignments, as evidence of their progress and abilities. Students must pass the final portfolio course, which is the last course taken, in order to become a doctoral candidate and advance to the dissertation sequence.
- 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.
- 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.
- Graduate-Level Research Methods and Statistics Competency - PhD students are required to complete MFT-7103 , MFT-7110 , MFT-7112 , and either MFT-7113 or MFT-7114 at NCU. These courses prepare students for the dissertation and enhance their ability to critique published research and conduct independent research.
- 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 of 60 credits or more.
The median 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.
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 57 months.
PhDMFT students must complete at least one 3-credit practicum course. Prior to enrolling in the required practicum course, students must complete the Practicum Preparation Process (PPP) and receive approval to enroll in this course. As part of the PPP, students who are not fully licensed MFTs (LMFTs) will be required to secure a local clinical placement as well as a local clinical supervisor who is an AAMFT Approved Supervisor (or Supervisor Candidate) or who meets state requirements for supervision of post-graduate MFTs seeking state licensure. Students who are LMFTs will complete a supervision practicum with NCU and a local supervisor is not required. Doctoral students will receive weekly supervision and evaluation from NCU Clinical Faculty.
The two practicum courses for non-LMFT doctoral level degree seeking marriage and family therapy students are MFT-8951 (Group practicum; 3 credit hours) or MFT-8952 (Individualized practicum; 3 credit hours). Additional details can be found in the course description.
MFT Supervision Training
In addition to the practicum and internship courses, students in the PhDMFT program must complete a course in MFT supervision methodology. The supervision course will be conducted in connection with the requirements established by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) for students to become AAMFT Approved Supervisors. Not all requirements will be completed for the student to achieve the designation while in the program at Northcentral University. The supervision course in the PhDMFT program 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.
PhDMFT students must enroll in MFT-8970 , or as an alternative to completing the supervision course at Northcentral students may elect to complete the training directly through AAMFT. Upon completion of the AAMFT training, students must submit documentation through their Academic and Finance Advisor for approval and the course requirements (credit hours) for MFT-8970 will be met.
Internship (Advanced Practical Experience Component; APEC) Information
Thus, doctoral students in the PhDMFT program typically begin their internship experience after completing the following courses:
Final approval of a student’s internship plan rests with the Director of MFT Doctoral Programs.
MFT doctoral students must complete a 9-month internship (APEC) under the direction of an AAMFT Approved Supervisor, AAMFT Supervisor Candidate, or state-approved supervisor. Students will identify two emphases for their internship from the following ten possibilities: advanced research, grant-writing, teaching, supervision, consultation, advanced clinical theory, clinical practice/innovation, program development, leadership, or policy.
For doctoral students who have not previously completed their clinical hours for licensure, a key requirement of this internship is to complete at least 800 hours of direct client contact, 400 of which must be relational (they must select either advanced clinical theory or clinical practice/innovation as one of their APEC emphases). In conjunction with client contact, doctoral students must complete 160 hours of supervision. All local supervision will occur in-person. Client contact and supervision hours obtained prior to practicum can count provided the hours are consistent with the hours required to obtain independent licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist in the student’s state. These hours must be documented and signed appropriately. Students are required to submit a summary of client contact and supervision hours during the Practicum Preparation and APEC Contract Processes. Documentation of the completion of all required hours is submitted during the third Portfolio course.
Doctoral students who have completed the required 800 hours of client contact and 160 hours of supervision prior to enrolling in the doctoral internship can elect to complete an internship on two of the other eight emphases identified above. These students are required to have an on-site in-person supervisor who will serve as a mentor and supervisor. Supervisors are approved on a case-by-case basis by the Director of MFT Doctoral Programs. Students in a non-clinical internship are required to have a supervisor who will be available to the intern for at least one hour of in-person supervision per week.
The APEC or internship process for doctoral MFT students is offered as a series of three 1-credit courses including MFT-8991 , MFT-8992 , and MFT-8993 . Additional details can be found in the course descriptions.
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.
Credit Hours – This program can be completed with a minimum of 63 credit hours, but may require additional credit hours, depending on the need for Foundational Curriculum courses and the time required to complete the dissertation research. If granted, additional dissertation courses will be added to the student’s 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 (FC) – Up to 30 credit hours may be required as determined by formal review during the applicant evaluation process. Any required courses from the Foundational Curriculum are completed in addition to the minimum of 63 credits required to complete the MFT doctoral degree plan. Students who need three or fewer FC courses will complete them as a part of the PhDMFT program. Those needing four or more courses will complete them as part of a Post-Master’s Certificate Program.
|Foundation Curriculum* - All Foundation Curriculum Areas (FCA) below must be met
||Number of required Credit hours
|FCA 1: Foundations of Relational/Systemic Practice, Theories & Models
|FCA 2: Clinical Treatment with Individuals, Couples and Families
|FCA 3: Diverse, Multicultural and/or Underserved Communities
|FCA 4: Research & Evaluation
|FCA 5: Professional Identity, Law, Ethics & Social Responsibility
|FCA 6: Biopsychosocial Health & Development Across the Life Span
|FCA 7: Systemic/Relational Assessment & Mental Health Diagnosis and Treatment
|FCA 8: Contemporary Issues
|FCA 9: Community Interactions & Collaboration
|Must include face-to-face client contact under the supervision of a licensed mental health professional.
|Total Credit Hours:
|* Courses must have been completed at a regionally accredited institution and passed with a B or higher, and be approved by NCU MFT faculty
The PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy requires the following courses for every specialization:
General Family Therapy Specialization
The General Family Therapy specialization allows students to select courses from a broad range of electives to fit their personal and professional ambitions. In this specialization, students must select four courses (12 credit hours) from the Marriage and Family Therapy curriculum at the 8000 level. Courses from the Department of Psychology may be considered to fill this requirement with approval on a case-by-case basis. Students in this specialization are required to focus their course projects, internship work, and dissertation research on issues related to marriage and family therapy.
Required Courses - 12 credit hours
- Electives - Four electives (theory or treatment-focused) chosen from any of the Department of Marriage and Family Sciences (DMFS) doctoral level specialization courses (or from Psychology with approval) listed in the Catalog that will help the student develop the desired expertise.