A private, nonprofit, accredited educational institution, founded in 1975 as the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology (PGSP).

M.A. Counseling: Emphasis in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling

Palo Alto · San Mateo · Monterey Bay · Online

Palo Alto University master’s degree in counseling programs are offered online or on campus so working people with families can earn a degree and advance their career.

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The M.A. Counseling with an emphasis in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling prepares students to serve their communities as a California-licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT). This master's in counseling degree also prepares students for California Professional Clinical Counseling (LPCC) licensure, with a scope of practice that includes counseling families and couples.

The program combines an emphasis on scientific research with extensive clinical training to produce clinicians whose practices are grounded in science and meet the highest professional standards. This scientific and professional rigor makes the program uniquely suited for students from various walks of life and at different stages of their careers who aspire to help families in need of care.


A clinical practicum or fieldwork experience is a required part of the Master's in Counseling program.  Practicum provides students an opportunity to gain experience in the role of a clinical counselor. Students complete a minimum of 700 hours of counseling-related experience over a 9 to 12 month period. This experience includes a minimum of 280 hours of direct counseling experience.  Palo Alto University provides guidance to students in securing a practicum site.  Common types of placements include county mental health agencies, school-based mental health centers, and non-profit counseling centers.


California MFT/LPCC Licensure

The M.A. Counseling degree with an emphasis in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling is designed to meet the MFT license requirements of the Board of Behavioral Sciences in the State of California (Section 4980.36 or 4980.37).

Graduates of this program may also pursue licensure as a Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) in California, the U.S. and internationally. (See M.A. Counseling with an emphasis in Clinical Mental Health Counseling for more information about licensure and career opportunities for LPCCs.)

The master's in counseling degree is the first step to obtaining an MFT license. Before and after graduation, students will need to accumulate two years (104 weeks) of supervision and 3,000 pre- and post-Master's hours of supervised work experience. After accruing the required experience, graduates take the written exams for the MFT license. Upon achieving a passing grade, they are issued a license to practice in the State of California.

Considerations for non-California Residents

For those currently living in other states who plan to practice in California, this is an ideal program. However, this Master's degree emphasis may not be appropriate for those who will require licensure for marriage and family therapy practice outside of California. Requirements for this emphasis vary considerably from state to state. Before applying to Palo Alto University, non-California residents should research the specific requirements for the state where they plan to practice. Palo Alto University's Clinical Mental Health emphasis is designed for most U.S. states and countries.


What MFTs Do

Marriage and family therapists are trained, state-licensed professionals who help people of all ages manage or overcome mental health and emotional disorders and problems in the context of the family and relationships. They manage the delivery of mental health care to individuals, couples, families, and other groups, incorporating the principles of recovery-oriented treatment. By listening to clients and asking questions, they help clients to understand their problems and develop strategies to improve their lives. They are directly responsible for ensuring client safety, and remaining compliant with all laws and regulations and moral and ethical guidelines for the profession. In California, LPCCs with training in couples and family counseling can also practice in these areas. 

Employment Outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of marriage and family therapists (MFTs) is expected to grow 41 percent between 2010 and 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations. Additionally, employment of mental health counselors (LPCCs) is expected to grow 36 percent in the same timeframe.

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Job Settings

Marriage and family therapists may find employment in such settings as:

  • Private practice
  • Schools & colleges
  • Social service agencies
  • Government agencies and veteran centers
  • Health maintenance organizations (HMOs)
  • Inpatient and outpatient care facilities and hospitals
  • Medical and mental health centers
  • Nursing homes and residential care facilities
  • Religious organizations

Non-licensed Career Options

While most graduates of this program pursue licensure, students who defer seeking licensure may find positions in education, research, publishing, administration, advocacy, business, and other fields, or pursue further educational opportunities at the doctoral level.

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Contact Us

1791 Arastradero Road
Palo Alto, CA 94304

Phone: (800) 818-6136 Fax: (650) 433-3888