What is an MFT?

A Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) is a mental health practitioner who provides psychotherapy and related change process services with individuals, couples, families, and groups. They are regulated through professional licensure, monitored in the state of California by the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS).

MFTs are focused on the interpersonal and relational aspects of human behavior, as well as the social contexts in which problems occur. They can work in a variety of settings such as: 

  • Non-profit organizations
  • Educational organizations
  • Health care organizations
  • Private Practice

The SDSU MFT program is also accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE), which is the national program accrediting body for the MFT field and is under the oversight of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). 

The following description provides an overview and comparison of the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) requirements for licensure eligibility and COAMFTE program standards. For additional information on licensure, please see the BBS website. For additional information on COAMFTE accreditation, please see the AAMFT and COAMFTE websites (and learn more about COAMFTE accreditation at the bottom of this page).

Academic Program Requirements

CA BBS requirements

Programs must require a minimum of 60 semester units and should include an integrated course of study and supervised clinical training. The BBS also specifies education in a few clinical areas such as substance abuse, human sexuality, psychopharmacology, and testing. No philosophical or theoretical base is prescribed.

Refer to Business and Professions Code ยง4980.36 for details

COAMFTE requirements

Programs must require a minimum of 60 semester units and coursework should reflect a philosophical and theoretical underpinning in systemic and other relationally oriented theories and practices. While certain topic areas are required, there is a stronger emphasis on theory, historical and philosophical foundations of the field, and greater choice of specialized topic areas.

Supervised Clinical Experience

CA BBS requirements

Sites must meet specific BBS criteria for supervision, type of practice, and type of setting.

COAMFTE requirements

The graduate of a COAMFTE program must complete a minimum of 500 direct client contact hours plus 100 hours of supervision while in the program. These hours must apply systemic ideas and practices. Sites must meet specific COAMFTE standards, which are more rigorous than BBS standards. Only client contact and supervision may be counted. See the section of this literature on Curriculum for an expanded description of the clinical experience requirement. COAMFTE clinical requirements are only defined for the graduate program.

The MFT License

State law regulates many professions to protect the consumer from incompetent, negligent and exploitative service providers. The MFT field is one profession (along with the psychotherapy professions of psychology and social work) that the state regulates in terms of educational and clinical training requirements and safe, fair practice. The Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) is the state agency that regulates the practice of MFT.

The MFT license:

  1. Identifies the holder as having met certain minimum requirements of competence in the field
  2. Entitles the holder to present him/ herself as a licensed MFT
  3. Allows the holder to provide services within the scope of practice, as defined by law

Our degree and curriculum are approved by the BBS, as described in the Business and Professions Code Section 4980.37, Section 4980.40, and Section 4980.41, as a qualifying program to provide the educational preparation for the MFT license. The degree that SDSU grants is called Master of Science in Counseling with a concentration in Marriage and Family Therapy.

MFT Trainee

This status is defined by the BBS and refers to students or pre-graduates of a Master's program in MFT who have completed a minimum of 12 semester units of coursework and are eligible to participate in clinical experience.


This status is defined by the BBS and refers to graduates of MFT programs, who are registered with the BBS and are working towards licensure.

3000 Hours

Associates must collect 3000 hours of clinical experience within six years, prior to applying for the licensure exam. Details of different types of hours required can be found on the BBS website.

Law & Ethics Exam

The Law & Ethics Examination is required by the BBS to be taken annually until licensure. Details of this exam can be found on the BBS website.

Clinical Exam

The applicant is licensed as a MFT upon successful passing of BBS Clinical Exam.

COAMFTE Accreditation

Image: COAMFTE swirly 3-line logo with words Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy EducationCOAMFTE is . . .

COAMFTE is the national accreditation body for the profession of MFT. Program accreditation defines a program as having met nationally established standards for training in the field. Students benefit particularly with greater ease in gaining access to licensure across state lines and by recognition of the quality of the program. The program benefits from being defined as having met nationally recognized standards and qualifying for access to greater visibility and resources.

Accreditation is . . .

Program accreditation is a voluntary process that defines a program as meeting national standards for a professional discipline. A commission that is affiliated with the national professional organization for the discipline oversees the setting of the national standards and the application and review process for accreditation. The Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) is the national program accrediting body for the MFT field and is under the oversight of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). Program accreditation brings national recognition and opportunities to a program, the faculty, and the students.

Licensure Portability

Licensure is a state level credential granted to an individual. MFT graduates apply for licensure after completing graduate education and additional post-graduate clinical experience requirements. Program accreditation is a nationally awarded status to a program. A primary value to graduates of a COAMFTE accredited program is increased portability of education and experience across state lines in terms of practice opportunity and licensure.

Candidates seeking admissions into the MFT program are solely responsible for learning about the portability of their degree to become registered/licensed in the state(s) where they may relocate after receiving their MFT graduate degree. For the most accurate and up to date information about licensing requirements, candidates interested in practicing outside of California post-degree are encouraged to go directly to the main website for the state licensing board that oversees licensing for that state. 

Refer to the AAMFT webpage for information about MFT license portability

Annual survey

For accreditation purposes and ongoing program improvement, we send our students surveys to help us assess our success in meeting educational outcomes and preparing them for the MFT profession. While in the program, students will receive an annual survey each year. Upon completion of the program, students will complete an MFT Exit exam administered by the College of Education. Alumni will receive a survey on an annual basis asking for information about such things as job, licensing process, professional organization involvement, and employer information. Periodically, we also sent out surveys to employers of our graduates on employer satisfaction.