With the exceptions of California and possibly Texas, around the US most graduate degree programs in marriage and family therapy are accredited through the Commission on Accreditation for Marital and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). Of the 80 or so license-eligible MFT programs in California, only a handful are COAMFTE-accredited MFT programs. Without some background on professional accreditation and what it means, it is perfectly reasonable for prospective MFT students to wonder whether the benefits of COAMFTE accreditation are worth the added challenge of seeking out an accredited program.
Not everyone needs or will especially benefit from attending an accredited program. MFT programs that are not specifically accredited are still generally housed within accredited universities, making their degrees eligible for licensure. (More on that below.) But there are at least four areas where the benefits of program accreditation are likely to be significant for many students:
- License portability. Of course, no mental health license is truly portable — licensure is always a state-based activity, and each state has slightly differing requirements. This is true for MFTs just as it is true for LPCs and Social Workers. But one way to improve your MFT license portability is by graduating from a COAMFTE program. Most states specify in their licensure laws that in order to meet their educational requirements for licensure, you must have graduated from a COAMFTE-accredited program or the “equivalent.” At least one state, Mississippi, has no equivalency allowance at all — if you didn’t graduate from a COAMFTE program, you can’t get licensed as an MFT there, period. In other states, the process of demonstrating “equivalency” for a non-COAMFTE program may be fairly easy, or quite difficult. And it may require taking additional coursework. If you graduated from a COAMFTE program, on the other hand, the state presumes you have met their educational standards, and moving your license to another state becomes a lot easier.
- Quality education. Programs that undergo professional accreditation understand that it is a rigorous process that requires careful examination of the program, from both within the university and from the outside accrediting agency. It is rigorous to help ensure that any program that receives accreditation is offering a high-quality education. To be sure, there are some strong programs that are not accredited. But accreditation provides a valuable seal of external assurance that the program appears to be doing what is necessary to train competent marriage and family therapists. In California, graduates of COAMFTE-accredited programs perform better on MFT licensing exams, on average, than graduates of non-accredited programs.
- Job eligibility. The Department of Veterans Affairs has recently updated its job description for MFTs, and is now hiring both MFTs and LPCs around the country. Thanks to some strong lobbying from CAMFT, the description no longer requires a COAMFTE-accredited degree. But it remains true that if you want to move up the career ladder at the VA, you still must have graduated from a COAMFTE-accredited program. Knowing that significant numbers of licensed MFTs (particularly in California) did not graduate from COAMFTE programs, CAMFT is working to have that restriction lifted as well. But in the meantime, it is what it is. Graduate from an accredited program, or don’t plan to advance in your career at the VA.
- Loan reimbursement program eligibility. The National Health Service Corps will repay up to $50,000 of your student loans if you work in an underserved area for two years. There are NHSC-eligible jobs for MFTs available right now, and the loan reimbursement is in addition to salary, not in place of it. To be eligible as an MFT (see page 18), you must have graduated from a COAMFTE-accredited graduate program.
Originally published November 4, 2010. Updated August 15, 2018.