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Is a Master’s degree in Counseling different from other Master’s programs?

Yes, a Master’s program in Counseling is different. For California Master’s programs in Counseling, the coursework revolves around fulfilling the requirements for state licensure as a Marriage and Family Therapist (M.F.T.). This means that most of the coursework is required, with room for a few electives, and specified internship hours are also required. Research is not emphasized in this type of program. Students work in practicum settings to develop their counseling skills. They must collect 3,000 hours of supervised counseling experience in order to qualify for the M.F.T. licensing exam. Sometimes the internship hours are paid, sometimes they are not. Sonoma State offers a Master's in Counseling with M.F.T. training.

Master’s programs in Counseling also offer the Pupil Personnel Services Credential (P.P.S.). This credential is required to work as a counselor in the secondary schools. Obtaining the P.P.S. credential requires an M.A. in an appropriate counseling program and passing the CBEST exam, a California exam required of all teachers and counselors. Sonoma State offers a Master's in Counseling with P.P.S. training, as does St. Mary's. For a complete listing of graduate programs offering Master's degrees in school counseling, see this site; or for educational counseling, see this site.

Still other schools offer other specializations in counseling, such as emphases in college, career, and rehabilitation counseling. State universities such as San Francisco State and Sacramento State offer Master's programs with diverse specialization areas. San Jose State offers a Master's in Education with emphases in school counseling or adult counseling, as well as a Master's in Psychology with emphasis in Counseling. For a listing of Rehabilitation Counseling programs, see this site. For substance abuse counseling, see this site.

What is the M.F.T.?

The M.F.T. (Marriage and Family Therapist) is a license that enables a Master's level therapist to practice unsupervised counseling and therapy, especially in private practice. The coursework in California Master's programs prepares students to take the California M.F.T. licensing exam to be licensed as a practitioner in California. After individuals complete educational requirements involving coursework and training, and complete 3,000 hours of counseling internship, they take a written and an oral competency examination administered by the State of California. The exams are designed to be difficult and to have low pass rates. After passing both exams, an individual receives the M.F.T. license.

Currently 48 of the 50 states offer some kind of license similar to the M.F.T. Some states offer the license under the umbrella of the Licensed Professional Counselor (L.P.C.). If you intend to move to another state, check the licensing requirements for that state. You may also want to acquire your Master's degree in the state in which you will sit for the license and be practicing.

For information on Master's level salaries, see the 2003 APA survey data. The Board of Behavioral Sciences offers 2007 data on the numbers of California licensed Master's level therapists, social workers, and educational psychologists.

What's the difference between the M.A. and the M.F.T.?

The M.A., or Master of Arts, is an academic degree that the University awards after you complete a Master's Program. Some Counseling programs award an M.S., or Master of Science, instead of an M.A. Even with a Counseling M.A. or M.S., you cannot practice as an independent, unsupervised counselor until you are licensed by the state. In California, the license for counselors is the Marriage and Family Therapist (M.F.T.) license. You can get more detailed information about the licensing process from the Counseling Department in Nichols Hall, 664-2544, or by contacting the Board of Behavioral Science Examiners in Sacramento.

What Master's programs offer M.F.T. training?

There is an M.F.T.-oriented Master's program in the Counseling Department at Sonoma State, and also at San Francisco State, Sacramento State, San Jose State, Chico State, Dominican University of California, University of San Francisco, and St. Mary's. See this Board of Behavioral Sciences site for accredited Master's programs offering M.F.T. training.

Alternative Master's in Counseling programs include those at California Institute of Integral Studies, Pacifica Graduate Institute, John F. Kennedy University, and Institute of Transpersonal Psychology.

For a complete listing of accredited California schools offering Master's level training toward the M.F.T., see this Board of Behavioral Sciences website. For a listing of graduate programs in marriage and family counseling, see this site.

What's the difference between a therapist who is an M.F.T. and one who is a Ph.D. or a Psy.D.?

There are wide variations in coursework and in training. M.F.T. therapists receive 2 years of required coursework, while Ph.D. therapists receive from 2 to 6 years of coursework. By California law, only licensed clinical or counseling doctoral level practitioners can call themselves psychologists or clinical psychologists. Doctoral-level psychologists are trained in psychological testing and assessment, and often receive their clinical training in psychiatric facilities, where they are exposed to a broader range of treatment experiences than are M.F.T. therapists. Ph.D. psychologists often accumulate more post-M.A. internship hours than M.F.T. therapists. They often have about 3,000 internship hours before they receive their doctorate, and then must collect 1,500 additional hours post-doctorally. M.F.T. therapists often have more training in running therapy groups and support groups.

Many M.F.T. therapists go on post-license to receive training and supervision in numerous areas of counseling and psychotherapy. M.F.T. therapists work in clinic settings, run therapy groups, do forensic work, and work in many types of mental health settings. Many M.F.T. therapists hold different positions to round out their private practice. For example, they may have a private psychotherapy practice, do some consulting around a specialty topic area, supervise the training of intern therapists, conduct groups, conduct training workshops in specialty topic areas, or work in community mental health settings.

Currently the M.F.T. license is found in 48 of the 50 states, sometimes under the umbrella of the Licensed Professional Counselor (L.P.C.). Each state has their own licensing requirements, which you should be familiar with if you will not be practicing in California. The licensing requirements for clinical psychologists also vary by state, so you should check state licensing requirements if you will not be practicing in California.

In today’s market of managed health care, Ph.D. level psychologists are more recognized by health insurers and HMOs, have more privileges in the area of testing and assessment, and receive higher per-session fees. They are also more competitive in receiving teaching posts at colleges and universities. See the 2003 APA survey data on positions and salaries of doctoral level psychologists sorted by geographical area; and Master's level psychology practitioners.

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