Couple and Family Therapy Overview

CFT Members

Our COAMFTE-accredited Couple and Family Therapy Ph.D. program was first established in 1985. We have a long history of preparing leaders in couple and family therapy education, research, and practice. Our training focuses on relational processes, empirically-supported interventions, and clinical research methodology. Our work is guided by a commitment to inclusion, diversity, and social justice. Our faculty are prominent scholars in parenting, family dynamics, intimate relationships, mental health disparities, immigrant and refugee families, trauma, and clinical research; we also have expertise in numerous empirically-supported couple and family interventions. We view doctoral education as a time of apprenticeship in which students receive intensive mentorship in research, practice, and education. Students are guided through the program by their advisor and doctoral committee.


Couple and Family Therapy Program Mission

We are committed to advancing systemic interventions that support the well-being of individuals and families through excellence in clinically-relevant research, empirically-informed clinical practice, and education/outreach. Our activities are guided by our values of inclusion and diversity.

In order to achieve our program mission, we have established the following program goals and student learning outcomes.

Program Goals and Student Learning Outcomes

  1. Clinically-Relevant Research. Students will conduct research that is relevant to systemic interventions.
    1. Students will develop expertise in synthesizing literature and understanding theoretical frameworks relevant to their research area.
    2. Students will develop expertise in designing a research study using the best-suited methodological approach to address their research question.
    3. Students will publish clinically-relevant scholarship (e.g., scientific journal article or book chapter).
    4. Students will prepare a grant proposal that is relevant to their research interests.
  2. Empirically-Informed Clinical Practice. Students will inform their clinical practice by empirical evidence.
    1.  Students will demonstrate knowledge in at least one empirically supported systemic intervention.
    2. Students will practice skilled clinical work in the following: Admission to treatment, clinical assessment and diagnosis, treatment planning and case management, use of supervision to achieve clinical effectiveness, and legal issues, ethics, and standards.
  3. Education/Outreach. Students will share knowledge with students, practitioners, scholars, and/or community members.
    1. Students will graduate with skills that will allow them to be effective instructors in higher education.
    2. Students will be prepared to provide effective couple and family therapy supervision.
    3. Students will conduct professional presentations at community, regional, national, or international events.
  4. Inclusion and Diversity. Students will demonstrate a commitment to scholarly and clinical work that recognizes social locations, acknowledges power imbalances, and seeks to reduce disparities.
    1. Students will learn to attend to issues of inclusion and diversity in their scholarship.
    2. Clinically, students will demonstrate sensitivity to the social locations of their clients.

To learn more about our program mission, goals, and student learning outcomes, please see our CFT Program Manual.


The Ph.D. program has six core faculty members who are all licensed Marriage and Family Therapists and AAMFT approved supervisors or supervisor candidates. The faculty are international leaders in research, education, and practice. Faculty include Adrian BlowLekie DwanyenKendal HoltropErica MitchellTemple Odom, and Andrea Wittenborn. Faculty have different roles in the program. Drs. Blow, Dwanyen, Holtrop, and Wittenborn serve as faculty advisors and mentor students in research. All faculty teach and supervise in the program’s Couple and Family Therapy Clinic.


Graduates from the Couple and Family Therapy Ph.D. program work in a variety of settings, including universities, government, research institutes, and practice settings. You can learn more about our graduates through the following link.



The Couple and Family Therapy Ph.D. program is accredited by the Commission on Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE) through May 1, 2028.


The CFT program is a year round program. Students begin classes in the Fall semester of each year. Summer schedules are usually lighter in coursework with students focused on clinical hours, assistantships (if assigned), and research. Click the following link to access The Michigan State University Academic Calendar.


The Couple and Family Therapy Ph.D. requirements consist of coursework, a practical immersion experience, 1,000 direct client contact hours (doctoral and pre-doctoral combined), comprehensive exams, and dissertation. More details about degree completion requirements can be found in the following places: CFT CURRICULACFT PROGRAM MANUAL, and the HDFS PhD HANDBOOK


We fund all of our Ph.D. students with assistantships. An assistantship funds nine credit hours of tuition in each Fall and Spring semester, provides health insurance, and pays a monetary stipend. Students typically receive four years of funding. Please visit the following site to learn more about graduate assistantships at Michigan State University:

Admission (Doctoral program only; no master’s program offered)

Students are admitted to the doctoral program in Couple and Family Therapy in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. Students who enter with a master’s degree from a COAMFTE-accredited program, or its equivalent, will enter the doctoral program directly. Applicants who currently have a master’s degree from a non COAMFTE-accredited program will be considered, however they will be required to complete additional courses to meet the COAMFTE master’s degree equivalency prior to graduation. These courses will be determined after a review of previous coursework by the CFT program director. Generally, it is possible to accept many clinical experiences and courses from the student’s master’s degree as part of the equivalency. Students in such cases should anticipate that their education will take more time to complete than those entering with a master’s degree from a COAMFTE-accredited program.

Degree Completion Time Frame

Students entering the Ph.D. program with a master’s degree in MFT usually complete their Ph.D. in 4 years. Depending on prior coursework and appropriate clinical experiences, students entering with a master’s in another area may require 1-2 additional years to complete the PhD. A total of 1,000 hours of direct client contact is required for the doctoral degree in CFT; up to 800 hours can be counted from prior clinical experiences as long as they meet COAMFTE criteria. An immersion experience is also required that may include clinical, teaching, administrative, and research experiences.

Clinical Training

Clinical training occurs in the Couple and Family Therapy Clinic. The Clinic is located in the MSU Clinical Center, and functions as a non-profit community-based agency. Clients come from the greater Lansing area (population, 480,000), as well as from the MSU community (50,000 students, 13,000 faculty and staff). Services are provided on a sliding fee scale and supervision is provided by CFT faculty. Senior doctoral students provide additional mentoring for junior students. Each session is recorded for review and supervision. 

Research Training

The CFT doctoral program is committed to providing research experiences for each student that leads to expertise in the conduct of research and results in publications and conference presentations. We encourage students to go beyond the required courses to identify courses in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS), Psychology, Social Work, and Sociology, for example,that will strengthen their research and content expertise. We want each student to combine classroom learning with continuous hands-on experience in research and publication. The Department provides computers, statistical programs, coding programs, and a video-coding laboratory for student-faculty research, as well as dedicated research space. The Clinic provides opportunities for observation, data collection, coding, and more. The University provides a research design and data analysis consultation service open to students and faculty. There is an increasing need for doctoral graduates who are committed to and can carry out sophisticated programs of research, regardless of their setting—academic, medical, agency, advocacy, or private practice. Our goal is to provide the kinds of experience that will set the stage for such efforts.


The CFT Program Manual contains important information including a description of the curriculum, program milestones, and policies related to licensure, student evaluations, and other topics.


All students engage in clinical training in the MSU Couple and Family Therapy clinic. Our clinic offers state-of-the-art facilities including electronic medical records, video-recording equipment, and software to  provide supervisory feedback on video-recorded sessions. All students are trained in clinic procedures, which are described in our clinic manual. 

Program Diversity

The Couple and Family Therapy Program at Michigan State University prides itself in attracting diverse students to the program from the U.S. and countries around the globe. Our current student body for 2023-2024 is depicted in the table below:

Descriptor Number of Students
International 5
African American 2
Latino/Latina 1
White, non-Hispanic 6
Female 9
Male 4
Total Student Composition 14


COAMFTE Graduate Achievement Data Disclosure

Core CFT Faculty/Clinical Supervisor* Diversity

(*Note, all program faculty serve as supervisors in the clinic. You can read more about their supervisory work at this link:
Descriptor Number of Faculty
Female 5
Male 1
White, non-Hispanic 5
Black 1


COAMFTE Graduate Achievement Data Disclosure

Professional Licensure and Certification

Federal regulations require MSU to publicly disclose, for each educational program designed to meet the educational requirements for a specific professional license or certification required for employment in an occupation (or advertised as meeting those requirements), information about whether program completion would meet those requirements in a state. These public disclosure requirements apply to all programs, regardless of their modality (i.e., on-ground, online, and hybrid programs). MSU discloses the required information for its Couple and Family Therapy Program on page 74 of the table at Licensure and Certification - Public Disclosures - Final.pdf.

All current and prospective students are encouraged to contact the applicable professional licensure/certification boards in their respective states for additional information regarding professional licensure/certification requirements, including, without limitation, information regarding any non-educational requirements (such as post-doctoral supervision, licensing examination).

The information in the table should not be construed as guaranteeing that any particular professional licensure/certification authority will approve a student’s application; nor should the information in the table be read to imply that other requirements for professional licensure/certification do not exist or that other requirements for professional licensure/certification have been determined to have been met by MSU’s program/course, or that any necessary approvals for clinical or other experiential learning placements are secured by virtue of a student’s enrollment at MSU.

State professional licensure/certification requirements are subject to change at any time.

If you have questions about the program, please contact the Program Director, Dr. Andrea Wittenborn.