Couple and Family Therapy Overview

CFT Members

The Couple and Family Therapy (CFT) program is committed to training leaders in the field: exceptional researchers, excellent therapists, and effective trainers of therapists. Each student develops an approach to therapy that is personally consistent and grounded in sound theory and practice, and which results in positive outcomes for clients. In a context that emphasizes tolerance and self-examination, students are encouraged to develop a program of research that is meaningful and which considers couple and family interventions as one means of affecting the lives of people. For us, graduate education is a time of apprenticeship—intensive learning from faculty and other students about research, therapy, and ourselves.  

CFT faculty come from diverse backgrounds, training programs, and theoretical orientations. However, we share a common interest in consistently supporting and challenging the development of competent scientist-practitioners who understand the importance of a holistic perspective that takes into account the client couple, family, or individual in the context of their own history and experiences in their lives, their present context, and the context of their homes, neighborhoods, cities, and wider society.


Couple and Family Therapy Program Mission

The mission of the doctoral program in Couple and Family Therapy (CFT) at Michigan State University is to produce leaders in CFT research and practice by providing CFT faculty and students from a range of academic backgrounds with high quality research opportunities, teaching experiences, and clinical activities.


The vision of the CFT program is to build on and add to current strengths to remain a leader among CFT doctoral training programs by (a) educating students who are competent in CFT research, teaching, and practice, and (b) attracting and maintaining faculty members who are leaders in CFT research and training.

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

Educational Objectives

  1. To prepare students who are competent researchers, teachers, clinicians, and therapy supervisors.

  2. To create and maintain a couple and family therapy faculty who are productive researchers and who demonstrate effective teaching, clinical, and supervisory skills.

  3. To maintain and enhance a doctoral program that is successful in (a) developing and implementing research that is relevant and appropriate to the CFT and Human Development and Family Studies fields, (b) creating a positive learning environment; and (c) enhancing lives of individuals and larger systems through faculty and student efforts.

  4. To create a doctoral couple and family therapy program in which diversity in its many forms is honored through research, teaching, and presentations and publications by students and faculty.

Student Outcomes

  1. Research: Students are actively engaged in research activities:
    1. with CFT, HDFS, and/or other MSU faculty.
    2. with other CFT, HDFS, and/or other MSU students.
    3. have authorship on manuscripts submitted for publication.
    4. have authorship on proposals for professional institutes, workshops, papers, and posters.
    5. attend research seminars and training workshops.
    6. identify potential funding sources for research and prepare at least one grant proposal.
    7. students are encouraged to investigate issues of diversity in their research, including (but not limited) services to racial/ethnic/economic/sexual minorities; functioning of international families, couples, and individuals; issues of social justice in respect to women, the elderly, minorities, differently-abled persons, and children.
  2. Teaching: Students have experience with professional teaching as:
    1. instructor of record for a face-to-face or online course. OR
    2. teaching assistant for a face to face or online class. OR
    3. guest lecturer in a class. OR
    4. presenter for a poster, paper, and/or workshop at professional meetings.
    5. Students who have teaching responsibilities as instructors of record will include readings and lectures that address issues of diversity, including (but not limited) theory and data regarding racial/ethnic/economic/sexual minorities; functioning of international families, couples, and individuals; issues of social justice in respect to women, the elderly, minorities, differently-abled persons, and children.
  3. Professional Activities: Students are active in professional organizations by:
    1. attending and participating in national and international professional conferences.
    2. attending and participating in local and state-level conferences and workshops.
    3. maintaining membership of AAMFT.
    4. Students presenting posters and papers at state, national, and international conferences will demonstrate a commitment to and understanding of issues of diversity.
  4. Clinical Activities: Students meet the following criteria:
    1. complete 1,000 clinical hours with 200 hours of supervision by an AAMFT Approved Supervisor or equivalent.
    2. complete a course in supervision of therapy
    3. achieve for Michigan Limited License in MFT (LLMFT)
    4. achieve full C/MFT licensure in a state as they become eligible.
    5. demonstrate clinical competence
  5. Service: Students serve as volunteers in a variety of settings
    1. Students are encouraged to volunteer in multiple settings, e.g., the CFT program, the CFT Clinic, research projects, HDFS and elsewhere at MSU, in the community, and at professional conferences.

To read more detail about our program mission, objectives, and outcomes, please see our CFT Program Handbook


The program has five core faculty members who are all licensed Marriage and Family Therapists and AAMFT approved supervisors. The program faculty all bring national reputations in research, clinical work, and leadership on behalf of the field. The program is directed by Andrea Wittenborn. Other core faculty include Marsha Carolan, Kendal Holtrop, Temple Odom, and Saila Subramaniam. Drs. Odom and Subramaniam provide supervision in the clinic and teach courses. The other core faculty are heavily involved in programs of funded research, mentoring of doctoral students, and teaching courses. You can read more about their research at Each of these faculty supervise in the Couple and Family Therapy Clinic where you can also read more about their clinical expertise as Approved Supervisors. 


Students from the Couple and Family Therapy program work in a number of different environments post-graduation. Many work as researchers and instructors in academic settings. Some work in policy arenas, while others work in private practice settings. The overwhelming majority of our graduates report being satisfied with their experiences at MSU and their current work situations. The following link will take you to some of our featured alumni so that you can get a sense of our graduates. We will be updating this section regularly to feature additional program graduates.



The PhD concentration in Couple and Family Therapy trains scientist-practitioners and is accredited by the Commission on Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). Current accreditation is approved through November 1, 2020.


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 doctoral degree in Couple and Family Therapy consists of coursework, a practical immersion experience (formerly internship), 1,000 clinical hours (doctoral and pre-doctoral combined), comprehensive exams, and dissertation. More details about degree completion requirements can be found in the following places: CFT CURRICULA, CFT PROGRAM MANUAL, and the HDFS PhD HANDBOOK


We strive to fund all of our students, if possible, with assistantships. If you receive an assistantship, it will cover nine credit hours of tuition in the fall and spring semesters, and five in the summer session. It will also provide health insurance and a stipend. Please visit the following site to learn more about Graduate Assistantships: 

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

Students are admitted to the doctoral concentration 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 will be considered, however they will be required to complete additional courses meeting COAMFTE master’s degree equivalency. 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 COAMFTE master’s degree.

Degree Completion Time Frame

Students entering the Ph.D. program with a master’s degree in MFT usually finish 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. Please go to the following link to review graduation rates:

Clinical Training

The first phase of clinical training takes place 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, 450,000), as well as from the MSU community (47,000 students, 11,000 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 on DVDs for review and supervision. After the first year, students continue providing services in the Clinic, and with approval, may choose to seek additional experiences in the surrounding community.

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.
As the field of CFT grows and develops, 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 contains a wealth of information including information on curriculum, program milestones, policies related to student retention, grading, remediation, technology, and licensure (including licensure portability policies). The manual can be accessed at:


All students work for a part of their time in the program in the Couple and Family Therapy clinic. Our clinic operates using electronic medical records. We also use Morae software to provide feedback to clinicians on their work in session. All students are trained in these procedures and guidelines are contained in our clinic manual which all students are trained in when they arrive on campus. 

Program Diversity

The Couple and Family Therapy Program at Michigan State University prides itself in attracting diverse students to the program, both from the United States and Internationally. Our current student body for 2018-2019 is depicted in the table below:

Descriptor Number of Students
International 4
African American 3
Latino/Latina 3
Native American 1
White, non-Hispanic 11
Female 17
Male 5
Total Student Composition 22


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 4
Male 1
White, non-Hispanic 5

Non-core Faculty

Descriptor Number of Faculty
Female 10
Male 2
White, non-Hispanic 8
Asian 2
African American 1
Latino 1


COAMFTE Student Achievement Criteria Data