PhD in Systems, Families, and Couples | School of Behavioral Health | Loma Linda University

At a Glance

  • 103 quarter unit curriculum which includes 2 years of course work, a dissertation, and supervised professional development experiences
  • Program provides specializations in Family Studies or Marital and Family Therapy, and a concentration in Medical Family Therapy
  • Only COAMFTE-accredited PhD program in California
  • Only Certified Family Life Education (CFLE) approved academic doctoral program in California, allowing students to become Certified Family Life Educators upon graduation
  • Students can become AAMFT-approved supervisors prior to graduation
  • Qualify for advanced MFT positions in VA settings without taking the MFT national exam
  • Embedded curriculum for practice with active duty military and veterans
  • Christian environment emphasizing integrated learning and compassionate whole person care

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  • Specialty in Family Studies

  • Specialty in Marital and Family Therapy

Program Administration

Zephon D. Lister, PhD, Program Director -
Patrice Harris, Administrative Assistant for Doctoral Programs -

Program Overview

The PhD program in Systems, Families, and Couples prepares students to be scholars in the field of Family Science. This PhD program offers a Family Studies specialty (non-clinical) and a Marital and Family Therapy specialty (clinical). Some courses in this program are shared by both specialties, e.g. Statistics, Health and Illness in Families, and Advances in Family Sciences. In addition, there are 22 units that are unique to each specialty. The program expects students to develop expertise in empirical research methods as well as skill in teaching. The MFT specialty also expects students to demonstrate skill in clinical practice/supervision.  

This program is COAMFTE-accredited. Graduates of the PhD program in Systems, Families, and Couples are multiculturally informed and well prepared to serve as ethically competent leaders who advance the marital and family therapy profession. Our alumni most often work as faculty members in academic and clinical programs, social and behavioral science researchers, clinic directors, advanced clinicians and clinical supervisors, both nationally and internationally. Additional career paths that our alumni have taken have included organizational consultation and ministry.

Requirements of the program include:

  • 103 quarter units
  • minimum of 3-4 years full time study (part-time plans available)
  • post-master’s course work in family science theory and practice, qualitative and quantitative research, supervision, and spirituality
  • 1000 hours face-to-face client contact in systems/relational practice for MFT specialty
  • a dissertation reflecting independent research that advances the family science field
  • 36 units professional development experiences in which students develop specialized competencies linking practice, research, and theory (formerly internship)

Curriculum Guide

Professional Accreditation

The Family Studies specialty of our PhD program meets the requirements for certification as a Certified Family Life Educator through the National Council on Family Relations.

The Marital and Family Therapy specialty of our PhD program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE), the accrediting body associated with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

For information on our student demographics, as well as student and faculty achievement information, please click here.

Professional Licensure

The MFT specialty within the PhD program is designed to provide the academic requirements to meet the California licensing standards according to Business and Professions Code 4980.38 for those students who have not previously met these requirements. For more information on MFT licensure in California, please refer to the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. Links for other state licensing bodies may be found here.

Program Philosophy and Goals

The program is consistent with Loma Linda University's vision of transforming lives through whole person health care. Our mission is to bring health, healing, wholeness, and hope to individuals, families, and communities through education, research, clinical training, and community service. The PhD in Systems, Families, and Couples program accomplishes this by preparing scientist-practitioners who will advance the body of knowledge through which marital and family scientists and marital and family therapists promote the health and well-being of individuals, families, and communities.

The curriculum is organized around nine guiding concepts: relational systems, wholeness, social forces, healing power of relationships, diversity, empirical process, education and prevention, spirituality, and worldwide focus. The student learning outcomes flow from these guiding concepts.

Anti-Discrimination Policy

Loma Linda University’s policy on anti-discrimination states the following: The University is committed to equal education and employment opportunities for men and women. While Loma Linda University (LLU) gives preference in its selection processes to  students and employees who are aligned with the faith-based mission of the University and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, LLU does not and shall not unlawfully discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, medical condition, physical handicap, mental condition, veteran’s status, or age in the provision of any of its services. In the department of counseling and family sciences, we adhere to this policy and additionally do not discriminate against anyone on the basis of socioeconomic or relationship status.

Program Outcomes: MFT Specialty

There are two overall program outcomes. These outcomes integrate our university's commitment to diversity and quality training of health care professionals with the need for diverse doctoral level practitioner-researchers in the field of marital and family therapy:

  1. The program will graduate a diverse student body prepared to advance the field of marital and family therapy.
  2. The program will develop family therapy scholar-practitioners who will advance theory, research, clinical practice, and teaching in the field of marital and family therapy.

Student Learning Outcomes

Family Studies Specialty

The learning objectives for the Family Studies specialty are:

  1. Students will develop professional identity as doctoral level family scientists.
  2. Students will be grounded in the theoretical and philosophical foundations of the field of family science and be conversant with the on-going development of family theories.
  3. Students will critique and evaluate the current and on-going issues in the field of human development and family studies.
  4. Students will be conversant with legal and ethical issues as a family scientist in the areas of teaching, research, and service.
  5. Students will become adept in family service practice skills.
  6. Students will contribute to the body of knowledge in family social science.

Marital and Family Therapy Specialty

Each of the six student learning outcomes for the MFT specialty support the LLU mission of providing whole person care with a specific emphasis on advancing systems/relational theory and practice in diverse societal context. They are as follows:

  1. Students will develop a professional identity as doctoral level marital and family therapists aligned with national practice standards.
  2. Students will become adept in systems/relational practice, demonstrating sophistication as a scientist/practitioner.
  3. Students will be able to analyze, synthesize and critique MFT theory, human development, and family science literatures to advance and integrate research, theory, and practice in the field.
  4. Students will demonstrate knowledge and skills as a researcher in the field of marital and family therapy.
  5. Students will be responsive to the societal, cultural, and spiritual contexts in which health and well-being are embedded.
  6. Students will develop an ethical consciousness that guides their practice in aspects of professional work.

Admission Requirements

The PhD in Systems, Families, and Couples program represents advanced study over and above a standard master's degree curriculum in the field. Acceptance into this program is based on an integrated evaluation of the following criteria:

  • Personal essay (see guidelines with application)
  • MS degree in family studies, marital and family therapy or equivalent
  • Grade-point average (3.3 minimum)
  • Oral interviews with department (one day)
  • Three letters of reference (2 academic and one professional)
  • Resumé (preferred but not required)
  • GRE scores (taken within the last five years)
  • International students: TOEFL, 550 (pencil test) or 213 (computer score) (English as a second language only)
  • Official transcripts for all college and graduate study.
  • Prior to matriculation students must pass a background check.

MFT Specialty Corequisites

Student transcripts will be evaluated on a course-by-course basis for the following areas of corequisite study. A plan of study incorporating these standard master's degree-level courses is available for students who have not completed these corequisites:

Theoretical knowledge in family systems/relational (8)
Clinical knowledge in marital and family therapy (16)
Individual development and family relations (8)
Additional study in areas 1-3 (4)
Professional issues and ethics in marital and family therapy (4)
Research (4)
Additional related study (4)
Minimum Approved Corequisite Units: 48


Current tuition and fee rates can be found here.

Financial Assistance

Students who are accepted into the PhD in Systems, Families, and Couples program may apply for a variety of work study and department funded research, teaching, and administrative assistantships awarded by the Department of Counseling and Family Sciences. These typically pay about $20 per hour and do not include tuition remission.

Students may also apply for need-based financial aid, such as a loan or other work-study programs on campus. Departmental awards are contingent on the availability of funds. Students accepted into the PhD program with specialty in marital and family therapy are eligible to and encouraged to apply for the AAMFT minority fellowships.

Students may apply for financial aid by writing to: 

Student Financial Aid Office
Student Services
Loma Linda University
Loma Linda, CA 92350
Phone ​909-558-4509

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