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

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Now accepting applications for Winter 2020. Choose specialties in Family Studies or Couple and Family Therapy while receiving individual academic and research mentorship. Applications are reviewed as they are received until all spaces are filled. Submit your application here.

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At a Glance

  • 3-4 year (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 Couple 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
  • Embedded curriculum for practice with active duty military and veterans
  • Christian environment emphasizing integrated learning and compassionate whole person care
  • Embedded professional self-care

Request Information

  • Specialty in Family Studies
  • Specialty in Couple 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 Couple 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 Couple and Family Therapy 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 Couple 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 Couple and Family Therapy 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 program 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.

Program Learning Outcomes:

  1. Theory: Students will be able to analyze, synthesize, apply, and critique theories of human development and family therapy/family science to advance and integrate theory into research and practice in the field.
  2. Research: Students will demonstrate knowledge and skills as a researcher in the field of Marital and Family Therapy/Family Science through research, professional publication, and presentation.
  3. Teaching: Students will demonstrate competency in teaching and supervision within academic and community settings.
  4. Scientist-Practitioner: Students in the CFT specialty will become adept in systems/relational practice, demonstrating sophistication as a scientist/practitioner.
  5. Service and Professionalism: Students will develop a professional identity as doctoral level family therapists/educators aligned with national practice standards. Students will demonstrate service and professionalism through professional and community involvement.
  6. Responsive to Diversity: Students will be responsive to the societal, cultural, and spiritual contexts in which health and well-being are embedded.
  7. Legal and Ethical Consciousness: Students will be proficient in the legal guidelines of the MFT/Family Life Education field and will develop an ethical consciousness that guides their practice in all 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:

  • Master's degree from an accredited institution of higher education
  • Grade-point average (3.3 minimum)
  • Personal interview
  • Three letters of reference (two academic and one professional preferred)
  • GRE scores (taken within the last five years)
  • Official transcripts for all college and graduate study
  • Prior to matriculation students must pass a background check
  • International students: TOEFL, 550 (pencil test) or 213 (computer score) (English as a second language only)

Couple and Family Therapy 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 Couple 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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