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Questions about our programs? Join the Department of Counseling and Family Sciences for one of our helpful online info sessions.

At a Glance

  • 4-year (90 quarter unit) curriculum which includes 3 years of course work, a dissertation, and supervised professional development experiences that include teaching master's level courses, presenting at professional conferences, publishing in peer reviewed journals and other career growth activities
  • Program provides elective concentrations in Medical Family Therapy, Community Mental Health Practice, Clinical Supervision, and Global Mental Health
  • 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, respect for all persons, and compassionate whole person care

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Program Director

Dr. Zephon Lister


Professor, Counseling and Family Sciences
Director, Systems, Families, and Couples PhD Program

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Program Overview

The PhD degree in Systems, Families, and Couples follows the scientist-practitioner model in which students are expected to develop expertise in research, teaching and professional practice. The three-to-four year, 92-unit curriculum includes two years of coursework, professional development and clinical practice leading to licensure or certification, and one year of supervised dissertation experience. The purpose of the curriculum is to develop family science scholars and practitioners who will advance theory, research, practice, and teaching in the fields of couple and family therapy and family social science. Students will be prepared for academic, professional, and clinical positions in universities, community mental health, and medical settings. PhD students develop expertise in conducting original research using quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-method approaches; teaching in academic and community settings; and advanced clinical practice.

The PhD program is fully accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE), the accrediting body for the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). The core academic curriculum is composed of 53 units of coursework in the areas of research, theory, and practice. Students also take 9 units of religion. Students will then choose 18 elective units from the following content areas:

  1. MFT Clinical Supervision electives: These fulfill the educational and practice requirements to become an AAMFT-approved supervisor. 
  2. Medical Family Therapy electives: These provide the education, clinical training and practical experiences to work in inpatient, intensive outpatient, hospital, and outpatient healthcare settings.
  3. Advanced Clinical Practice electives: These provide students the opportunity to further develop their clinical awareness and skills in the areas of social context, self of the therapist and the integration of spirituality into the clinical practice.
  4. Community Mental Health electives: These focus on areas of skill development for community mental health practice including program development and evaluation as well as organizational development, family life education, assessment, and administration.

Requirements of the program include:

  • 92 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
  • 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)

Course Schedule Course Descriptions

Please Note: The curriculum of this program includes attendance during the summer terms.

Admissions and Application

Applicants must meet Loma Linda University and School of Behavioral Health admissions requirements and give evidence of academic ability, professional comportment, and mature judgment. The PhD degree curriculum represents advanced study over and above a standard master's degree curriculum in the field. Admission is based on an integrated evaluation of the following criteria:

  • Master's degree in clinical mental health field
  • Grade point average (3.3 minimum)
  • Structured oral interview with department
  • Three letters of reference (two academic and one professional)
  • Curriculum vitae (preferred, but not required)

The admissions committee uses the above criteria to evaluate applicants on each of the following equally weighted criteria:

  1. Academic preparedness
  2. Professional preparedness for doctoral study
  3. Research potential
  4. Ability to work with diversity
  5. Alignment with program mission and faculty interests

Admissions FAQ

Hailey Arellano
Hailey Arellano
The Systems, Families, and Couples PhD program has been a life-changing experience for me. Faculty and administrative staff are so supportive of clinical growth as well as advancement in scientific practices. They are truly dedicated to whole-person healing and I feel blessed to learn alongside them.

Professional Accreditation

The Systems, Families, and Couples 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 (AAMFT). The Systems, Families, and Couple PhD program also meets the requirements for certification as a Certified Family Life Educator through the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR).

For information on our student demographics, as well as student and faculty achievement information, please click 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.
Dr. Brittany Huelett
Dr. Brittany Huelett
Faculty within the department are not only leaders in this field, but they are kind, supportive, and invested in the development of future clinicians. Students who study at the School of Behavioral Health will be prepared to work with diverse clients in integrated care settings.

Play Therapy or Drug & Alcohol Counseling Certificate

Students entering an MS degree program within the Department of Counseling and Family Sciences in academic year 2023-2024 who are interested in obtaining certification in Play Therapy or Drug & Alcohol Counseling will receive a tuition waiver for the certificate program of their choice. Students interested in this benefit are required to enroll in elective courses specified by their academic advisor. Given available spaces, students enrolling in the Systems, Families, and Couples PhD program may also take advantage of this benefit. Tuition waivers do not apply to any units used to support the student's primary degree program.

*Applications received by the priority deadline are reviewed first and receive admission responses earlier. Applications received after the priority deadline and before the standard deadline are reviewed as they are completed until the program has reached capacity. If you have any questions about when your application might be reviewed, please contact the program director.

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