important updates
  • Now accepting applications for Fall 2022! Apply by 6/30/22.*
    • If you need additional time to apply, please contact:
    • All application fees and GRE requirements currently waived.
  • Choose specialties in Family Studies or Couple and Family Therapy while receiving individual academic and research mentorship.

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Weekly Online Info Sessions

Questions about our programs? Join the Department of Counseling and Family Sciences for weekly online info sessions on Wednesdays from 6-7 PM (Pacific).

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, respect for all persons, and compassionate whole person care
  • Embedded professional self-care

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Program Director: Zephon D. Lister, PhD

Available Specialties

  • Family Studies
  • Couple and Family Therapy

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

Admissions and Application

General Admissions 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) - Note: Due to issues associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, the GRE General Test is waived for all 2021-2022 applicants to doctoral programs in the School of Behavioral Health. Please do not submit GRE scores through ETS or report your scores in any application materials as they will not be taken into consideration.
  • 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)​

Admissions FAQ

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

Shaon Martineau
One of my favorite things about Loma Linda University is the diversity of the classes. I’m able to engage with people from a lot of different backgrounds with varying experiences, which creates great opportunities for learning.

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.

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.

Play Therapy or Drug & Alcohol Counseling Certificate

Students entering an MS degree program within the Department of Counseling and Family Sciences in academic year 2022-2023 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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