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Master of Arts Degree in Counseling Psychology (California)

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Master of Arts Degree in Counseling Psychology (California)

If you’re a compassionate individual who cares about helping people and feel a calling to make a difference in their lives, becoming a marriage and family therapist can be a very satisfying career choice.

National University’s Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology is designed to prepare you to work with couples, children, and other family members and help them manage various emotional situations and/or psychological issues. Our program challenges students to understand and practice therapy from both the client’s and the practitioner’s perspectives in order to gain a deep understanding of how the process works and to become an effective counselor.

Help Guide Families, Couples, and Individuals Through Emotional and Psychological Situations

Students in this online MFT program choose between two specialization options based on their career goals: the standard Marriage and Family Therapist Option and the Combined MFT/LPCC (Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor) option. 

Upon completion of the program, you’ll have the education necessary for Marriage and Family Therapists in California. You’ll be well-prepared to move on to the next step of completing the post-graduate associateship required to take the licensing exam.

NU’s online MFT program is designed for California only. Either option may not meet requirements in other states. Students should consult the licensing boards of the appropriate states for information about licensure outside of California. For detailed course information, please click here.

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accredits public and private schools, colleges, and universities in the U.S.

Course Details

Prerequisites for the Major

  • 2 courses; 9 quarter units

A study of the essential principles and theories of psychology. Topics include social, developmental, and cognitive psychology.

A study of the essential principles and theories in psychology. Topics include an overview of biological psychology, personality theory, and abnormal psychology.

Core Requirements I

  • 7 courses; 31.5 quarter units

Students will take classes from this sequence, then take 3 area of specialization courses, Core Course Sequence II.

PrerequisiteBachelor’s Degree in Psychology , or PSY 501A and PSY 501B

This course examines the theories of development as applied to the clinical assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of children, adolescents, adults, and older adults. Areas considered include diversity, gender, and multicultural issues as well as identifying normative developmental transitions and their differentiation from deviant developmental patterns. This course also focuses on developing foundational knowledge of human sexuality at a professional level.

PrerequisitePSY 501A; PSY 501B

An exploration of the role of culture, social justice, and systemic privilege and oppression in concepts of mental health practice. Students will examine how their own cultural background frames their understanding of themselves and others. Social and economic disadvantage, structural inequality, white fragility, and the limitations of the dominant Eurocentric psychological world view to diverse populations are explored.

PrerequisiteBachelor’s Degree in Psychology, or PSY 501A and PSY 501B

This course explores community mental health theories and practices in the US and internationally from the theoretical perspectives of community psychology and social justice. Topics include the history of institutionalization and community mental health movements; navigating the complex public health and social services systems; working with dual diagnosed clients, useful therapeutic models and effective practices; principles of recovery; strength-based assessment and resilience; and fundamentals of case management.

This is the first of a two-course sequence. In this course students learn what makes an effective psychotherapist and what therapeutic skills that lead to positive client outcomes. The clinician’s ability to establish and maintain a trusting, supportive relationship with clients, and bring presence to the therapeutic encounter, is essential to all current therapeutic approaches. Students learn how to create and maintain the therapeutic frame and understand how the structure of a therapeutic relationship differs from other types of relationships. Students also learn the basics of crisis intervention, including assessing and addressing suicide risk. Students learn to practice counseling psychology with cultural humility, curiosity, an awareness of one’s own biases, cultural influences, and social location. Finally, students learn about barriers to mental health services experienced by non-dominant groups in American society.

PrerequisitePSY 644A

This is the second of a two-course sequence. In this course, students continue to learn what makes an effective psychotherapist by studying the work of several master psychotherapists. Students expand their knowledge of how to create and maintain a strong therapeutic alliance, understanding the therapy relationship as a microcosm of the client’s life, using compassionate and effective feedback to address dilemmas and obstacles to therapeutic progress. Students become more familiar with interpersonal, psychodynamic, solution focused, attachment-based, cognitive-behavioral and mindfulness approaches to conducting therapy, understanding when to apply a short-term or long-term approach. The course includes a brief introduction to the contributions of modern neuroscience to the field of psychotherapy. As with all of our courses, a multi-cultural and social justice orientation will increase knowledge of the social structure of our society and experiences of marginalized and oppressed cultural groups.

This course discusses clinical assessment from the bio-psycho-social-spiritual, resiliency, recovery and medical models. Interviewing skills and the use of assessment instruments are covered. Assessment, diagnosis, and treatment approaches for anxiety disorders and obsessive-compulsive and related disorders.

PrerequisitePSY 612A

This course covers the assessment and diagnosis for Gender Dysphoria and Anxiety, Psychotic, Personality, and Dissociative Disorders in the DSM and other assessment systems. Students will practice assessment skills and development of treatment plans during the course. Outcomes assessment and case conceptualization processes will be discussed.

MFT Core Requirements II

  • 3 courses; 13.5 quarter units

Students interested in becoming a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist will take these courses between Core Sequence I and III.

Examines assessment techniques, perspectives, and strategies essential to the treatment of children and adolescents. It also includes the therapeutic relationship, assessment and diagnosis, evidence-based treatment, family systems perspective, and legal/ethical concerns related to working with children and adolescents. Public settings and treatment based on cultural awareness as well as the recovery/resiliency model are covered.

This course provides a comprehensive look at the theories, techniques, and critical issues involved in treating couples. It will provide a focus on major approaches to the treatment of couples, including resilience and recovery models. The course also focuses on identifying and treating sexual problems and unhealthy sexual relationships. Students will have an opportunity to practice counseling sessions with couples in a role-play format.

This course provides a comprehensive review of the theories, strategies, techniques, and critical issues involved in clinical work with families. This course will discuss various treatment approaches including an emphasis on evidence-based, recovery, and resilience-based approaches. Students will have the opportunity to role play family sessions.

Core Requirements III

  • 10 Courses; 45 quarter units

This course examines the laws and professional codes of ethics pertaining to the practice of counseling and psychotherapy. How legal and ethical issues impact the profession of counseling with an emphasis on current California law is discussed.

PrerequisitePSY 644A; PSY 644B

This course focuses on how to integrate existing clinical skills into the pragmatics of clinical practice. Additionally, the course provides an introduction to crisis assessment, treatment planning, and intervention. This includes how to develop a case conceptualization, identify specific goals, and connect them to appropriate and effective interventions. This will be done through the integrated model of psychotherapy, where a variety of therapeutic models and interventions are utilized in the development of a treatment plan. Students will gain practical experience with both process and content issues through in-class role playing and demonstrations and receive both instructor and peer feedback. Grading is H, S or U only.

PrerequisitePSY 644C with a minimum grade of S.

First of a two-course field practicum where students work as MFT or LPCC trainees. Students participate in an academic seminar for six months at the university. Students must complete a minimum of 125 hours of face-to-face work with clients at a clinical site. This class will meet outside of regular class hours.

A comprehensive study of the major approaches, techniques and interventions used in group psychotherapy. Also emphasizes dynamics of group process including the types, stages and formation of groups.

This course is a survey of holistic approaches to counseling psychology. Theories and practices of transpersonal, somatic, expressive arts, and holistic psychology will be examined. The course will focus on experiential examination of each theory and how it may be clinically applied with different therapeutic issues and across different client identities. Ethical considerations for use of Holistic Counseling will also be examined.

This course covers the theories, etiology, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of addictive and compulsive disorders from the resiliency, recovery, and medical models. This course also addresses the impact of socioeconomic status, ethnicity, other environmental factors and contemporary controversies on the development and treatment of addictive disorders.

This course concentrates on the basics of trauma theory, trauma responses and treatment of traumatic symptomatology so that students can develop the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively treat survivors. The course will review the assessment process, including frequently used standardized measures, and various intervention approaches utilized with this population. Included in the course are maps, models and the development of skills with a focus on the Nervous System as a guiding approach. Students will learn to help clients resource, stabilize, process, metabolize and integrate personal and historical experiences of trauma, as well as ongoing challenges with activation.

This course will look at the traumatic impact of institutionalized racism, bias and marginalization as well as the isolative effects of acute trauma on the client and how these systemic issues can be worked with in a therapeutic session. Issues of diversity, privilege and human potential will be explored. The course will also explore trauma of war including moral injury as well as an exploration of the effects on refugees and displaced individuals. Relational violence and its traumatic effects will also be an area of focus.

PrerequisitePSY 680A

Second of a two-course field practicum where students work as practicum trainees. Students participate in a four-month academic seminar at the university. Students must complete the remainder of the state-required practicum experience hours of face-to-face work with clients in a community agency. This course will meet outside of regular class hours.

Psychopharmacology is the study of how medications and other drugs affect the human mind and body. This course has two major areas of focus. The first area of focus is on the principles of neuroscience and the brain mechanisms that are responsible for behavior. In order to understand how psychiatric medications work, one must first understand how the brain works, especially the neurons of the brain. The latest understanding of how psychotherapy changes brain functioning is also discussed. The second major area of focus is an exploration of the major therapeutic drugs for depression, psychosis and anxiety, etc. Metabolism of the medications and their action on neurotransmitter systems are important parts of the knowledge base. Emphasis is on choice of medication, mode of action and side effects.

Optional Sequence IV: Combined MFT – PCC Option

  • 3 courses; 13.5 quarter units

Students interested in becoming a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor will take these courses after Core Sequence III.

The Research Methods and Evaluation course provides a brief introduction to various forms of research methods: quantitative, qualitative, mixed methods, art-based, and community-based participatory research. We will explore these paradigms as they apply to social science research, and students will apply these methodologies to a research question of their choosing. Scientific problem-solving will be emphasized to include observational techniques and measurement tools, coding, analytic strategies, and reporting of research – as well an in the use of program evaluation. This course emphasizes the embodied research and the ability of students to navigate published literature in the field of mental health.

Acquaints students with the standard career interest measures used in clinical practice, including the psychometric principles of the measures. Emphasizes integrating conceptual, ethical, and practical information drawn from client background and assessment reports.

This course provides an opportunity for students to learn and evaluate several key career development theories and practice how to integrate and apply aspects of theories to their counseling work with diverse client populations. Students will understand the importance of theory in career development and life planning, learn the historical and philosophical perspective of career development, recognize current challenges in existing theories, explore emerging issues and trends, and appreciate the complexity of career choice, decision-making, and satisfaction of clients.

Supplemental Coursework

  • 2 courses; 3 quarter units

Courses in this sequence are not required. They may be taken upon faculty approval.

Early practicum course providing program support for students beginning supervised clinical experience before PSY 680A. Faculty permission required for enrollment.

Practicum course for students who have not completed their required hours of experience at the conclusion of PSY 680B. This course is repeatable for credit until the student has completed their hours.

Hear From Our Students

Degree and Course Requirements

To receive the Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology, students must complete at least 90 quarter units of graduate work. A total of 13.5 quarter units of graduate credit may be granted for equivalent graduate work completed at another institution, as it applies to this degree, and if the units were not used in earning another advanced degree. Students for whom English is a second language must take and pass an English Language Proficiency exam prior to beginning any coursework. Students should refer to the section on Graduate Admissions for specific information regarding additional application and evaluation requirements.

If you care about helping people and feel a calling to make a difference in your community and those around you, National University’s MA in Counseling Psychology will provide you with the advanced knowledge and skills to pursue a career in marriage and family therapy or professional clinical counseling. There is a growing demand for improving mental health in our society, and the job outlook for marriage and family therapists is projected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations.*

Throughout the program, you’ll work closely with faculty members who are also practicing professionals in their field, so you’ll gain real-world insights into how licensed therapists can make a positive difference in the lives of their clients.

Our program can be completed in 20 months, at which time you’ll be prepared to sit for the Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) License mandated by the Board of Behavioral Sciences in the state of California. By adding just three more courses in three months, you can also be eligible to sit for a license in Professional Clinical Counseling.


Marriage and family therapists work in a variety of settings, such as private practice and mental health centers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they’re also in great demand; employment of MFTs is expected to grow 16 percent by 2030, which is much faster than the average for all occupations.*

Once you’ve mastered and completed your NU coursework and earned your MFT license, you’ll be qualified for a broad range of positions across the state of California**. These include:

  • Mental Health Counselors
  • Mental Health Professionals
  • Counselors
  • Substance Abuse Counselors
  • Mental Health Clinicians
  • Clinicians
  • Licensed Mental Health Professionals
  • Mental Health Therapists
  • Licensed Mental Health Counselors
  • Behavioral Health Counselors
  • Behavioral Health Care Advocates
  • Behavioral Health Therapists
  • Therapists
  • Outpatient Clinicians
  • Family Counselors
  • Mental Health Coordinators
  • Private Practice Clinicians
  • Clinical Directors
  • Clinical Supervisors
  • Mental Health Case Supervisors
  • Public Mental Health Managers


**SOURCE: Emsi Labor Analyst- Report. Emsi research company homepage at (Report viewed: June, 2022). DISCLAIMER: The data provided is for informational purposes only. Emsi data and analysis utilizes government sources to provide insights on industries, demographics, employers, in-demand skills, and more to align academic programs with labor market opportunities. Cited projections may not reflect local or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth.  Current and prospective students should use this data with other available economic data to inform their educational decisions.

The field of psychology is robust and offers numerous pathways to difference-making careers. To provide the industry with highly skilled professionals on the cutting edge of the market’s current and expected needs, National University’s MA in Counseling Psychology offers two career-focused specializations:

MA Counseling Psychology MFT – This specialization is for students committed to helping individuals, couples, families, adolescents, and children in psychotherapy. You’ll learn how to assess, diagnose, and treat psychological stress or impairment, mental disorders, or problems that arise in couples and families, and how to work in various mental health settings. Only licensed MFTs may provide counseling to families and couples. 

MA Counseling Combined MFT/LPCC – This specialization is for students interested in also being licensed as a Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) in California. It meets the academic requirements for both the LMFT and LPCC. The combined option adds three courses specific to the scope of practice for LPCCs, including career counseling, research, and assessment techniques. This option includes additional hours of practicum training experience to meet state requirements for PCC trainees. The specialization focuses on individual psychotherapy, group psychotherapy, and vocational counseling.

Program Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this program, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate core psychological concepts and therapeutic skills that underpin counseling, psychotherapy, and mental health counseling, including critical evaluation of the relevant methods of research used in the study of behavior and their limitations.
  • Demonstrate current professional standards of ethics, values, and laws related to the practice of professional psychotherapists.
  • Demonstrate cultural competence, including recognition of one’s own potential biases, intersectionality (including systems of power, privilege, and oppression), and appreciation of cultural diversity in addressing the mental health needs of people of diverse backgrounds and circumstances with an emphasis on historically underserved populations.
  • Assess and diagnose psychological distress and client problems according to stated theoretical principles of conceptualization while integrating and adjusting for the client’s cultural and social identities, and physical ability.
  • Establish, maintain, and evaluate the therapeutic relationship to serve the mental health needs of diverse clients.
  • Develop culturally appropriate strategies, treatment plans, and interventions for work with diverse client groups in various clinical contexts and using a variety of psychotherapeutic models and modalities, including telehealth.
  • Evaluate outcomes of clinical work and demonstrate an ability to integrate supervisor feedback into the student’s treatment planning.
  • Apply a working knowledge of a range of topics important to mental health practice including (but not limited to) psychopharmacology, addictive and compulsive disorders, structured psychological assessment, relational violence, gender expression and sexuality, and trauma/crisis, including suicidality.
  • Evaluate norms and principles of public mental health work including (but not limited to) case management, collaborative treatment, evidence-based practice, strength-based model, resiliency, trauma-informed care, and recovery-oriented care to work with clients.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the principles of practicing self-care, with particular awareness of the impact of vicarious trauma on the therapist’s wellbeing, as the student develops a professional identity.
  • Integrate personal and professional development through self-reflection emphasizing capacities such as self-awareness, integrity, sensitivity, flexibility, insight, compassion, imagination, personal presence, and the impact on the therapeutic relationship.

Hear From Our Faculty

Watch our video to learn more about the Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology program from Dr. Brian Tilley, PhD, Program Director.

Headshot of Dr. Brian Tilley, PhD, MA in Counseling Associate Professor & Program Director, a clean-shaven man in a white shirt and printed tie.

“If you care about helping people, really feel a calling to make a difference in your community and with those around you, then this is the program for you.”

-Dr. Brian Tilley, PhD, Program Director, MA in Counseling


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“The MAC program excelled at exposing students to a variety of different clinical styles among its professors. This is incredibly important for a therapist in training to experience a variety of different clinical modalities and styles in order to shape their own. The MAC program has faculty that genuinely care and are invested in the well-being and growth of their students. The lasting relationships formed among students, peers, and faculty is invaluable.”

-Mary Papagolos., Class of 2011

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Frequently Asked Questions

Most online master’s in psychology programs require 36 credits and take about two years to complete. However, at NU, students may be able to complete the MA in Counseling Psychology in as little as 22 months, or 23 months with the added PCC.

If you want to advance in the field of psychology, then yes, a master’s is worth it. However, if you don’t have strong motivation, then the challenge of a graduate degree may not be for you. It helps to talk to others in the field and gauge your level of interest prior to enrolling.

Students interested in earning the degree can choose to complete an online master’s in psychology rather than a traditional on-site program.

Master’s programs in psychology will give you the foundation you need to conduct or apply psychological research that ultimately improves the lives of others. If you’d like to pursue a career as a psychologist, you must start with a graduate degree in psychology before earning your doctorate or sitting for a state licensure exam.

While a Master’s in Psychology is a typical path in obtaining a doctoral level degree in psychology, an MA in Counseling Psychology meets state licensing requirements and is a typical path to licensing.

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Program Disclosure

Successful completion and attainment of National University degrees do not lead to automatic or immediate licensure, employment, or certification in any state/country. The University cannot guarantee that any professional organization or business will accept a graduate’s application to sit for any certification, licensure, or related exam for the purpose of professional certification.

Program availability varies by state. Many disciplines, professions, and jobs require disclosure of an individual’s criminal history, and a variety of states require background checks to apply to, or be eligible for, certain certificates, registrations, and licenses. Existence of a criminal history may also subject an individual to denial of an initial application for a certificate, registration, or license and/or result in the revocation or suspension of an existing certificate, registration, or license. Requirements can vary by state, occupation, and/or licensing authority.

NU graduates will be subject to additional requirements on a program, certification/licensure, employment, and state-by-state basis that can include one or more of the following items: internships, practicum experience, additional coursework, exams, tests, drug testing, earning an additional degree, and/or other training/education requirements.

All prospective students are advised to review employment, certification, and/or licensure requirements in their state, and to contact the certification/licensing body of the state and/or country where they intend to obtain certification/licensure to verify that these courses/programs qualify in that state/country, prior to enrolling. Prospective students are also advised to regularly review the state’s/country’s policies and procedures relating to certification/licensure, as those policies are subject to change.

National University degrees do not guarantee employment or salary of any kind. Prospective students are strongly encouraged to review desired job positions to review degrees, education, and/or training required to apply for desired positions. Prospective students should monitor these positions as requirements, salary, and other relevant factors can change over time.

*Positions may require additional experience, training, and other factors beyond successfully completing this degree program. Depending on where you reside, many positions may also require state licensure, and it is the responsibility of the student to ensure that all licensure requirements are met. We encourage you to also review program-specific requirements. Any data provided on this page is for informational purposes only and does not guarantee that completion of any degree program will achieve the underlying occupation or commensurate salary.