5 Important Courses in a Family Counseling Doctoral Program

  • Theories and Techniques
  • Laws and Ethics
  • Couples Counseling
  • Parent-Child Counseling
  • Research Methods

With the mental health community working hard to rid society of the stigma against seeking counseling, degree programs in counseling are becoming more popular. Family counseling programs used to end at the master's level, forcing students to choose between careers in practicing and careers in teaching and research. With the advance of doctoral programs in this area, students can now graduate with the qualifications to pursue more dynamic careers. Here are five of the key courses to look forward to in these programs.

Related Resource: 10 Most Affordable PhD in Family Counseling Online Programs 2018

1. Theories and Techniques

Students begin by learning about the theories behind counseling with families. They will then proceed to spend the majority of their class time learning and practicing the techniques born out of those theories. The theories and techniques curriculum will become more advanced throughout the duration of the program, ultimately culminating in supervised practicum training with real family clients. In the final stages of the program, students will meet in small class groups with a supervising professor to share their experiences and receive feedback on their counseling work.

2. Laws and Ethics

There are a very specific set of laws and ethics that budding family counselors must learn to abide by. These laws and ethics guide their process of earning their future licenses, and will continue to guide their practice as both counselors and researchers. They will learn about instances in which laws and ethical procedures clash, and how to make tough ethical and legally sound decisions. They will gain an understanding of the history of these laws and ethics, as well as information about how to remain current with the constant changes.

3. Couples Counseling

There are unique sets of techniques and interventions to use when working with couples. Students will learn about the unique issues that couples face and how to address them. They will learn how to assess couples' commitments to their relationships and how to help couples communicate better. They will also learn how to tailor their counseling to couples of differing marital statuses, sexual and gender identities, parenting versus non-parenting couples, and couples of mixed racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds.

4. Parent-Child Counseling

Another family dynamic students need to learn to navigate is the parent-child relationship. Students will learn the unique sets of techniques and interventions to use when working with parents and children. They will learn the unique ways to apply them based on whether the family is single or two-parent, blended, adopted, or nuclear. They will learn the difference between counseling parents and younger children and parents with older children. They will learn how to approach counseling families with one versus two versus multiple children. Finally, they will learn how to help parents properly discipline their children.

5. Research Methods

What sets a doctoral program apart from any other degree level is that students learn how to plan and conduct research studies. Students will learn about how traditional psychological research methods have evolved to investigate issues and treatments related to counseling families. The program will culminate in the completion of a dissertation study. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy offers many great articles which highlight the current trends in research and provide doctoral students with inspiration for dissertation topics.

Family counseling is a rewarding and socially significant career path. Earning a doctorate degree in this field opens up a broad world of possibilities. These five key courses highlight both the academic journey and the professional community that students will one day join.