2020-2021 Catalog with Addendum 
    May 22, 2024  
2020-2021 Catalog with Addendum [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Marriage and Family Studies


Lisa Merchant, Chair
ACU Box, 29444
Abilene, Texas 79699-9444
Biblical Studies Building 268

Phone: 325-674-3778
Fax: 325-674-3749
Email: lisa.merchant@acu.edu


D. Greg Brooks, Assistant Professor
Heidi Morris, Assistant Professor

The Department of Marriage and Family Studies offers the Bachelor of Science degree in Child and Family Services, which includes the option of a Child Life track. A minor in Child and Family Services may be added to other majors.


The mission of the Department of Marriage and Family Studies is to equip students to strengthen family relationships and solve personal and relational problems through child and family services or therapeutic intervention (at the graduate level) while cultivating Christian leadership and character in each student.

The undergraduate program in Child and Family Services contributes to this mission through:

  • Emphasizing the formation of healthy relationships and the promotion of optimal human development;
  • Examining current research and theory regarding the normal issues with which individuals and families must content as they grow and evolve;
  • Creating opportunities for students to design, implement, and evaluate family life education programs; and
  • Providing diverse practicum experiences that prepare students for future employment.

The graduate program in Marriage and Family Therapy contributes to this mission through:

  • Emphasizing a Christocentric view of human nature and personal/relational problems within a context of diversity;
  • Providing a diverse clinical training experience;
  • Encouraging development of a professional identity by fostering involvement in the profession of marriage and family therapy; and
  • Creating a culture of research.

The Department is committed to attaining high standards in education while offering personal guidance to students regarding their life choices. Marriage and Family Studies faculty members have academic degrees and professional experience in such areas as community services, marriage and family therapy, gerontology, research, administration, family life education, ministry, organizational development, group leadership, business consulting, family violence, and healthcare services.

Study Abroad Expectations

All students are encouraged to participate in ACU’s Study Abroad program. Classes offered at Study Abroad sites vary depending on the site. Academic advisors can assist students in planning ahead for their Study Abroad experience and should be consulted during the freshman year.

Bachelor of Science Degree (BS)

The Bachelor of Science Degree in Child and Family Services is designed to equip students to serve the needs of children and families in a variety of community settings. For those with a strong desire to help improve people’s lives, the program equips students to provide social services and educational programs designed to improve the functioning of children and their families, to help strengthen family relationships, and to solve personal and family problems. Taught from a Christian perspective, the program prepares students for a variety of careers serving children and families such as social service providers, family service workers, child life specialists, child and adult protective service providers, youth services and program directors, child development center directors, and family life educators. The Child and Family Services major requirements examine ten content or subject areas prescribed by the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR).

Students use recommended electives to build a specific area of study or concentration based on their professional interests such as child life, marriage and family, counseling, child and family ministry, and gerontology. Upon graduation, students will have completed the course content necessary to take the NCFR Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE) examination. Students enrolled in the Child Life Track, which is pre-approved by the Association of Child Life Professionals (ACLP), will have fulfilled ACLP’s academic requirements to sit for the Child Life Professional Certification Exam. To be fully eligible for the exam, students must also complete a 600-hour child life clinical internship. Majors in Child and Family Services should be people-oriented, sensitive to the concerns of children and families, effective in communication and listening skills, and strong in potential for leadership and management.

Admission into the Child and Family Services Program

The Department of Marriage and Family Studies welcomes all who desire to gain knowledge and expertise pertaining to various aspects of child and family services from a Christian perspective. While some may apply their studies in personal or unofficial capacities, many will pursue careers as professionals working with children and families. This is a high calling, demanding high professional standards. We, therefore, require an admission process that usually takes place during the sophomore year. This process, described below, is intended to ensure prospective employers that ACU graduates are equipped for the demands of working with children and family services.

Requirements for Admission

Students entering ACU as freshmen who wish to major in Child and Family Services will receive candidacy status in the program. In order to be fully admitted to the program, the following criteria must be met:

  1. Good standing in the University with at least 45 credit hours completed.
  2. Competition of FAM 251 , FAM 265 , and FAM 385  with a grade of C or better.
  3. A cumulative overall GPA of at least 2.25.

Any exemptions or modification to the above requirements due to special circumstances must be requested through the Chair of the Department of Marriage and Family Studies. All requests will be reviewed and must be approved by the Child and Family Services Admissions and Review Committee.

Requirements for Maintaining Program Admission Status

In order to remain in the Child & Family Services program, students must meet the following criteria:

  1. A grade of C or higher in all major courses.
  2. Maintenance of an overall cumulative GPA of 2.25 or higher.


Lisa Merchant, Program Director and Chair
ACU Box 29444
Abilene, Texas 79699-9444
Biblical Studies Building, Room 268

Phone: 325-674-3778
Fax: 325-674-3749
Email: lisa.merchant@acu.edu
Web: www.acu.edu/mft


Joanna Mendez-Pounds, Assistant Professor
Lisa Merchant, Assistant Professor
Lisa Powell, Assistant Professor

Supervising clinical faculty:
Jeff Emery
Gretchen Etheredge
Cara Flanders
Michael Pounds
Steve Willis

Faculty from other departments who teach in this program:
Steve Allison, Professor of Psychology
Richard Beck, Professor of Psychology


The Department of Marriage and Family Studies, located in the College of Biblical Studies at Abilene Christian University, offers a Master of Marriage and Family Therapy (MMFT) degree. A thesis track is also available.

The 60-hour MMFT degree and 66-hour thesis track are designed to be completed in 24 consecutive months. Part-time students may be admitted with Department Chair permission.

The program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE).

The primary objective of the degree is to provide professional training for persons intending to occupy positions in community mental health agencies, child and family service agencies, church ministries, institutional settings, and private practice, as well as those desiring advanced academic degrees. The majority of MMFT graduates are working in the placement of their choice or are accepted into doctoral programs in a variety of disciplines including marriage and family therapy, counseling psychology, and family studies.

The clinical faculty of the department are practicing clinicians and supervisors, certified as Clinical Fellows and Approved Supervisors by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), and licensed by the Texas State Board of Examiners. Most also hold another license in either psychology or professional counseling.

The Marriage and Family Therapy program is committed to a value system that espouses a Christian worldview in terms of human nature, the development of interpersonal or intrapersonal problems, and the context within which those problems can be solved. Integration of theory, therapy, theology and spirituality are found in the classroom as well as within the clinical experience.

The curriculum is intended to prepare graduates for membership in the AAMFT and state licensure in marriage and family therapy. Additionally, the Marriage and Family Therapy program prepares graduates for licensure as a Licensed Professional Counselor, with the addition of two courses to the degree plan.

Each graduate will receive a minimum of 500 hours of direct clinical experience and 100 hours of approved supervision, both of which are graduation requirements. Supervision is provided by the departmental faculty. Graduates also meet the requirements necessary to begin post-graduate licensure requirements.

Two predominant components of the program are clinical training and academic research. Beginning in the fall semester of the first year, all students are evaluated and then begin their clinical experience. The intern initially functions as a co-therapist beginning in the early spring of the first year. Supervision of this internship is provided by the MFT faculty in individual and group settings utilizing video, live and case presentation approaches.

The supervision experience focuses on integrating the student’s academic training with the clinical skills of marriage and family therapy. During the clinical phase, interns develop skills of assessing, diagnosing and treating individuals, couples and families from both medical models and systems perspectives.

Since each supervisor may come from a different therapeutic model, students are exposed to a variety of models such as cognitive-behavioral, structural-strategic, multi-generational, narrative, integrative, brief-solution focused, emotionally focused, and internal family systems.

The clientele for the internship experience come from the community and offer a variety of problems. Most internships are conducted in the department’s clinical facilities with 10 therapy rooms equipped with closed-circuit television cameras.

A second emphasis within the department is research. Non-thesis track students are required to submit abstracts for presentation at the annual conference of the Texas Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. It is a refereed process, and most of our students’ projects are accepted for presentation. All projects are guided by a primary faculty researcher. The research projects are either qualitatively or quantitatively oriented. Thesis track students are required to successfully write and defend their thesis. Thesis students apply for the thesis track in the spring semester of their first year. A limited number of students are selected for the thesis track. Thesis students will enroll in three thesis hours in the fall and spring semesters of their second year, making this track 66-hours.

Admission Requirements

Admission to the program is on a competitive basis. The admission requirements for the MMFT are:

  1. A completed application for admission with a nonrefundable application fee;
  2. An official transcript(s) in English (or translated to English) of all previous colleges attended. The transcript must indicate an earned bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university or equivalent;
  3. A cumulative undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale;
  4. A minimum GRE score of 280
  5. Three letters of recommendation;
  6. A written purpose statement declaring why the applicant wishes to study marriage and family therapy at ACU and what he or she plans to do professionally upon graduation;
  7. Completion of a psychosocial history;
  8. A quality of life that reflects high moral standards;
  9. Interview with faculty.

When all required materials are received, the application will be reviewed by the MFT faculty. Students are admitted once a year and begin their program of study in the fall semester. All application materials must be completed by the preceding February 1st for the fall semester. The GRE and personal interviews must be completed by April 1st. Acceptance into the program will be granted by April 15th.

No specific undergraduate major is essential for admission. Applicants are encouraged to have undergraduate credit in subjects that embrace human development, family relations, theology, sociology, psychology, and statistics.

Applicants without adequate preparation may be accepted upon the condition that they register for additional courses deemed necessary by the graduate advisor.

A student who does not meet all of the admission requirements may be considered for admission, if space is available. At the discretion of the department chair, such a student may be placed on academic probation during the first semester.


    Master of Marriage and Family TherapyBachelor of ScienceMinor


      Family StudiesMarriage and Family Therapy