Couples counseling, more commonly known as marriage or marriage and family counseling, involves working with couples to resolve their differences. The goal is often to preserve a marriage, but when others in the family are concerned, it may be to improve their relations or help resolve behavioral issues.

This type of counseling has essential differences from others. Most appointments involve at least two people other than the therapist. The proceedings can start or become adversarial. Finally, the goal is to “treat relationships” rather than the individuals within them. All of this can make it more stressful to be a couples counselor than another type of mental health professional.

Another thing to note is that even though many people still call this sort of therapy “marriage counseling,” more and more who sign up for it are not married. Because of this, the newer term “couples counseling” is likely to become more prevalent over time.

Step 1: Complete a Couples Counseling Degree

The educational pathway for a prospective couples counselor may involve several degrees. Choices include:

  • Bachelor’s Degree – Several choices are open at the bachelor’s level. Those seeking to become couples counselors typically choose psychology, social work, social science, sociology, or a related subject for this degree. This subject is best if your school offers a bachelor’s degree in (general) counseling. A bachelor’s degree typically requires four years of study.
  • Master’s Degree – In some states, this is all required to get your future license in couples counseling. It takes two more years to get this degree once you have your bachelor’s. Master’s degrees are directly related to this, such as the master’s in family therapy. You can also go for a more general one, such as a master’s in social work or mental health counseling.
  • Doctorate Degree – Depending on your chosen track, you may need a doctorate (such as a Ph.D. in Psychology or a PsyD) to get a license. It will be a requirement if your goal is to be a clinical psychologist. However, if you choose the counselor title, the master’s will usually be enough, but you may consider a doctorate in MFT.
  • Graduate Certificate – A graduate certificate in MFT or couples therapy can help gain clients or obtain employment. These certificates are short (typically one year in length) and are usually only open to those who already hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Step 2: Become Licensed as a Couples Counselor

The licensing requirements for couples counseling depend on your state and which specific title you want to use. For many, that title is marriage and family counselor, so that we will use its typical requirements as an example.

Unlike many psychological professions, a doctorate is not typically required for a license. Instead, a master’s degree is enough. The degree must come from an appropriately-accredited program; CACREP is a respected accrediting body.

Internship / Practicum Experience

A two-year internship is typically required for this license. What counts as “two years” may vary; states typically state it as several hours, broken down into unsupervised and supervised practice. Check with your state to be sure of the specifics.


A national examination, created by the Examination Advisory Committee of the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards, must be passed. It is also typical to need to pass a state examination that focuses on the laws of that state as they pertain to this type of therapy.

Some states also insist that applicants pass more exams or take state-run short courses, such as a course focused on domestic violence and one that centers on AIDS.

States also have fees for getting a license and/or taking exams and state-run courses.

Step 3: Apply for a Couples Counselor Job

Many organizations need couples counselors, either working alone or as part of a team. Private practice is also an option.

What Careers Can I Pursue With a Couples Counselor Degree?

  • Marriage counselor
  • Family counselor
  • Social work
  • Marriage therapist

Where Can I Work With a Couples Counselor Degree?

  • Social services organizations
  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient mental health facilities
  • Substance abuse centers
  • Schools
  • Private practice

Step 4: Learn About Couples Counselor Salaries

There is a tremendous range in salaries in this general field, with some differences depending on the specific title one has. Of course, your degree type, experience level, geographic location, and type of workplace all factor in.

The reported range for a “marriage and family therapist” is $40,000 – $79,000 annually. Meanwhile, a “marriage counselor” can make an average of $131,000 annually.

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