What is a Marriage Counselor?

Marriage CounselorA marriage counselor works with couples to improve their relationship. They may see married couples, two non-married people who are in a long-term relationship or even a couple that’s about to get married. The goal of a marriage counselor is not to reconcile relationships, though this may be one positive outcome of therapy. Instead, these specialists seek to help people come to a better understanding of their relationship and each other even if that means that the relationship comes to an end. Therapists who focus on marriage counseling earn a specialized degree or certification, and they often work with families as well.

Background and Training

According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists or AAMFT, marriage counselors average about 13 years of clinical practice in the field. At minimum, counselors who specialize in marriage and family-related issues need two years of post-graduate degree clinical experience, but many MFTs go on to attain doctorates in an effort to better serve their clients. You don’t need a psychology degree to become an MFT, but having a background in counseling or a related field will complement the specialization. For example, pastors, social workers and nurses bring varied but related experiences to the field of marriage and family therapy, which has been classified by the U.S. government as a core mental health profession in the same vein as psychiatric nursing, psychology, psychiatry and social work.

How They Help

Couples who argue frequently, disagree on fundamental issues or face unexpected crises may benefit from working with a marriage counselor, because these professionals have been trained how to help people cope with difficult situations. Within the context of marriage and family-related issues, MFTs can diagnose and treat mental health conditions and other factors that may be contributing to the strain on a relationship. Because marriage counselors recognize that marriage and family operate as one unit, they often work with families as a whole even if the issues are centered on the parents. Marriage counseling also helps couples without children to develop more effective communication skills and understand one another’s perspective.

Marriage counselors can’t offer services outside of the context of relationships and family, which means that if a spouse is struggling with alcohol addiction, the therapist would develop a more comprehensive plan by consulting with that spouse’s doctor or substance abuse counselor. Marriage therapists can act as referees or mediators depending on the need.

Benefits and Job Outlook

There’s increasing demand for marriage and family therapists according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By 2024, job demand is expected to increase by 19 percent, which is much faster than other occupations. Marriage counselors earn about $42,250 per year and need a master’s degree to enter the field. Beyond the monetary benefits, MFTs also enjoy the knowledge that their work makes a positive difference. According to the AAMFT, there are about 50,000 MFTs working today, and nearly 90 percent of people who see marriage counselors report improvements in their emotional well-being.

Related Resource: Addiction Counseling

While marriage therapists primarily serve couples, it’s not necessary for both spouses to attend sessions. The AAMFT notes that MFTs “broaden the traditional emphasis on the individual to attend to the nature and role of individuals in primary relationship networks.” Whether a person is struggling with a spouse or preparing for marriage, working with a marriage counselor may help to build a better foundation for the future.