How to Become a Couples Therapist?

It’s no secret that relationships are challenging, and in our fast-paced, individualistic society, couples are facing more obstacles than ever before.

Once you step into the field of couples therapy, you will have the opportunity to help couples navigate these challenges and cultivate healthy, fulfilling relationships.

In this blog, we’ll explore the most effective route to becoming a couples therapist. I’ll share with you my personal insights and experiences from over 30 years in the field, as well as practical tips and advice for getting started.

But before we dive in, let’s take a moment to address some common questions and misconceptions about couples therapy. By gaining a better understanding of what it entails, you’ll be better prepared to embark on this exciting journey.

How much do Couples Therapists make?

Couples therapy is a skill that can be developed, and it’s certainly financially rewarding as people spend $100-200/hr in private practices. It largely depends on where you live as well. 

For example, in the US, the average annual salary of a couples therapist is around $55,000 – $75,000 in Metropolitan cities like California and Minnesota. In other cities like New York and Utah, the income goes even higher than $100,000 per year. 

In the UK, the average annual salary of a couples therapist is around £38,489 but you can scale it up to £55,000 per year depending on your competence and years of experience.

What are the Roles of a Couples Therapist?

Well, it’s a long list of things if we’re diving into the specifics, but in couples therapy, you will help resolve relationship conflicts, opening up a dialogue between the couple using communication exercises and emotional regulation techniques. 

In couples therapy, you’ll help couples work on problems like trust, infidelity, intimacy issues, and everything in between. Your job is to try to save the relationship but also call out the unworkability.

Even the best couples therapist won’t be able to save a relationship if it’s meant to end in divorce, but the right couples therapist will help the partners see each other’s perspective and ideally, create relationship satisfaction.

Is there a Difference Between Marriage Counseling and Couples Therapy?

It’s certainly not a commonly asked question mostly because most people don’t know that there even is a difference between couples therapy and marriage counseling.

While the terms are used interchangeably, the key terms are “therapy” and “counseling” which create the difference.

Marriage Counseling

  • Marriage Counseling or couples counseling deals with helping each partner tackle the challenges of married life.
  • It focuses on what’s happening in the ‘now’ and the issues faced by both partners regularly.
  • Marriage counseling helps many couples with relationship issues address their differences and compromises. 

Couples Therapy

  • Couples therapy demands you to look at the recurring pattern in the relationship and takes you back to the past.
  • Couples therapy can be done in several ways, some therapists take it back to how a pattern began during the couple’s relationship and gradually snowballed.
  • We here at RLI train therapists to tackle issues from childhood to create a resolution at the very roots.

In short, marriage counseling is a short-term treatment for the couple to get back on track. It helps deal with a particular conflict in the couple’s relationship that whereas marriage therapy or couples therapy is a long-form solution that looks at a recurring pattern and usually takes months of regular therapy sessions to help with relationship conflicts.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Licensed Couples Therapist?

As you’ll learn later in this blog, licensed marriage therapists come from a variety of different entry points. If we’re taking a standard route, then a bachelor’s in psychology, which is a 3-4 year long program, is highly recommended.

Then you have graduation programs, requiring you to pick your specialization, which can be anywhere from 1-3 years depending on where you live.

Afterward, there are training programs you’ll have to go through, the minimum requirements for which vary from country to country, but in total, it takes you about 7-8 years to become a couples therapist.

What’s the Success Rate of Couples Counseling?

While you will find several sources of information, some claiming it to save 95% of marriages, which is too good to be true but based on my years of experience, Forbes Health seems to have a more realistic figure of 70%.

But it’s an interesting question because if a couple is incompatible, isn’t it “successful” in the books of couples therapy for them to separate? Interesting dilemma. Maybe I’ll write another blog about it.

Regardless, relationship counseling is supposed to help the couple see the recurring unconscious pattern that creates a painful dynamic among many couples you see today. Couples therapy is just supposed to be the last stop before they make their final decision.

How long do average Couples need in therapy?

The length of a couples therapy program can vary depending on the specific issues being addressed and the progress made by the couple. 

Many couples may only need a few sessions, while others may need ongoing couples therapy for several months. Each session usually occurs once every week, but in highly volatile relationships, it can be a lot more frequent.

Every couples therapy session lasts for about 45 – 90 mins, and a typical weekly therapy program can last anywhere from 6 to 20 sessions.

Do I Need a License to Practice Couples Therapy?

Yes. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, all states require marriage and family therapists to be licensed. While the requirements for getting into couples therapy vary by state and country, a master’s degree in couples counseling or a related field, such as social work, is required to become a licensed couples therapist.

Additionally, most states require a certain number of supervised clinical hours and passing a licensing exam. Even though some states may allow individuals to practice couples therapy without a license if you’re working under the supervision of a licensed couples therapist, it’s necessary if you want to start your private practice.

What are the Steps to Becoming a Couples Therapist?

The route to becoming a couples therapist varies from person to person, but the initial steps are more or less the same. Here is what a typical route to getting into couples therapy looks like:-

Get Your Bachelor’s Degree

To pursue your specialization in couples therapy, you need to have a bachelor’s degree. The good news is, you don’t need to have your bachelor’s in Psychology itself, though it’s always better to have one in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT). 

A bachelor’s in Psychology not only prepares you for the Master’s better, but it also helps you understand yourself and others better, serving as an opportunity for personal growth and self-awareness, a lot sooner.

Here are some interesting Bachelor’s degree programs in Psychology in the US that will lay a strong foundation for a couples therapy career:-

  1. Bachelor of Science in MFTLiberty University
  2. Bachelor of Science in Psychology: Emphasis in MFTPepperdine University
  3. Bachelor of Science in Human Services: MFT ConcentrationGrand Canyon University
  4. Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a Concentration in MFTWalden University
  5. Bachelor of Science in Psychology: Couples and Family Therapy ConcentrationCapella University

Here are some universities outside the US that offer similar bachelor’s programs:

  1. BSc (Hons) Counselling and PsychotherapyUniversity of East London (UK)
  2. BSc (Hons) Counselling and PsychotherapyUniversity of the West of Scotland (UK)
  3. Bachelor of Psychological Science (Counselling)RMIT University (Australia)
  4. Bachelor of Social Services (Family and Couple Counselling)Aalto University (Finland)
  5. Bachelor of Education in CounsellingUniversité du Québec à Trois-Rivières (Canada)

Get Your Master’s Degree

If you want to become a couples therapist, it is recommended that you pursue a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology or Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT). These programs are quite similar and will provide you with the necessary knowledge and skills to work with couples in therapy.

Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT)

MFT is a therapeutic approach to mental health treatment that concentrates on the relationship between family members and partners. It is based on the principle that personal issues are often rooted in relationships and that by addressing these relationships, individuals can achieve greater overall well-being.

If you take this route, the curriculum of this Master’s program typically includes coursework in the following areas:

  • Theories and Techniques of MFT: This covers the various theories and techniques used in relationship therapy, such as systems theory, structural family counseling, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.
  • Human Development: This covers the psychological and social development of individuals across their lifespans.
  • Assessment and Diagnosis: This covers the assessment and diagnosis of emotional distress in couples and families, including the use of psychological tests and the diagnostic process.
  • Research Methods: This covers research methods and statistical analysis used in the field of MFT.
  • Ethics and Professional Issues: This covers ethical and legal issues that arise in the practice of MFT, such as confidentiality, informed consent, and professional standards.
  • Multicultural Issues: This covers the unique issues faced by diverse populations in therapy, including cultural, ethnic, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic issues.
  • Supervised Clinical Practicum: This includes supervised clinical experience in which students will have the opportunity to work with couples and families in a supervised setting.
  • Specialization area: Some programs also offer specializations in areas such as child and adolescent therapy, trauma, or addiction.

MFT practitioners use different modalities, each with its specific techniques and focus, to help their clients. For instance:-

  • Behavioral therapy aims to recognize and modify certain behaviors that contribute to problems.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy combines the behavioral approach with cognitive therapy, which aims to change negative thought patterns that may be causing the issues.
  • Emotionally focused therapy concentrates on facilitating the understanding and expression of emotions in a healthy way and on strengthening the emotional bond between couples.
  • Systems therapy considers the family as a system of interrelated parts and focuses on understanding and changing the patterns of interactions between family members that lead to problems.
  • Structural therapy concentrates on reorganizing the family structure like roles and boundaries to improve communication and resolve conflicts.
  • Narrative therapy encourages family members to share their own stories and experiences, which can help them understand each other’s perspectives, improve communication, and build stronger and more satisfying relationships.

Counseling Psychology

Couples therapy programs also fall under the category of Counseling Psychology. It is a broader field that focuses more on individual therapy, which will also help you with relationship issues.

Although many universities use “Counseling Psychology” as a label under which they teach marriage counseling/ relationship therapy, it can actually be considered a field for couples therapists.

Here is a list of programs that are relevant to you in the field of couples therapy:-

  • Clinical Counseling: This option focuses on individual therapy that deals with the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental disorders.
  • Marriage and Family Therapy: This option focuses on providing counseling services to couples and families, addressing issues such as relationship conflicts, communication issues, parenting problems, and mental health issues.
  • Gerontological Counseling: This option focuses on providing counseling services to older adults and their families, addressing issues such as aging, retirement, and end-of-life care.
  • Trauma Counseling: This is an individual therapy modality that helps a person to recover from traumatic experiences, such as abuse, violence, or natural disasters.
  • Addiction Counseling: This option allows you to help individuals and families cope with addiction and substance abuse issues.
  • Multicultural Counseling: This option focuses on providing counseling services to diverse populations, addressing cultural, ethnic, and linguistic issues in counseling.

Here are some renowned universities that offer Master’s in Counseling Psychology and MFT:-

  1. Master of Arts in MFTAlliant International University (US)
  2. Master of Arts in MFTAdler University – (US)
  3. Master of Science in MFTUniversity of San Diego – (US)
  4. Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology with an Emphasis in MFTPepperdine University – (US)
  5. MA in Systemic Couple and Family PsychotherapyUniversity of East London – (UK)
  6. Master of Science in Clinical and Health Psychology: Family and Couple TherapyUniversity of Strathclyde – (UK)
  7. Master of Science in Clinical and Health Psychology: Family and Couple TherapyAalborg University (Denmark)
  8. Master of Education in CounsellingUniversité du Québec à Trois-Rivières (Canada)

In some cases, Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) may be offered as a specialization or track within a counseling psychology program. This means that students in the program would take coursework and receive training in both counseling psychology and MFT, and upon graduation would be eligible for licensure in both fields.

Some universities may offer both programs separately, while others may combine them into one program. However, the curriculum and course requirements of the program would be tailored to provide the necessary training for both fields.

It is important to check the specific curriculum and course requirements of the program you are interested in to determine if it provides the training you need to become a couples therapist. 

It’s also worth noting that some states may have different titles for couples therapists and different licensure requirements, so it’s essential to check your area’s specific laws and regulations to determine the best path for you.

Complete Your Supervised Clinical Hours

After your Master’s, you need to complete a certain amount of hours working with clients in a supervised setting, under the guidance of a licensed couples therapist or supervisor. This is necessary for you to acquire the license for practicing couples therapy.

You can reach out to several clinical psychologists who have their private practice and ask them to take you under their wing, and they usually could use an extra pair of hands.

During the supervised clinical experience, you will typically have the opportunity to work with a diverse range of clients, including individuals, couples, and families, and will be able to apply the knowledge you’ve gained during your coursework.

Depending on where you live, there are different requirements for licensure to become a couples therapist. For example, in most states in the US, it requires at least 1000 hours of supervised experience with couples and families, to be completed over a period of 2 years. 

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, licensure requires 2,000 to 4,000 hours of post-degree supervised experience, which may be referred to as an internship or residency. In many countries, the Master’s degree programs have this internship in their curriculum so you won’t have to wait for your Master’s to be completed.

Some states may require more hours, and some may require that a certain percentage of the hours be completed in a specific setting, such as a private practice or a community emotional health center.

Appear for a Licensing Examination

After completing your master’s and supervised clinical experience based on the requirements of your state/country, you now are eligible for a licensure examination. 

Licensure for MFTs and Counseling Therapists is governed by different regulatory authorities.

  • In the US, Marriage and Family Therapists need to pass the Examination for Marriage and Family Therapy Licensure (MFT Exam) offered by the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB).
  • Similarly, Counseling psychologists are required to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) offered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). 
  • In Canada, the profession is called “Registered Marriage and Family Therapist (RMFT)” and is regulated by the Canadian Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (CAMFT) and the Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA). 
  • In Australia, the profession is called “Marriage and Family Therapist” and is regulated by the Australian Association of Family Therapy (AAFT) and the Australian Psychological Society (APS).

It is important to note that eligibility for licensure in couples therapy depends on the specific requirements of the state in which you plan to practice. Please check with the specific state board responsible for counseling licensure to determine the exact requirements for licensure in couples therapy in your state.

Apply for the License

Many therapists don’t get to know this until later that clearing the licensing examination qualifies them for a license, but it doesn’t offer them the license itself. You will typically need to submit an application for licensure to the state board or agency responsible for licensing a new therapist in your state, and meet any additional requirements specific to your state. 

Once you have met all of the requirements, you will be issued a license to practice as a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) or a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) depending on the field you picked.

Continuing Education Hours

In order to keep yourself updated with the latest techniques and methodologies, the regulatory authorities like the AAMFT in the US and HCPC in the UK require you to complete Continuing Education (CE) hours, which is working under a couples therapist.

Certainly, there are several advantages to obtaining these additional certifications after becoming a licensed couples therapist:

  • Higher earning potential: A couples therapist with specialized certifications will certainly be able to charge higher fees for their services and be able to increase their client base, and hence, improve their earning capacity.
  • Helps Keep Your License: CE (Continuing Education) hours are required by many professional licensing boards to ensure that therapists maintain their knowledge and skills in the field.
  • Improved Credibility: Additional certifications demonstrate a therapist’s commitment to the field of couples therapy and can enhance their credibility with potential clients and referral sources.
  • Specialization: Certifications in specific areas, such as sex therapy or trauma-informed therapy, can allow therapists to specialize in certain areas and attract clients with specific needs.
  • Professional development: Continuing education and certification programs can help therapists stay current with the latest research, techniques, and best practices in their field.
  • Better job opportunities: Therapists with additional certifications may be more attractive to employers, and may be able to secure higher-paying or higher-level positions in the field.
  • Networking opportunities: Certification programs often allow therapists to connect with other professionals in their field, which can lead to potential job opportunities or collaborations.

Here are some of the most renowned institutions around the world where you can acquire additional certifications:-

AAMFT – The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy offers courses that help meet the needs of mental health professionals and can be started, paused, and completed at any time. 

The Relational Life Institute – Provides certifications in Relational Life Therapy for couples, and they have specialized courses available on multigenerational trauma, working with children, etc. By far, they have the most elaborate course structure that you can check here.

PSEI – This organization offers education via live seminars, online training, and books, CDs, and DVDs. 

Gottman Institute – A Gottman-trained therapist offers live training and online courses for mental health professionals. It offers 3 levels of clinical training and a certification track for you to hone your skills further which you can check here.

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