A study by the CDC suggests that individuals with weak social ties are at a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
That’s why your work as a marriage counselor is so important. By helping to revive struggling relationships, you’re not just improving the lives of your clients – you’re also contributing to their overall well-being.
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of how to become a marriage counselor, let’s address some frequently asked questions about marriage counseling. By understanding the ins and outs of this profession, you’ll be better equipped to make informed decisions about your career path.
What is Marriage Counseling is and What it’s not?
Marriage counseling is a form of remedy whereby the romantic partners going through a conflict seek external assistance to move beyond it.
Notice how carefully I defined marriage counseling without using the word “therapy”? That’s because marriage counseling and marriage therapy/couples therapy are mostly 2 different things.
Marriage Counseling vs Couples Therapy
- Marriage counselors help couples deal with conflicts that occurred recently. The issues they deal with are more micro-level, that are occurring in the “now” and can usually be resolved in a sitting or two.
- Couples Therapy deals with issues that have a recurring theme in the relationship. In their clinical practice, marriage therapists will use various techniques to seek insight into the adaptive behaviors of both partners that are causing recurring conflicts.
Is Marriage Counseling a Form of Therapy?
You can say that counseling is a form of therapy, but “couples therapy” is a term that’s used in an entirely different context. Couples therapy deals with a lot more complex issues that require long-term introspection and analysis to get to the roots of a dysfunctional behavioral pattern.
By the way, the path to becoming a marriage counselor or a couples therapist is EXACTLY THE SAME.
Marriage counselors and couples therapists occupy the same professional space and work with the same issues within the same patient populations.
How Much Do Marriage Counselors Earn?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports, the average Marriage and Family therapist salary in 2021 was $59,660.
The median income in May 2021 was $49,880, meaning half of these marriage counselors made more than that.
The lowest-paid 10 percent, meaning the entry-level MFTs in lower-paying states, earned $37,050. The highest-paid 10 percent of marriage therapists/counselors earned upwards of $96,520.
Is it Too Late for Me to Pursue a Career in Counseling?
NO. In order to become a marriage counselor, you need a master’s degree. And can you pursue your master’s at any age? YES.
Do I Need a License to Practice Marriage Counseling?
Yes. At least in most places around the world.
Requirements in the US
In the US, each state has its own licensing requirements and application process and relies on different boards to issue the license. You can check out the website of the American Counseling Association to check for your particular state’s requirements.
Requirements in the UK
In the UK, you can just complete any training program accredited by BACP, National Counselling Society (NCS), or UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), and become a licensed marriage counselor, or any other mental health professional.
Each country has its own licensing requirements and application processes, so it’s important to check with the specific board for information on how to apply, but licensing is mandatory in order to have your own private practice, or to work under other licensed professional counselors.
What are the requirements to become a marriage counselor?
There are many different entry points people take to enter this field. However, here is what the most conventional route to becoming a marriage counselor looks like:-
Step 1 – Get Your Bachelor’s degree
If you just got out of school and already know that this is your path, you need to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. It becomes your portal to understanding human relationships a lot earlier.
Here are a few benefits of a Bachelor’s in Psychology:-
- It develops critical thinking from a mental health standpoint.
- It helps with your interpersonal skills which are important to learn before you start mental health counseling.
- You become aware of several therapy modalities early on so that you can even pick which one you want to specialize in later.
- You may find a more interesting subject matter on your journey, which means you can always look for other options across the field.
What if my Bachelor’s is not in Psychology?
If you’re someone who has already completed your bachelor’s in something else, don’t worry. Even people coming from engineering backgrounds can pursue a Master’s in Psychology. It’s obviously not recommended but if you have a change of heart later in life, it’s absolutely doable.
Alternatives to undergrad in Psychology
In case you are on the fence about picking marriage counseling as your career path, you can also go for a bachelor’s degree in the following programs:-
- Sociology: This major focuses on studying society and social behavior, which can be beneficial for understanding human behavior and social dynamics.
- Biology: A background in biology can be beneficial for understanding the biological basis of behavior and mental processes.
- Neuroscience: This field deals with the biological and physiological basis of behavior and mental processes, which can help you reverse engineer the psychological causes by looking at physical changes in the body.
- Philosophy: Philosophy of mind, cognitive science, and cognitive psychology are all related fields and can all give insight into the study of the mind and behavior.
- Social work: This field deals with the application of psychology to help individuals, families, and communities, which can be beneficial for understanding the practical application of psychology and working with clients.
- Humanities: English, History, Anthropology, Linguistics, and other Humanities fields can help you understand the cultural and social context of the human mind and behavior.
Step 2 – Get Your Master’s degree
Finding the right master’s degree program is a rabbit hole because every program has different specializations, some have it on the basis of neurochemistry, and others have it on personality disorders that branch out even further.
Solution? Just look for a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy or in Counseling Psychology. These are the only two relevant programs to become a marriage counselor or even a couples therapist.
Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT)
A Master’s in MFT will teach you to how to work with married couples and family systems. This master’s program is what most undergrads opt for to become marriage counselors.
As a Marriage and Family Therapist, you will be able to conduct mental health counseling sessions to help improve family relations and create favorable or “win-win” situations among them by using your interpersonal communication skills.
Marriage and Family Therapists use various modalities, each with its specific techniques and focus, to help their clients. For example:-
- Behavioral therapy – This aims to conduct mental health diagnosis by recognizing and modifying certain behaviors that contribute to problems in family relationships and married couples.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy – This combines the behavioral approach with cognitive therapy, which aims to change negative thought patterns that may be causing the dysfunctional family dynamic.
- Emotionally focused therapy – This concentrates on facilitating the understanding and expression of emotions in a healthy way, diagnosing emotional disorders, inculcating some relational communication skills, and strengthening the bond between couples.
- Systems therapy – It considers the family unit as a system of interrelated parts. It encourages talk therapy sessions and focuses on understanding and changing the patterns of interactions between family members that lead to problems.
- Structural therapy – A lot of family therapy professionals concentrate on reorganizing the family structure like roles and boundaries to improve communication and resolve conflicts.
- Narrative therapy – Using this, the Marriage and Family Therapists encourage 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.
The above are just to name a few. And it’s likely that you will touch on at least one of these modalities during your master’s program.
You can become a Marriage and Family therapist even by pursuing your master’s degree in Counseling Psychology. Some Counseling Psychology programs provide MFT as a specialization or track within their curriculum.
Every University has its own name for the same program at times but it’s always better to check whether the curriculum provides some form of couples counseling skills. Here are some universities you can find in the US providing marriage and family counselor programs:-
- Northeastern Illinois University – M.A. in Couple and Family Counseling
- Meridian University – MA in Counseling Psychology
- Florida Christian University – Master of Arts in Clinical Counseling
- Long Island University – Master of Arts in Clinical Art Therapy and Counseling
- Trinity International University – MA in Mental Health Counseling
Here are universities in the UK offering the same:-
- University of Bath – MSc in Applied Forensic with Counselling (2 Years)
- University of Edinburgh – MSc in Counselling Studies
- University of Nottingham – MA in Person-Centred Experiential Counselling and Psychotherapy Practice
- University of Strathclyde – MSc in Counselling & Psychotherapy
- University of Lincoln – MSc in Counselling
Note that every state in the US has different requirements for licensure and you might want to check with your state’s regulatory authorities if they allow the therapy modalities you’re interested in as a valid qualification for licensure.
Complete Your Supervised Clinical Experience
In order to become a licensed marriage and family therapist/counselor, you need to work in a clinical setting under a marriage counselor or someone in a related mental health field. Licensure requirements to become a marriage and family therapist differ for each state/country.
For example, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, licensure requires 2,000 to 4,000 hours of post-degree supervised experience in order to be considered a marriage and family counselor/therapist.
In many countries like the UK, the Master’s degree programs have this internship in their curriculum so you can gain clinical experience while doing your Master’s, soon after which you can directly apply for licensing.
Get Your Counseling License
After completing your clinical hours working under a counselor, you will be qualified to appear for a state licensing exam. To become a marriage counselor, you have to be legally authorized, which is where licensing comes in.
Licensure for MFTs/Marriage Counselors is governed by different regulatory authorities in different countries. For example:-
- US – In the US, Marriage and Family Therapists need to pass the MFT Exam offered by the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB). You can also appear for the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) offered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB).
- UK – In the UK, several regulatory bodies exist for Marriage Counselors, including The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), The United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), The British Psychological Society (BPS), and The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).
- Canada – In Canada, marriage counselors can apply for a license through the Canadian Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (CAMFT) and the Canadian Counseling and Psychotherapy Association (CCPA).
- Australia – In Australia, marriage counselors are regulated by the Australian Association of Family Therapy (AAFT) and the Australian Psychological Society (APS).
Find the Right Career Path for You
After becoming a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, you can finally start looking for work. Following are a few career options that you can choose from:-
- Private practice: As a marriage and family therapist, you can work independently and start getting clients on your own. Private practices also give you more control over your clinical practice.
- Hospitals: A marriage counselor can work in hospitals or clinics providing therapy to couples and families.
- Community centers: As a Marriage and Family Therapist, you can work at community centers and offer couples therapy and families in the area.
- Non-profit organizations: Marriage counselors can work for non-profit organizations that provide counseling services to underserved communities.
- Online counseling: Marriage counselors can provide therapy services through telehealth platforms.
Continuing Education Courses
It’s important to keep yourself updated with the up-and-coming developments in the psychology industry, which is where Continuing Education becomes important. Here are a few benefits of continuing education courses:-
Higher earning potential
After gaining clinical experience with specialized certifications, Marriage Counselors 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
Many professional licensing boards require CE (Continuing Education) hours to ensure that Marriage Counselors maintain their knowledge and skills in the field, which is important to continue to keep your license.
Additional certifications demonstrate a therapist’s commitment to the field of couples therapy and can enhance their credibility with potential clients and referral sources.
Certifications in specific areas, such as sex therapy, art therapy, or trauma-informed therapy, can allow therapists to specialize in certain areas and attract clients with specific needs.
Continuing education and certification programs can help therapists stay updated 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.
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 CE certifications from:-
- 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 – RLI provides certifications in Relational Life Therapy for couples, and they have other specialized courses available on multigenerational trauma, working with children, etc. You can check out their elaborate course structure 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.