What makes a marriage great? How do some couples avoid divorce after years of mistrust or infidelity?
The answer is different for every couple, but as marriage counselors will tell you, certain skills and tools can help many couples prevent issues and overcome them. If this subject fascinates you, you might want to consider a career in marriage counseling.
Marriage counseling, family counseling, or relationship therapy can be a very rewarding career (and one that makes you a hit at parties!) Read on to learn how to start a marriage counseling career, what approaches are popular among modern marriage counselors, and who you can look to for guidance. Let’s save some marriages!
What Does a Marriage Counselor Do?
A marriage counselor helps couples and families navigate common relationship issues using several approaches. They might help a couple work out communication issues surrounding fidelity, revive intimacy issues after having children, or give tools to prevent any problems that couples may anticipate as they move through life.
Not all marriage counselors use the same tools or approaches to help their clients. Common approaches include:
- The Gottman Method
- Emotionally Focused Therapy
- Imago Relationship Therapy
- Discernment Counseling
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
These approaches explain why we choose certain partners, how we strengthen relationships, and the best way to have hard conversations.
Why become a marriage counselor? There are many reasons: you can help couples fall in love again, repair families, and even help people get out of situations holding them back. If you have a passion for relationships and helping others, you may want to consider marriage counseling!
Before most marriage counselors choose a specific approach that appeals to them, they learn general psychology or social work concepts at college. Marriage therapists must earn a minimum of a Master’s Degree in relationship therapy or a related major to move forward with licensure or opening a private practice.
Licensure requirements vary by state, but most require clinical experience. As you go through college, you will find many opportunities for internships or experience that are accepted by licensing boards.
Although you may open a practice after obtaining your license, you will still need to continue your education to keep that license and to be the best counselor you can be!
Salary (How Much Do Marriage Counselors Make?)
Since most marriage counselors open their practice, they must pay the bill to gain clients and maintain their business. Although this leaves less room for a high salary, it’s still possible for a marriage counselor to make six figures. Your salary will depend on how much you charge, where you live, and customer retention.
Marriage Counselor Reported Salary
Schools for Marriage Counseling Degrees
Before you can earn a salary, you have to go to school! These colleges and universities are known for their marriage counseling programs:
- The College of New Jersey (Ewing, NJ)
- Pepperdine University (Malibu, CA)
- John Brown University (Siloam Springs, AR)
- Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX)
- Brandman University (Irvine, CA)
- LeTourneau University (Longview, TX)
- University of Massachusetts - Boston (Boston, MA)
- University of West Alabama (Livingston, AL)
- Concordia University - Wisconsin (Mequon, WI)
- Fresno Pacific University (Fresno, CA)
Licensing and Career Paths in Marriage Counseling
Types of Licenses:
- Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT): This is one of the primary licenses for those looking to specialize in marriage or family counseling. An LMFT is trained to work with individuals, couples, and families.
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW): While LCSWs are trained in a broader scope of clinical social work, many choose to specialize in marriage and family counseling.
- Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC): LPCs have training that allows them to counsel a wide range of clients, but they can also specialize in marriage and relationship counseling.
Each state may have different requirements for these licenses, including the amount of supervised clinical hours required, specific coursework, and continuing education. Before pursuing a particular license, it's crucial to research your state's requirements.
Career Paths with Licensing:
- Private Practice: Many marriage counselors go into private practice solo or as part of a group. This allows them to manage their schedules, select clients, and determine their counseling approach.
- Hospitals & Health Clinics: Marriage counselors can also work in larger health organizations, counseling patients as part of a more comprehensive healthcare team.
- Schools & Universities: Marriage counselors might find positions in schools, especially at the college level, where they help students navigate relationship challenges.
- Government Agencies: Some counselors work for local or state agencies, offering relationship support to community members, often at a reduced fee.
- Online Platforms & Telehealth: As mentioned, the rise of telehealth has opened up opportunities for therapists to offer their services online, catering to clients who prefer virtual sessions.
- Corporate Settings: Some corporations hire marriage counselors as part of their employee wellness programs, providing employees with resources to maintain healthy relationships, which can positively impact their job performance.
- Research & Academia: Those with a keen interest in academic pursuits can contribute to the field by conducting research or teaching the next generation of university counselors.
- Workshops & Seminars: Many marriage counselors expand their reach by conducting workshops, seminars, and group therapy sessions, focusing on specific relationship issues or skill-building.
To maintain licensure, marriage counselors must pursue continuing education, ensuring they stay updated with the latest techniques, research, and best practices in the field.
Companies That Hire Marriage Counselors
In the past, marriage counselors primarily opened a private practice or worked alongside a small group of marriage counselors. Now, there are more options. Healthcare has gone digital; many people use apps and websites to access different counseling types.
Telehealth companies are always hiring new therapists to serve in different states and serve different clients who may be turning to these businesses for help. Before you apply to work with a larger healthcare company, make sure they accept your credentials and align with how you want to approach marriage counseling.
Interviews from a Marriage Counselor
Marriage counselors are frequently in the news, offering advice on how couples can navigate different issues or discussing their fascinating jobs! If you want to learn more about the day in the life of a marriage counselor and the position's future, read this interview with counselor Tina Tessina.
You can also listen to these podcasts on YouTube or various podcasts. On the Marriage Money Bootcamp podcast, Victoria Vogel discusses both her career and offers advice for couples who are becoming new parents.
Famous marriage counselors like Drs. John and Julie Gottman also talk about their approach and their experiences in the field. You can find so many speeches, lectures, and TedTalks from counselors like them!
Famous Marriage Counselors
Marriage counselors are either famous for starting their approach to marriage counseling or writing books that help people find satisfaction in their marriages.
Esther Perel, for example, is known for her podcast and best-selling books on adultery and fidelity. (She even has her Subreddit community!)
Drs. John and Julie Gottman are known as the founders of the Gottman Institute. This is one specific approach to marriage counseling backed by research.
Drs. Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt are the founders of Imago Relationship Therapy.
Ten years after this theory was developed, Drs. Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg introduced the world to Emotionally Focused Therapy. This approach pulled ideas from Attachment Theory and applied them to modern couples.
Gary Chapman didn’t develop his approach to marriage therapy, but you probably have heard of his book The Five Love Languages.
Marriage Counseling Examples
Marriage counseling is more than just sitting in front of a couple asking about their infidelity - your day-to-day life may vary depending on how you want to gain clients or if you’re working for a larger healthcare company. As a marriage counselor, you may find yourself:
- Calling potential clients to see if you make a good fit
- Talking to a couple about adultery and fidelity issues
- Assigning homework to help couples build skills in communication
- Running workshops on falling in love after decades of marriage
- Attending conferences or webinars to freshen up on the Imago approach