Couples Counselor - Marriage Therapy Career Information

What Does a Couples Counselor Do?

counselor with a couple in session

All human relationships experience stress and conflict and couple relationships are no exception to this rule. When couples experience relationship problems, many seek professional help through counseling and therapy services. A couples counselor (also called a couples therapist, marriage counselor, and marriage therapist) evaluates relationship problems and offers strategies for resolving them using psychotherapy (also called “talk therapy”).

Couples counselors and therapists are licensed professionals who are often trained in several forms of counseling including individual, couples, and family counseling. However, counselors who work with couples may specialize in this form of therapy and obtain specific training, licenses, or certifications. For example, most states have licensed marriage and family therapists (MFTs) who have specific training in couples counseling and often specialize in this form of counseling. There are also models of couples counseling for which one may obtain a certificate to denote special clinical training. For example, one may become a Certified Gottman Therapist (CGT) by attending trainings offered by The Gottman Institute.

Therapist Types and Scope of Practice

There are several types of professionals who may provide couples counseling, including (but not limited to) licensed MFTs, psychologists, licensed professional counselors, and social workers. Of these, MFTs tend to have the most thorough and specific training in providing couples counseling, although other types of professionals may obtain specific training in this form of counseling.

Couples counselors focus on several areas to help couples repair their relationship. They diagnose relationship problems (as well as individual psychological issues that may be contributing to these problems); create treatment plans to treat those relationship problems; explore the dynamics involved in these problems and their causes (including past issues that may influence the present); and create new, more positive relationship experiences for couples. For example, many couples counselors teach communication skills to help repair current relationship problems and address future problems that may arise.

Couples-based counseling typically involves a finite number of sessions (typically between 45 to 90 minutes in duration) between the professional and the couple. During these sessions, the counselor will help the couple deal with their presenting issues such as communication problems, parenting issues, infidelity and trust issues, sexual problems, and substance abuse.

Couples counselors work with many other professionals to provide the best care for couples. For example, it is common to refer to and consult with psychiatrists, who hold M.D. degrees and can prescribe drugs for mental disorders. Couples counselors and therapists may also refer to and consult with other therapists who are providing individual therapy to their clients.

In addition to couples counseling services, many counselors provide related services that lead them to other work environments when not seeing clients. For example, some (especially those with doctorate degrees) teach and/or conduct research in university settings. It is also common for them to work as supervisors to other couples counselors and act as consultants for cases. Counselors may also provide online therapy and do speaking engagements (for instance, local or national educational conferences for other counselors and therapists).

Some counselors prefer to work with a broad population, offering general counseling for common issues faced by couples. Others specialize in particular issues that couples face, attracting particular client populations. For example, some couples counselors specialize in sex therapy for couples experiencing sexual problems in their relationship. Others focus on infidelity for couples that have experienced an affair. A couples therapist may specialize in same-sex couples; ethnic minority couples; couples who are recent immigrants; and couples from interracial, intercultural, or interfaith backgrounds.

Workplace Details

Work environments vary widely among couples counselors and therapists. For example, some work in government agencies like the VA. Others work in non-profit community clinics funded by grants and donations. Meanwhile, other couples counselors and therapists work in private practices that are solo (single therapist) or group practices (with an owner and associate counselors/therapists). Decisions about work settings are usually based on factors such as local employment opportunities, desired work environment and schedule, and desired income.

Couples counselors generally work regular hours that depend on the setting in which they work. It is typical to have scheduled appointment times (generally ranging from 45 to 90 minutes) for client sessions. It is not uncommon for couples counselors to work during both daytime and evening hours to accommodate client needs, and many work weekend hours as well. It is also not uncommon that off-time may require being on call for client psychological emergencies and crises.

When not providing counseling and therapy services, counselors must complete paperwork (e.g., session progress notes, insurance paperwork); answer phone calls and emails; complete administrative tasks related to their agency or company; and attend staff and/or supervisory meetings. Some work time is also spent attending industry conferences and workshops throughout each year, as it is important for couples counselors to stay current with the latest research and techniques within the profession.

Salary and Job Outlook

State
Average Wage
California
$55950
New Jersey
$74750
Florida
$48140
Arizona
$65440
Pennsylvania
$47980

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

Created with Raphaël 2.1.0 AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE DC FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY

ALABAMA
Median Salary: 
$40,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $51,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Birmingham$34,320$43,660$55,820

ALASKA
Median Salary: 
$59,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $47,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $82,800

Job Growth Data Not Available

ARIZONA
Salary Data Not Available

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Tuscon$28,730$42,710$67,900

ARKANSAS
Median Salary: 
$50,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $75,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

CALIFORNIA
Median Salary: 
$49,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $81,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 22%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 390

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Los Angeles$28,820$46,360$71,330
San Francisco Bay$39,640$54,180$91,630
San Diego$31,200$46,210$104,040
Sacramento$33,370$48,580$86,380

COLORADO
Median Salary: 
$51,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $20,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $89,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 45%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Denver$19,560$49,380$92,050
Colorado Springs$34,440$51,740$62,580

CONNECTICUT
Median Salary: 
$47,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $80,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Hartford$35,350$49,550$79,350
Bridgeport$32,900$39,250$104,370
New Haven$32,640$51,080$74,310

DELAWARE
Median Salary: 
$50,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $47,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $57,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wilmington$47,570$51,810$77,260
Dover$45,250$50,070$57,360

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Washington DC$33,110$47,940$77,160

FLORIDA
Median Salary: 
$39,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $61,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 130

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Miami$28,050$40,600$62,820
Tampa$25,670$33,690$50,900
Jacksonville$28,070$36,180$47,800

GEORGIA
Median Salary: 
$52,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $21,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $61,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Atlanta$19,370$54,440$61,800

HAWAII
Median Salary: 
$57,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $36,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $80,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Honolulu$33,570$46,990$109,940

IDAHO
Salary Data Not Available

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

ILLINOIS
Median Salary: 
$43,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $30,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $75,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

INDIANA
Median Salary: 
$48,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $90,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Indianapolis$38,810$76,730$96,660
Fort Wayne$38,790$46,590$62,340

IOWA
Median Salary: 
$45,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $73,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Des Moines$32,860$46,920$75,930

KANSAS
Median Salary: 
$45,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $93,700

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Kansas City$32,810$43,110$96,120

KENTUCKY
Median Salary: 
$36,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $19,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $50,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Louisville$17,440$35,080$52,910

LOUISIANA
Median Salary: 
$38,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $68,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

MAINE
Median Salary: 
$59,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $30,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $74,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: -2%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

MARYLAND
Median Salary: 
$47,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $78,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 35%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Baltimore$33,400$52,000$99,290
Frederick$28,760$42,510$69,730

MASSACHUSETTS
Median Salary: 
$42,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $63,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boston$32,860$42,660$63,310
Worcester$30,110$46,820$88,650

MICHIGAN
Median Salary: 
$40,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $50,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Detroit$32,830$38,810$49,130

MINNESOTA
Median Salary: 
$48,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $71,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Minneapolis - St. Paul$40,240$50,820$75,330
Rochester$26,690$34,780$49,100

MISSISSIPPI
Median Salary: 
$39,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $71,200

Job Growth Data Not Available

MISSOURI
Median Salary: 
$42,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $72,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
St. Louis$31,290$43,460$73,920
Kansas City$32,810$43,110$96,120

MONTANA
Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

NEBRASKA
Median Salary: 
$42,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $58,800

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Omaha$32,660$43,950$59,670

NEVADA
Median Salary: 
$53,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $85,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Las Vegas$39,630$49,820$86,660
Reno$43,510$70,310$85,420

NEW HAMPSHIRE
Median Salary: 
$60,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $83,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

NEW JERSEY
Median Salary: 
$74,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $57,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $93,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: -9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Newark$57,040$74,720$93,050
Trenton$58,900$75,740$96,750

NEW MEXICO
Median Salary: 
$47,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $89,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

NEW YORK
Median Salary: 
$40,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New York City$42,940$72,200$93,040
Buffalo$31,670$35,940$45,210

NORTH CAROLINA
Median Salary: 
$50,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $39,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $61,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Charlotte$41,900$52,580$60,440

NORTH DAKOTA
Median Salary: 
$44,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $62,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Fargo$31,150$44,630$63,630
Bismarck$34,200$42,450$48,290

OHIO
Median Salary: 
$48,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $73,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cleveland$30,580$42,620$59,140
Cincinnati$29,040$36,130$45,660

OKLAHOMA
Median Salary: 
$38,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $17,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $54,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Oklahoma City$16,940$36,710$47,960
Tulsa$34,170$43,690$70,140

OREGON
Median Salary: 
$39,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $20,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 36%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$19,910$40,880$60,920

PENNSYLVANIA
Median Salary: 
$45,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $72,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Philadelphia$40,430$65,210$86,920
Pittsburgh$30,420$39,590$61,220
Allentown$37,990$64,730$86,910

RHODE ISLAND
Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

SOUTH CAROLINA
Median Salary: 
$30,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $65,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

SOUTH DAKOTA
Median Salary: 
$41,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $30,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $56,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

TENNESSEE
Median Salary: 
$33,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $19,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $63,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 27%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Nashville$18,280$34,270$51,380
Memphis$16,770$28,150$58,590
Knoxville$26,300$32,540$41,630
Chattanooga$24,670$39,900$99,450

TEXAS
Median Salary: 
$43,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $20,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $64,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Dallas - Ft. Worth$19,310$41,700$61,150
Houston$32,540$48,820$67,450
San Antonio$24,670$39,900$99,450

UTAH
Median Salary: 
$49,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $78,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 36%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Salt Lake City$34,580$45,390$59,970
Ogden$27,160$45,990$80,520

VERMONT
Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

VIRGINIA
Median Salary: 
$47,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $67,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Virginia Beach$35,120$53,140$61,750
Richmond$27,600$44,390$58,800

WASHINGTON
Median Salary: 
$48,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $94,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Seattle$32,640$47,020$85,190

WEST VIRGINIA
Median Salary: 
$34,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $53,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 15%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Huntington$23,460$31,580$41,860
Charleston$28,370$35,360$51,730

WISCONSIN
Median Salary: 
$38,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $23,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $68,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Milwaukee$23,260$32,790$57,380
Madison$32,100$45,240$70,420

WYOMING
Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are currently about 30,000 therapists in the U.S. classified as marriage and family therapists. This data excludes psychologists and social workers, many of whom also provide couples counseling and therapy. Therefore, the actual number of such therapists is likely much higher.

The BLS reports that the average annual salary for couples counselors as MFTs is $54,090 and the average hourly wage is $26. Annual salaries for this type of therapist vary widely. For example, the data shows that MFTs in the 10th percentile of annual wages earn a median salary of $31,600 per year, while those in the 90th percentile earn approximately $81,960 per year. Those employed by state and local government agencies earn higher salaries on average than those employed by outpatient health care centers and individual/family service agencies.

More people are recognizing the benefits of couples counseling, so the job outlook for this career is positive, with an anticipated increase in the number of available positions. Additionally, a larger portion of the American public enjoys insurance coverage for counseling. The BLS forecasts a 15% job growth over the decade from 2014 to 2024 - much faster than the average growth rate.

Compare Salaries by City

Los Angeles CA Median Pay

$46360 Per Year

$22.28 Per Hour

New York City NY Median Pay

$72200 Per Year

$34.71 Per Hour

Steps to Become a Couples Counselor

1

Earn a bachelor's degree.

Marriage or couples counselors typically begin their educational career path with an undergraduate degree in psychology, social science, sociology, human development or family science.

Show Me Schools »

2

Go to graduate school to earn your master's degree.

After obtaining an undergraduate degree, an aspiring counselor typically applies to graduate programs that offer master’s degrees in psychology, social work, marriage and family therapy, or counseling. It is here that your learning will begin to take a focus gearing you toward your goal of couples counseling.

3

Get licensed and/or certified.

All couples therapists working in the United States need to be licensed before they can practice. States have their own licensing requirements for these types of therapists. For example, those seeking to become a licensed MFT must take a nationally recognized Examination in Marital and Family Therapy in order to obtain clinical licensure. Experiential and credential requisites (including two years of hands-on supervised clinical experience) must be met before sitting for the exam.

Marriage counselors have the option of applying for certification by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). Some states accept this credential in place of a state-administered license.

4

Make sure you do what's necessary to keep your license current.

Many states require couples counselors to renew their licenses every year or every other year by taking additional courses or workshops or attending professional conferences. This enables a counselor to obtain continuing education credits (CEUs) that help maintain current licensure status.

5

Explore all avenues for career advancement.

Counselors enjoy numerous avenues for advancement. Advancement in this career may be achieved by obtaining additional education and training – for example, moving from the master’s degree level to the doctorate level. Counselors may also advance by specializing in particular issues or client populations. Some move from one type of setting to another for advancement. For example, you may move from private practice to a governmental agency or non-governmental organization that generates legislative policy affecting couples and families. An associate counselor in one practice may begin his or her own practice and hire other associates.

Exploring Degree Paths

BACHELOR'S DEGREE

4 years

Some universities and colleges offer undergraduate relationship counseling programs, but very few. For most aspiring couples counselors, the first step in their educational path is to earn a bachelor’s degree in a very relevant subject, such as:

Coursework naturally differs from major to major, but these majors share overlapping subjects as well; after all, that’s why they all are suitable choices for an undergrad hoping one day to become a couples counselor!

A few examples of commonly shared subjects include:

Intro to statistics

Students learn how to use mathematics to predict the likelihood of a variety of occurrences.

Intro to psychology

Another fundamental and common course in which students are introduced to the field of psychology in general, learning theories and discovering how psychologists use the scientific method to gain a better understanding of human thought processes and behavior.

Human development across the lifespan

The course name may vary, but this is a typical course in which students explore current theories surrounding how an individual develops at every life stage. Students also learn about various external influences in a person’s development.

It is common for undergraduate students who wish to become couples counselors to gain experience during their undergraduate years by volunteering or completing internships in human service agencies, organizations, or companies.

MASTER'S DEGREE

2-3 years

In graduate school, you will take the foundational knowledge gained during the undergraduate years and build upon it in the decided direction of your chosen focus, couples counseling. Most graduate programs culminating in a master’s degree last two to three years and include classroom instruction, thesis projects, and internships or clinical residencies that offer direct training to provide counseling services under supervision from licensed counselors and therapists.

It is important that aspiring couples counselors and therapists find accredited programs for graduate school. This ensures high quality training for the field and helps gain state licensure post-graduation, as many state licensing boards require that you attend an accredited program to be considered for licensure. One of the major accrediting boards in this field is the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) provides a list of COAMFTE accredited programs in the U.S.

Coursework varies from program to program but typically includes common subjects like the following examples:

Family development

This type of course will lead students toward a deeper understanding of key dynamics that shape behavior and development within a family context. This means exploring healthy dynamics as well as unhealthy ones that may lead to abuse and domestic violence.

Human sexuality and sex therapy

A truly complex and fascinating subject within the broader study of human behavior. While exploring all facets of sexuality and physical intimacy (emotional, psychological, societal and more), students are guided by current theory and research to gain a deep understanding of therapeutic techniques.

Psychopathology in the family

A course that builds upon earlier exploration of abnormal behaviors and disorders as well as family therapy theories. Students learn therapeutic techniques to diagnose and address disorders within a family context.

Keys to Success as a Couples Counselor

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Taking care of yourself too

Self-care and maintaining proper boundaries between work and home are critical areas for couples counselors and therapists. Without attention in these areas, “burnout” may occur, which decreases the amount and quality of care a counselor can provide to clients over time. Many rely on peer support to help with self-care and maintaining work-life balance (e.g., peer supervision or support groups).

Communication

Communication strategies play a large role in couples counseling. Often, the two partners are used to talking at each other or responding defensively. Conflicts often involve painful emotions like betrayal, jealousy, anger, frustration, and disappointment, as well as painful issues like infidelity and financial strain. Relationship professionals utilize various methods to provide couples with the skills to effectively communicate needs, desires and wishes to each other. Being able to interact well with clients, demonstrate empathy, build trust, collaborate, and listen without judgment are just a few of the skills required.

Professionalism

Couples counselors need to know how to maintain professionalism with clients, perform administrative duties, and collaborate with other professionals to best serve clients. Furthermore, abiding by a professional code of ethics and keeping current with state licensure requirements are essentials.

Intellectual curiosity

It is also important for couples counselors and therapists to stay abreast of the latest industry research and techniques and use them in practice to help clients reach their relationship goals.

Additional Credentials

In addition to their state license and/or NBCC credential, marriage counselors who meet the educational and training criteria can become members of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). The AAMFT hosts a national annual conference, publishes several professional journals, and sets professional and ethical standards for the field. Members are included in the AAMFT national professional database.

Couples counselors can pursue specialized credentials as well, which can help you grow your practice depending on the state in which you live.

Specialties recognized by various states include:

  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
  • Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
  • Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC)
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
  • Licensed Clinical Psychologist (LCP)
Dr. April McDowell, MFT

Dr. April McDowell is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT) in Maryland and has worked with individuals, couples, and families since 2005. Her private practice launched in May 2014 in the Washington, D.C. area. She specializes in working with Gen Xers and Millennials seeking individual and couples therapy for self, relationships, and career issues. To learn more about her therapy services, visit www.am-therapy.com.

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