How to Become a Marriage Counselor

What is a Marriage Counselor?

Marriage counselors are counseling professionals who provide support and guidance to couples. They guide couples through conversations to find the root troubles and conflicts before working with both individuals to find compromises and routes to progress.

Marriage counselors often work in a guidance role, offering little to no opinion but rather helping the couple to uncover their own needs and conflicts. With a better understanding of these, the couple can begin to put strategies in place for coping with these areas of conflict, reducing them or negating altogether.

Marriage counselors can form long-term relationships with couples and work with them to solve ongoing issues as well as provide a safe and trusting place to discuss new or developing issues. They can also provide a short term outlet for couples who need to discuss a specific issue or reach a decision together if they are struggling to do so. Sometimes couples seek the help of marriage counselors when they are considering splitting up and, once again, the marriage counselor helps to guide them through their feelings on the subject without expressing views either way.

What Does a Marriage Counselor Do?

Although marriage counselors work with a fairly specific population, they nevertheless offer a variety of services to their clients. Primary among their duties is to provide counseling services to couples that have issues that need to be addressed in their marriage. These services may involve individual counseling for both partners, couples counseling together, and family counseling with any children the couple may have. The focus here is typically on the dynamics of the family and how the relationships between family members are contributing to dysfunction.

To determine the cause of the problems between marriage partners, counselors may conduct educational programming with clients, such as martial enrichment courses, to improve communication skills or to build trust.

Diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders is a highly common practice for marriage counselors as well. This includes administering tests to determine a client’s level of mental health, the presence of personality disorders, or even the presence of an intellectual disability. Marriage counselors must be versed in interpreting the results of these tests, using those results to devise treatment programs, and working with clients to successfully complete their treatment program in order to have a more stable and fulfilling marriage.

Many marriage counselors also work specifically with couples and families that have been impacted by alcohol, drugs, or domestic violence. Marriage counselors may refer one or both members of the marital relationship to treatment programs, such as a residential facility, to get clean. Other times, marriage counselors will work with spouses that have been abused in order to help them overcome the trauma of the abuse they have suffered at the hands of a loved one. Yet another duty of marriage counselors is to work with spouses that have committed abusive acts in order to help them work through the anger or other underlying issues that led to their behavior.

Why Do We Need Marriage Counselors?

Marriages, like any relationship, often is not without problems. That is where a marriage counselor can be an invaluable resource in helping couples to improve their relationship. Often, there is a communication breakdown, which leaves couples feeling at odds with each other. A marriage counselor can provide useful tools in bridging the gap that can sometimes occur when there is a breakdown in communication or other relationship challenges.

Sometimes counselors can work with the couple on an individual basis, as well as together, allowing for a deeper understanding of the couple’s concerns and relationship issues. Marriage counselors are also tasked with diagnosing and treating mental and emotional disorders, which can help to address underlying issues that contribute to the troubles the couple is experiencing.

Where Does a Marriage Counselor Work?

Similarly to most who work in the mental health field, as a marriage counselor, you will be able to work in a variety of settings. Some of the more popular areas include outpatient care centers, individual and family services, along with state and local government levels.

Some marriage counselors choose to open up their own private practices too, while others offer the ability to make house calls and meet with their clients in their own homes, which can allow a better insight into the family dynamics present in the relationship that may otherwise be unknown to the counselor.

Most marriage counselors work full-time, which may include some weekend and evening hours, which allow for clients more access to counseling services.

What are the Requirements to Become a Marriage Counselor?

Education

Most states require at least a master’s degree in order to become a licensed marriage counselor. Undergraduate degrees in areas such as psychology, social work, and counseling can help you to establish an educational foundation to build upon. As a marriage counselor, you will enter into a specialized program that will address the unique needs that may arise when working with couples. In addition to the understanding general counseling principles, the cultural implications that may contribute to marital issues are often of great use during counseling sessions.

Licensing

In order to work as a marriage counselor, each state has mandated certain licensing requirements that follow strict guidelines. After graduating from a master’s or similar degree program, you will enter into a supervised clinical setting, where you will be able to hone your counseling skills. This period usually consists of two years, but it is wise to check with your individual state to determine how many hours of post-graduate supervision are required, as they can vary from 1,500 hours to up to 3,000 hours. Upon completing the requirement for supervision, you will be able to take the state or national licensing exam, which will qualify you as a licensed marriage counselor, which is a requirement in most states.

What Do You Learn in a Marriage Counseling Degree?

  • Counseling theory – In addition to specific area of study, most courses begin with an introduction to counseling theory course. This gives participants the basic understanding of the theoretical issues around counseling before they begin to learn more specialized techniques.
  • Different counselling approaches – There are many different approaches to counseling and it’s important the participants know, and understand, the differences so that they can make an informed choice about the approach they want to take in their practice.
  • Areas of specialist interest – Parent and child, ageing, grief and addiction are just some of the specific counseling modules that may be taken to provide additional insight into the issues couples may be facing.
  • Group therapy techniques – These skills will also be taught as marriage counseling is most commonly carried out with a couple together. There are specific challenges involved with keeping two people engaged and feeling included in a counseling session.
  • Social and cultural issues – Students may also be taught about the social and cultural issues affecting couples in different communities today, to allow a broader context in which to place relationship issues and allow for the implementation of the most appropriate techniques.
  • Communication – As well as learning about different communication approaches, marriage counselors must also learn about different communication styles. Most couple come to a counselor because they are having issues communicating to each other about their problems. A counselor needs to be able to identify the different communication styles and help them to work more successfully together by adapting them.
  • Mental health -Students may be taught how to recognize some of the most common mental health issues. Undiagnosed mental health problems can be a particular strain on a relationship and being able to recognize, diagnose and discuss these issues is a vital skill to be learned by students looking to work in this area

What Skills are Required for a Marriage Counselor?

As with other professions within the counseling field, it is important that as a marriage counselor you are able to communicate effectively, be perceptive to what your clients are saying (as well as what they really mean, which can differ at times), and be able to provide effective conflict resolution. Using a family-centered approach when working with clients, even on an individual basis, can help clients to understand how the dynamics may affect their own mental health.

Clients who use the services of a marriage counselor may be doing so begrudgingly, so it is important to also be empathic to the needs of each member of the couple. An open mind is also a valuable thing for marriage counselors, as you may hear the most intimate of details about the couple’s relationship, including sexual problems, which may clash with your own personal views. A good counselor should make every effort to prevent their personal views from impinging on the lives of their clients.

What is the Salary for a Marriage Counselor?

Due to the specialized designation marriage counselors have, they often make more than the standard mental health counselor. As of May 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for marriage and family therapists is $51,730. The top 10 percent earned the average salary of $78,920 per year. Marriage therapists who work in state and local government report the highest salaries in the field.

What is the Job Outlook for Marriage Counselors?

As with other positions within the mental health field, employment of marriage marriage and family therapists is forecast to grow by 29% by 2020. This growth is deemed to be much faster than average when compared to other professions. The industries which are expected to receive the highest growth potential includes the offices of mental health practitioners and individual and family services.

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