How to Become a Marriage Psychologist

What is Marriage Psychology?

Marriage psychology is among the primary mental health professions. The field of marriage psychology focuses primarily on married or committed couples who have encountered obstacles and who are considering separation, or who have a desire to reconnect and to increase the level of intimacy in their relationship.

While the chief emphasis is of course placed on the married couple as a unit, each client within a couple is expected to do introspective work on him or herself. Therefore marriage psychology also seeks to shine a light on what is at the very root of a problem within a marriage, and how each partner in a couple contributes to that issue with his or her behavior. Once patterns are identified, they can be addressed.

Marriage psychologists can choose to become accredited to have a practice that focuses on specific demographics, such as married interracial couples or couples that subscribe to a specific religious belief and who are looking for spiritual guidance, as specific needs can sometimes vary. If a marriage psychologist has a specialized practice, it has the potential to be an added source of comfort for people from diverse backgrounds and life situations. Most marriage psychologists, however, have a practice that simply caters to the general public.

Marriage psychology is not strictly intended for couples, however. This field can be applicable in cases involving individual clients who might be experiencing conflict with their spouse or other family members. It can also be helpful for multiple family members together. The same basic principles apply, so marriage psychologists are well equipped for this type of work.

Marriage psychology was developed as a field after many years of in-depth research on the topic, and it has become an exemplary field of its own. Relationships impact our overall health and wellbeing.

What Does a Marriage Psychologist Do?

A marriage psychologist works to help couples solve issues related to their marriage. This is accomplished through various tasks that range from simple counseling to referrals to a psychiatrist for medicine. A psychologist is trained to assist couples get through tough issues such as arguments that arise from stress, infidelity, money, children, trust, jealousy, and any other situation related to marriage. The ultimate goal of the psychologist is to give couples the tools they need to deal with various issues they face, hopefully saving the marriage.

A marriage psychologist will ask lots of questions in order to find out the source of the problems, normally taking place in the first few sessions of therapy. They will then listen to both parties talk about their problems in order to get a good baseline of what is happening in the marriage. Listening is a very important part of the counseling as it allows both parties to speak without engagement from the other party.

Once they are able to locate the sources of the issues, they will develop a plan for couples to follow. This can be anything from various exercises for couples to do as well as assigning a set of rules for couples to follow when arguing. Following-up is something that is important as well so marriage psychologist will set additional appointments to check the status of couples as well as their progress with any assigned plan. They will also adjust the plan depending on desired and actual results.

Referrals are also an important part of a marriage psychologist’s work. Although they can assist with issues going on in the marriage, often times there are personal issues with one or both parties that need to be dealt with on an individual basis. This often requires medication which leads to referrals to psychiatrists.

Why Do We Need a Marriage Psychologist?

As one might guess, marriage and family psychology overlap somewhat. While marriage psychologists primarily help couples going through difficult times, in-laws and children can play a big part in married life. A marriage psychologist might help a couple dealing with each other’s children from previous marriages or families of origin. Taking care of sick parents or trying to be good parents can take a toll on a marriage and the marriage psychologist can help couples to cope and stay married. He or she can also counsel couples having problems communicating with one another or taking care of their own and each others’ needs.

Sometimes couples contemplating making major life changes such as moving to a new city or having children can feel stressed and need more than ever to open lines of communication in a civil manner. The marriage counselor specializes in dealing with keeping marriages alive and well through couples’ communication.

What are the Requirements to Become a Marriage Psychologist?

To work as an independent psychologist, you must earn a doctoral degree. The first step toward graduate school is a bachelor’s degree with a major in psychology. Some universities offer Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degrees in marriage and family psychology, while most universities offer baccalaureate degrees in general psychology, which is also acceptable to most graduate schools. A search of the internet or an appointment with a high school guidance counselor will reveal many universities of interest to the prospective student.

Bachelor’s degree programs usually consist of 120 or more academic units, with about 90 in general education. General education generally consists of freshman composition, American history, political science, mathematics, language, humanities, foreign language, physical education, and electives. Thirty or more units are required in psychology.

Freshman students usually take introductory psychology and progress from there to more advanced courses such as communication, perception, cognition, and abnormal psychology. Baccalaureate degree programs are designed to be completed in eight semesters or four academic years. After completing his or her bachelor’s degree the future marriage psychologist is prepared to enter graduate school. Graduate schools with programs in the specialty can be found online, or a perusal of psychology journals will reveal the universities where the authors work. Faculty members at undergraduate schools can also be a resource in the search for a graduate school.

Post-Graduate Programs

Graduate schools look at prospective students’ undergraduate grades, faculty recommendations, and sometimes the Graduate Records Examination (GRE) when selecting new students. Once a student is enrolled in the doctoral program he or she selects a faculty adviser and faculty committee for guidance in selecting a topic for study. The student must carry out original research in some area of marriage psychology and write a dissertation which is suitable for publication. The next step is to present the dissertation orally before the graduate committee. If the committee is satisfied that the dissertation is of high enough quality, it is accepted for partial credit toward the doctoral degree. Most graduate schools also require internship in actual clinical settings. Once the student has fulfilled all requirements he or she is granted a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD).

What are the Licensure Requirements for a Psychologist?

The final step toward becoming a full-fledged practicing psychologist is to acquire a license from the state, territory, or province in which the new psychologist plans to practice. The Board of Psychology in each jurisdiction requires applicants to fill out a form and turn it in with a fee along with proof of having earned a doctorate in psychology. Most licensing boards also require clinical experience and test results. Most boards require passing scores on the Examination for Practice of Professional Psychology, or EPPP.

Some boards also require special local tests such as examinations on the laws of their own governments. Some states have reciprocity agreements with other states so that a psychologist licensed in one state can become licensed in another without having to start from scratch. Once psychologists obtain their licenses they are required to keep up with new discoveries and techniques in the field by taking continuing education courses. Licenses are usually renewed every two years.

Related: How to Become a Family Psychologist

Where Does a Marriage Psychologist Work?

Career choices include private practice or working for someone else. Going into private practice in solo can be a long and difficult road until a patient base is established. Some psychologists prefer to go to work in practice with colleagues who are already established. Others can work for physicians, hospitals, charitable organizations, or county health clinics. Whichever career path a psychologist chooses, marriage psychology offers a satisfying career helping couples maintain long and happy marriages.

What is the Salary for a Marriage Psychologist?

According to, marriage psychologists can expect to earn between $60,000 and $80,000 per year. A psychologist in private practice can expect to earn more than a colleague working for a non-profit organization, and a therapist in Manhattan, New York, would likely have a higher salary than one in Atlanta, Georgia.

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