How to Become a Relationship Psychologist – Schooling and Career Guide [2024]

Last Updated: June 10, 2024

Relationships can fill people with boundless joy and motivate them to aspire to great things. However, that does not mean that all relationships make both sides happy.

People often enter relationships without understanding the desires and expectations of their partner. In addition, people are capable of changing as time passes. It is also possible for people to behave in ways that place strain on their partners.

There are countless ways for relationships to turn sour and how they ought to go about correcting existing problems is rarely evident to those within the relationship. This is where relationship psychologists can help.

What is a Relationship Psychologist?

A relationship psychologist is a mental health practitioner who mediates human relationships. They are trained in the field of psychology and are different from counselors.

Although these two occupations have considerable overlap, psychologists have greater responsibilities, often work with clients with serious mental illnesses, and are qualified to administer a wealth of tests in addition to psychotherapy.

The decision to focus on relationships is a personal one and often is not strictly accounted for in their training. The main goal that relationship psychologists have is to improve the quality of the relationship of their clients and help them resolve underlying problems within the relationship.

What Does a Relationship Psychologist Do?

With the goal of improving the quality of a relationship and addressing underlying problems, relationship psychologists approach their very limited number of sessions in a systematic manner.

When they first meet with a couple, they perform an assessment of the couple and their relationship. This includes considering things like the marital status of the couple, how long they have been together, what are typical patterns of behavior within the relationship, and a vast number of other things revolving around the relationship.

In addition to these items, relationship psychologists also make note of things like the age of their clients, their socioeconomic status, their level of education, how they comport themselves, how they are dressed, and so on. The basic idea behind this assessment is to gain an understanding of the people involved in the relationship and the possible issues that have caused the couple to seek the help of a relationship psychologist.

From there, relationship psychologists move onto problem assessment. With knowledge of the state of a relationship and various details concerning the two parties involved in it, relationship psychologists begin making hypotheses about the problems that may be causing strain on the relationship. The basic idea is to examine what is wrong in the relationship.

Armed with estimations about the potential problems within relationship, psychologists establish goals for the couple and suggest ways the couple can improve their relationship.

After time passes, relationship psychologists make assessments about how the couple is progressing along their goals. If no progress was made, it is possible that original hypotheses made by the relationship psychologist were faulty and that they do not reflect what ails the couple.

It is also possible that the couple is either not committed to helping themselves or are simply unable to do so. In these cases, relationship psychologists adjust their approach and provide alternative solutions to any present problems. Relationship psychologist typically have only a few sessions where they meet their clients, so this process is often quite fast.

Once the problems have been addressed or sufficient time has passed, the relationship between the psychologist and their clients is terminated.

The specific ways by which relationship psychologists attempt to address problems depend largely on the school of thought they ascribe to.

For instance, a cognitive psychologist could focus on the thought processes of their clients and work to show them that some of their thinking is faulty. Someone in a relationship could, for example, believe that their spouse does not care about them when this spouse could simply be busy with work or forgetful. Similarly, a humanistic psychologist could seek to provide their clients with unconditional support.

Why Do We Need Relationship Psychologists?

Living within dysfunctional relationships does not benefit either partner involved in the relationship. Discontent within relationships can lead to dangerous situations such as suffocating overprotection or abuse. Unhealthy relationships cause people grief and serve as a source of continual negative emotions.

When individuals feel threatened or are repeatedly exposed to negative feelings, their self-worth, mood, and productivity go down. Given sufficient numbers, this can negatively influence the society at large, not to mention the lives of those involved in the dysfunctional relationship.

Relationship psychologists are necessary in order to reduce the amount of dysfunctional relationships and create more harmonious unions.

Where Do Relationship Psychologist Work?

Relationship psychologists typically work in private practices although their training qualifies them to work in family service centers, mental health facilities, community health services, outpatient care centers, and government and private hospitals.

What are the Requirements to Become a Relationship Psychologist?

Educational Requirements

Relationship psychologists are expected to hold master’s and/or doctoral level education.

Most programs that offer a master’s level education in psychology do not care about what specific bachelor’s degree a potential student holds, but possessing one from a related field helps in the admission process. In addition, material covered during the bachelor’s will likely follow the contents of the master’s level program more closely. Bachelor’s programs typically require four years of time while master’s level degrees take an additional two years.

The contents of a master’s in psychology usually center on a theoretical base of knowledge, skills needed to interact with clients, and ethical concerns present when working with clients.

As such typical courses include statistics, trends is psychology, neuropsychology, addictive behavior, memory systems, cognitive development, advanced psychotherapy, social development, ethical studies, theories of development, and so on.

Master’s level psychology programs also require their students to complete internships where they work under supervision in clinical or research settings.

It is also possible for individuals to pursue doctoral degrees in psychology. The benefits of a doctoral degree include eligibility to apply for licensure, better pay, greater respect, and the ability to work with more challenging clients.

Getting a doctoral degree takes roughly eight years and most of the classes required of students in these programs are more advanced versions of classes they have taken previously. Like master’s level programs, doctoral programs require their students to complete certain amounts of supervised work independent of their studies.

Licensing Requirements

Licensure in the United States begins by completing ones education (typically doctoral level) in an institute accredited by the American Psychological Association.

As far as obtaining a license goes, requirements and procedures vary considerably between states and state boards change their regulations from time to time. For instance, in Florida, someone with a doctoral level degree will need to attend a two-hour course on preventing medical errors, accumulate a total of 4,000 experience hours, and passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. Once done, one must apply to the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards for their license.

Furthermore, in many states licensure is required to use the title “psychologist”.

What Does it Take to be a Relationship Psychologist

The Ability to Listen to Others and Mediate Conversation

Couples come to relationship psychologists in need of help. In order for a relationship psychologist to be of any use, they must be able to listen to their clients without judgement, creating a space where sharing is safe and encouraged. The direction of therapy and its success depends heavily on the formation of a proper understanding of the details present in the relationship.

When faced with hostility and unwillingness to share, a relationship psychologist must be prepared to direct the conversation to a more productive direction. These are skills that are required of relationship psychologists but they can be learned though practice.

Willingness to Continually Learn

The field of psychology is very much an evolving one. Things which psychologists took for granted a few decades ago have since been rendered obsolete while major groundbreaking work has begun to unravel some of the most puzzling aspects of our behavior and cognition. In the same vein, the psychological understanding of the ethical treatment of clients continues to change.

All this makes it vital that relationship psychologist are willing to stay current with new publications concerning their field of work. Without continual study, relationship psychologists risk becoming outdated and threaten the safety and well-being of both themselves and their clients.

Being In Touch with Oneself

The work of a relationship psychologist is demanding. It brings with it a wealth of stressors and constraints.

For relationship psychologists to maintain a healthy mind and body, they must regulate themselves and constantly engage in exercises like mindful meditation to ensure they do not internalize the issues they come in contact with during their work. Having a clear understanding of oneself makes it much easier to regulate emotions and responses to stressors.

What are the Disadvantages of Being a Relationship Psychologist?

  • People come to you with high expectations: Many couples, when approaching relationship psychologists, believe that their relationship will be saved once they commit to a few sessions. They do not respect the weight of the problems that lead them to their relationship psychologist and lack the dedication to work on their relationship in the long-term. This leads them to fall back into their old, problematic patterns of behavior. Relationship psychologists provide meaningful help to couples, but they are not miracle workers. They cannot force others to change themselves, merely provide them the tools to do so themselves.
  • The work is stressful: The work of relationship psychologists consists of addressing problems and suggesting solutions to disruptive behavior. When most of what someone does consists of correcting problems and negative situations, it is understandable that he or she would internalize some of this pressure. As a result, relationship psychologists must constantly engage in self-monitoring and use relaxation techniques like meditation to maintain their healthy states of mind.
  • Relationship psychologists rarely get to appreciate the results of their work: Yes, there are times when a couple will truly benefit from seeing a relationship psychologist. They could go so far as sending their former psychologists photos of the ceremony where they renewed their vows. Even so, these situations are rare. Most of the time, relationship psychologists only see a couple for a limited amount of time. Within only a few sessions, they are expected to help a couple. The true results of these sessions are aimed to last far longer than the few times the couple meets with their psychologist. As a result, professionals in this field of work rarely get to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

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