How to Become a Certified Couples Counselor

What is Couples Counseling?

Couples counseling is usually a short term arrangement, used by couples to address a specific problem or issue that is currently facing them. The aim is typically to find a solution or strategy to cope with the acute issue – to help the couple find a resolution together. There are different types of couples counseling and success ultimately will depend upon a couple finding the style, and counselor, that suits them best. Whatever the ‘type’ of couples counseling, the focus is on the relationship itself and working to strengthen it – couples counseling does not typically focus on the individuals (although they will likely gain some individual insight).

Whilst it is usually shorter in total duration than couples therapy, counseling will continue until a resolution has been identified and agreed upon. This is achieved by working with a counselor to provide a neutral environment whereby communication can be open and honest. The role of the counselor is simply to facilitate the couple’s discussion, they do not typically offer an opinion or ‘take sides’ – improving communication within the couple is usually a priority.

Work within couples counseling sessions are typically consolidated with ‘homework’ of discussing certain issues or having a specific conversation at home before talking through that progress at the next counseling session. Once effectively learned, these are skills that can be taken and applied time and time again by the couple – despite its usual shortness in duration, the benefits of couples counseling can have dramatic impact and last a long time.

Why Couples Seek Counseling?

Couples seek counseling for many reasons. Most of the time it is because a stressor has arisen that impacts on the relationship in one way or another. Their relationship can be affected to varying degrees, depending on what the cause of the stress is. In an attempt to repair or renew their relationship, or prevent it from breaking apart completely, couples may want to get therapy and support from a counselor.

Sometimes counseling may also be a pre-emptive option to support couples that are going through or about to go through a difficult time. In these cases, the relationship might still be intact but the counseling is needed to support the couple together. For example, a couple may have recently lost a child, or the there has been a diagnosis of a new illness in one member. Therapy would be targeted toward supporting the couple and coming up with appropriate coping strategies.

In other cases, counseling may be recommended for a couple if they are considering divorce or when there are children in the picture. Counseling gives both individuals in the relationship the opportunity to identify specific concerns and ways to overcome these concerns that is mutually therapeutic. It can help couples reconcile their differences and find a way to salvage their marriage.

What Does a a Certified Couples Counselor Do?

Certified couples counselors are classified as Marriage and Family Therapists by the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Couples counselors assist people in overcoming problems with their relationships. They ask questions and listen to the answers in order to understand the issues and help people develop effective strategies to improve their lives. Certified couples counselors use a family-centered perspective to their treatment, a different approach from other therapists. They may work with people individually and/or together as a couple. Certified couples counselors arrive at an understanding of how their clients’ relationships affect their mental health, and in doing so they treat the relationship and not just the individual clients.

A couples counselor may address issues including low self-esteem, stress and substance abuse. They also diagnose and treat mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, By encouraging clients to discuss their experiences and emotions openly, counselors can help couples adjust to changes such as job loss, develop strategies to cope with difficult situations, and guide them in changing their behavior and making decisions about their future. The goal is to assist couples in understanding their harmful emotions and beliefs, and focus on more positive thoughts and feelings.

By using behavioral therapy, a couples therapist can teach couples to eliminate damaging behaviors and replace them with productive behaviors. A certified couples counselor can coordinate treatment with other healthcare professionals including social workers and psychiatrists, and they can refer clients to other resources in the community like support groups or treatment facilities.

Where Does a Certified Couples Counselor Work?

Certified couples counselors may work in private practice, or they may work as part of a group practice with other counselors. They may work in inpatient clinics or hospitals, substance abuse treatment centers or mental health centers. They may also work in an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

Certified couples counselors may specialize in treating couples from a particular cultural or religious group, or they may treat same-sex couples. A counselor with a doctoral degree in family therapy may work in the field of research, consulting, administration or teaching.

Certified couples counselors typically work during scheduled hours, often including evenings and weekends, and they sometimes work before or after hours to deal with client emergencies.

What are the Requirements to Become a Certified Couples Counselor?


An aspiring certified couples counselor will complete an undergraduate degree in psychology, sociology or social science. Some colleges and universities offer an undergraduate relationship counseling program. Students complete coursework on family systems and dynamics as well as psychology, family therapy and human development. They also learn assessment and counseling techniques. Upon obtaining an undergraduate degree, the candidate applies to graduate programs with an MA in Marriage and Family Counseling or a Master of Social Work. It typically takes two years to complete these programs. Many graduate schools will arrange for internships or clinical residencies for students.


Certified couples therapists who work in the United States must be licensed before they can practice. Each state has its own licensing requirements. Candidates must pass a nationally recognized Marriage and Family Therapy examination. Before taking this exam, candidates must complete two years of hands-on, supervised clinical experience. Licenses include:

  • LMFT – Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
  • LMHC – Licensed Mental Health Counselor
  • LCPC – Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
  • MFT-  Marriage and Family Therapist

States may require couples counselors to receive professional development training yearly by taking courses or attending workshops or professional conferences.


A marriage counselor can apply for board certification with the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). Individual states may accept this credential in place of a state license. Marriage counselors who meet the educational and training criteria may elect to join the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) which sets the professional standards for the field.

What Skills are Required for a Couple’s Counselor?

Certified couples counselors should have compassion for others and excellent interpersonal and listening skills. They should also be adept at communicating information so that clients can understand what they are being told. Couples counselors use trust, empathy and skills to resolve relationship issues between couples.

Organization and Timeliness

Although not always the case, it is fairly common for couple’s counselors to meet their clients on a small number of occasions. Given their limited time together, a couple’s counselor must be able to assess the stressors present in a relationship quickly, relay this information to his or her clients, and plan for limited future sessions accordingly.

Understanding and Mediating Human Relationships

Couple’s counseling essentially tries to understand the underlying framework of relationships. Counselors do this by listening to the different perspectives of both parties involved in a relationship. Oftentimes, the strains placed on human relationships aren’t easy to pin down and getting both parties to recognize and address problematic areas of a relationship is not easy. In this regard, couple’s counselors must be able to understand how relationships work in order to mediate them.

Interviewing Skills and Identity Management

Couple’s counselors need to be able to talk to clients in an unprejudiced manner. Not only that, since they must appear professional, comforting, and objective in front of two people simultaneously, they must be able to adjust their approach and how they come across based on the situation. Much of the success of a couple’s counselor hinges on his or her ability to create a safe environment where both parties in a relationship feel comfortable sharing.

Recognizing Mental Health and Addiction Problems

Mental health and addiction problems change relationships and the dynamics within them. Couple’s counselors much be able to recognize potential problems and how they may affect the relationship.

What is the Salary for a Certified Couples Counselor?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for marriage and family therapists in 2019 was $54,590. The top 10 percent earned over $87,700, while the lowest 10 percent earned under $32,070.

What is the Job Outlook for Certified Couples Counselors?

The Occupational Outlook Handbook states that employment of mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists is projected to expand by a whopping 22 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. More people are expected to take advantage of services like relationship counseling as these services become covered by insurance.

In addition, more people are now covered by health insurance as a result of federal legislation under the Affordable Care Act, and the law now requires insurance policies to cover mental health treatment the same way as other chronic diseases are treated.

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