Marriage counseling is challenging work that requires counselors not only to investigate the inner worlds of two individuals, but also to examine how those two worlds intersect. To become a marriage counselor, you need a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. Some marriage counselors have doctoral degrees. You have to meet state licensing requirements and remain up-to-date on current research in counseling.
At minimum, a marriage counselor has to have a master's degree to become licensed. Counselors often pursue undergraduate degrees in psychology or social work, taking classes in psychology, counseling, sociology and human development. Future counselors are trained in the basics of mental health, interpersonal psychology, ethical therapy practices and research methods. Some marriage counselors pursue doctoral degrees, fulfilling additional course requirements and writing a dissertation that contributes new research to the field. A broad variety of doctoral and master's degrees can prepare you for marriage counseling and common choices include counseling, social work, community psychology and developmental psychology.
After graduate school, marriage counselors must become licensed by their state before they can practice. Possible licenses include marriage and family therapist, clinical social worker or psychologist, and each type of license has its own requirements. Marriage counselors will generally need to complete a certain number of supervised hours administering therapy and may have to take state licensing examinations. Their educational course load must also meet certain requirements. In New York, for example, a marriage and family therapist has to take classes in research, clinical knowledge, theoretical knowledge and human development.
After a marriage counselor becomes licensed, his education continues. To be good at his job, he'll need to remain up-to-date on research trends. Each state establishes a certain number of continuing education hours a counselor must take every year. These classes are brief seminars and are often at professional conferences and nonprofit organizations, but some continuing education courses are online. For example, psychology education organization "Good Therapy" offers continuing education classes in grief counseling, gay couples therapy and recovery after infidelity. A marriage counselor who does not meet state requirements for continuing education can have his license revoked.
Pastoral counseling is a distinctly different type of counseling from clinical, psychological counseling. Pastors, priests and similar clergy members draw on their religious traditions and life experience to advise married couples. Some pastoral counselors also obtain degrees in counseling-related fields. To become a pastoral counselor, a counselor has to meet the requirements established by his faith, but he'll only be able to practice in a church setting. Pastoral counselors who do not become licensed as marriage counselors cannot practice in a clinical setting.
- American Psychological Association: Understanding Psychotherapy and How it Works
- American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy: About AAMFT
- New York State Education Department Office of the Professions: Marriage and Family Therapy License Requirements
- Mayo Clinic: Marriage Counseling
- GoodTherapy.org: Online Continuing Education for Mental Health Professionals
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.