Marriage counselors work with with couples who are married, or sometimes with those planning on marriage, to increase and improve communications in order to work through or ward off problems or crises. To become a marriage counselor, students are usually required to obtain a four-year bachelor’s degree from a university, with a 2-3 year graduate degree in social work or psychology to follow. Some areas require only a bachelor's degree to practice, others may require additional certifications beyond a degree. Counselors may also have up to two years of additional required supervised internship in the field before they can be licensed to practice. Information on counseling degree programs and requirements for particular regions can often be found at local colleges or online at college or university Web sites.
Often called marriage and family therapists, counselors are educated in topics such as conflict resolution, sociology, addiction, psychology, and family and personal relationships. Aspiring therapists study counseling techniques, principles and theories, and sometimes specialize in areas such as talk therapy or behavioral therapies. Mental health issues, human sexuality, child and adolescent development and sometimes nutrition are also studied. Math, English and sciences such as biology, anatomy and physiology are usually essential. Students are required to complete extensive coursework, observations and training throughout their years in college.
Counseling students also may learn about the founding fathers of psychology and psychotherapy, such as Sigmund Freud, Jean Piaget, and Carl Rogers, among many others. Through them they learn how the science of psychology was pioneered and study the founders’ research and techniques. If this type of information interests the student, they may wish to attend a 3-5 year doctoral degree program in counseling to prepare for a career in counseling theory or research. A doctorate’s degree is also useful for those who wish to be supervisors or college professors.
A student who wants to become a marriage counselor may gain experience by volunteering for a non-profit agency or for private therapists. Volunteer positions and unpaid internships can help the student understand the business aspects of counseling, such as ongoing licensing education requirements, hiring, billing, insurance, scheduling and documentation. Students may also find counselors who are willing to talk with them about what they do and how they got to that point in their career. The student who wants to become a marriage counselor may gain great insight and compassion for patients through speaking with counselors about their work. They may also be able to obtain letters of reference and develop a growing contact list.
Once they become a marriage counselor, professionals can begin to meet with patients on their own about various conditions such as depression or anxiety, as well as relationship concerns. A marriage counselor may give relationship advice or may guide clients toward an answer that feels right to them. Couples may need relationship counseling to keep a family together, to help ease emotions and transitions through divorce, or to blend two families together.