A relationship counselor, also referred to as a family or marriage counselor, typically provides therapy services to couples who are having difficulty in their relationship. Relationship counseling, however, may be used in a family setting as well, with the entire family or only certain members in attendance. Someone who wants to become a relationship counselor will generally need at least a master's degree if not a doctorate in psychology, as well as a license to practice in the state in which he or she provides mental health services. A psychologist or counselor cannot prescribe medication; only a psychiatrist is able to do so.
On a daily basis, a relationship counselor will meet with couples and families who are having difficulties. These challenges may be varied, and may include issues communicating with each other, sexuality issues, frequent fights, substance abuse, mental illness, infidelity, or a recent traumatic situation in the family, such as death or divorce, among many others. The counselor will likely meet with the couple as a unit, as well as each person individually, to get a good sense of the challenges the couple faces and the best way to resolve the issues.
Couples therapy may last weeks, months, or longer, though it is typically intended to be short-term. It is important for the couple or family to be able to trust the relationship counselor, and talk openly with him or her, so it is important for a counselor to truly enjoy working with people. Discretion and respect is also a large part of the job, as well as providing psychotherapy and advice.
A relationship counselor may provide communication tips to facilitate better listening and understanding, rather than fighting. Specific activities may be "prescribed" for the couple to try to improve their relationship. The counselor may also provide advice on compromise and negotiation tactics. Couples will learn to discuss their differences calmly and rationally, without escalating to a fight or even a potentially violent situation.
A relationship counselor will typically charge a per-session or per-hour rate. Appointments may be weekly or bi-weekly, depending on his or her schedule, and the needs of the patients. A counselor may work independently or as part of a larger team of therapists; many accept health insurance, but some do not. The counselor should specify the proposed length of treatment as well as the fees before beginning counseling. Some therapists also offer trial sessions, to determine if he or she is a good fit to counsel the couple.