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What is Couples Psychotherapy?

Lainie Petersen
By Lainie Petersen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Couples psychotherapy, also known as couples counseling or marital counseling, is a mental health treatment provided to couples in romantic relationships. The goal of couples psychotherapy is typically to improve the relationship between the clients. In some cases, couples enter counseling due to significant problems in their marriage and relationship, while others may enter into therapy because they are considering or planning on marriage. In many places, the practice of couples psychotherapy is restricted to licensed mental health professionals, though in some cases members of the clergy may provide religiously oriented counseling to couples.

During the process of couples psychotherapy, the counselor or therapist works with the couple on examining and understanding their relationship. Depending on the nature of therapist's practice and the circumstances that brought the couple to counseling, the psychotherapist may spend a great deal of time discussing aspects of each partner's upbringing and early family life. The therapist may also address issues currently affecting the marriage such as job loss, substance abuse, or infidelity. In some cases, the therapist may recommend that the individual partners enter into psychotherapy on their own so as to better deal with personal behaviors and attitudes that are affecting the marriage.

Practitioners of couples psychotherapy may specialize in working with specific types of couples or addressing common issues that affect couples and families. For example, some practitioners may work only with opposite-sex or same-sex couples, while some work with both. A couples counselor may have special training or interest in working with couples who are affected by substance abuse, anger management issues, or who have special-needs children. Some couples counselors work specifically with couples who are experiencing infertility. A couples counselor may also have a religious aspect to her practice and may specialize in working with couples from a specific religious background.

Mental health practitioners competent in practicing couples psychotherapy come from a variety of backgrounds. They may be psychologists, clinical social workers, or counselors. In many jurisdictions, mental health professionals need to be licensed in order to practice psychotherapy, though they may not need any special credential for offering couples psychotherapy. Many couples counselors do, however, seek additional training in couples psychotherapy, which may include additional graduate work or continuing education classes. Couples who are seeking psychotherapy should inquire about a therapist's credentials as well as the therapist's areas of specialization.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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