How To Become a Marriage Counselor

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: January 5, 2022  •  8 min read  •  Mental Health
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Learning how to become a marriage counselor might put you on the perfect career path. You will be a licensed therapist specializing in treating couples and families. Often, marriage counselors are called marriage and family therapists or MFTs for short.

This type of career will put you right in the thick of things with couples and families. You will help them with issues they are facing. It’s necessary to become licensed and it will require a master’s degree.

If you want to become a marriage counselor, you should first understand the job duties. Let’s look at the things you will be doing and the steps necessary to become a marriage counselor.

Marriage Counselor

Job Duties of a Marriage Counselor

As a marriage counselor, you will work with married couples and those planning to get married. You may also work with children and the extended family of the married couple. Your goal will always be to create a healthy environment for communication and mediation.

The type of situations you will address as a marriage counselor is rather varied. You might work with couples going through financial issues or help them with a parent-child conflict. Helping couples cope with death or the loss of a job is common, as well.

Many marriage counselors will work with couples considering divorce. It’s common to help couples resolve negative feelings, discuss domestic demands, and deal with career frustrations.

As a marriage counselor, you will help to treat your patients mentally and emotionally. By using the right models and strategies, you can help couples better communicate and work together.

How to Become a Marriage Counselor in 7 Steps

Step #1 – Complete High School

You will need to go on to college if you want to become a marriage counselor. This means you must complete high school. It’s best to do very well in high school and score high on the ACT or SAT. With good grades and a good score, you can get into a better bachelor’s degree program.

Step #2 – Get Your Bachelor’s Degree

You will need to complete a four-year degree in marriage and family therapy, psychology, or social work. Other similar degree types will also work. Make sure you do very well during your degree courses as you will need to be accepted into a master’s program to become a marriage counselor.

During your education, you may need to complete specific courses to get into the right master’s program. These often include research methods, psychology, family studies, statistics, and human development. Make sure you complete all the prerequisites as you earn your bachelor’s degree.

Step #3 – Get Your Master’s Degree

You will need to complete a master’s degree to become a marriage counselor. This degree will likely need to be in marriage and family therapy. You may also choose a specialization in a type of marriage counseling at this point.

You have the option to get a Master of Arts or a Master of Science degree. However, if you get a Master of Arts degree, you will likely go on to a doctorate program or go into research. Most students getting a Master of Arts degree don’t become licensed counselors.

A Master of Science degree will focus on the mechanics of marriage counseling. This type of degree will give you the tools you need to help couples and families within your specific specialty.

There are many degree options to consider. You can get a master’s of marriage and family therapy, human development, mental health, and wellness, or another related degree.

Step #4 – Complete Your Clinical Experience

Before you can take the exams to become a licensed marriage counselor, you will need to gain experience. Depending on your state, you will need between 1,500 and 3,500 hours of supervised clinical experience as a marriage counselor. For most, it will take around two years to complete this step.

Step #5 – Pass the Exams and Become Licensed

After completing the education and experience requirements, you will need to pass the state and national exams. These exams are necessary to become a licensed marriage counselor.

The exams will be provided by the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) or the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE). You will need to pass the national exam, no matter which state you work in. Some states also have a state test exam you will need to pass.

Step #6 – Decide Where to Work

After becoming licensed, you will need to decide where you prefer to work. Your work environment may include a hospital, treatment center, in-home care, telehealth setting, or private practice. Those deciding to become self-employed tend to earn the most in this field.

Step #7 – Completing Continuing Education

Depending on your state, you will likely need a specific number of continuing education credits every year or every two years. These credits will allow you to renew your license and keep working within the field.

Following these steps will allow you to become a marriage counselor. You will need to complete a master’s degree and meet all the state requirements. Make sure you check with your state to ensure you meet the necessary requirements before you start working through these steps.

Frequently Asked Questions About Marriage Counselors

How much can I make as a marriage counselor?

You can expect earn around $54K per year or about $26 per hour as a marriage counselor. The top 10% within this career do earn more with an annual salary over $70K per year. If you’re self-employed as a marriage counselor, you’ll likely earn the most.

Some states do have a higher average salary with Hawaii, Illinois, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Wyoming all having an average annual salary above $60K. Utah is the highest paying state, on average, at about $76K per year.

What will it cost me to become a marriage counselor?

The cost will include anywhere from $8,000 to $60,000 per year as you get your bachelor’s degree. This will include tuition, books, supplies, and other fees. You will also need to pay the fees to become a licensed marriage counselor. These fees will range based on your state.

Are marriage counselors in high demand?

Yes, this is a growing field. It’s expected the field of marriage and family therapists will grow by about 22% over the next ten years. This is about four times faster than the average of all occupations.

How long will it take me to become a marriage counselor?

You will need to start by completing high school. Then, you will need to spend around four to five years completing your bachelor’s degree work. Another two years will be necessary to get your master’s degree.

After you have completed the education requirements, you will need to spend between 1,500 and 3,000 hours doing supervised clinical work. This will take about two years.

It will take between eight and nine years to become a licensed marriage counselor. After you complete your clinical hours and education, you will need to pass the state and national licensing exams.

Will different states have different requirements for getting my license?

Yes, you should always check with your state requirements before working towards your license. Each state is a bit different. If you’re planning to become a marriage counselor, you want to make sure you meet the requirements for the state you plan to work in.

Do I need a doctoral degree to work as a marriage counselor?

No. A doctoral degree isn’t required to become a marriage counselor. It’s common for professionals in this field to continue their education, however. Many will earn a doctoral degree and specialize in a specific area of marriage counseling. This degree can also allow you to teach the subject to students.

What type of specialty can I go into as a marriage counselor?

There are several options when it comes to specializing as a marriage counselor. you can work with newlyweds, those going through pre-marital counseling, a specific age group, those considering divorce, Christian couples, and more.

Can I diagnose mental health disorders as a marriage counselor?

Yes, as a licensed marriage and family therapist or counselor, you can diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders.

What type of skills are necessary for marriage counselors?

You will need to have excellent communication skills. Along with becoming great communicators, marriage counselors should be very organized and have empathy for those they work with. Good critical thinking skills are also very important.

If you’re considering becoming a marriage counselor, you will want to use the steps above. With the right education, you can enter into your clinical hours and work towards getting your license.

Becoming a marriage counselor can lead you to a very rewarding career. Your job will allow you to help couples deal with their issues within their family. If you want to help people, this might be the right career path for you.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path. I, personally, am the high school dropout son of two teacher parents. So how did I get here? That story is coming soon!