How Can I Become a Relationship Counselor?

Research what it takes to become a relationship counselor. Learn about the job duties, education requirements, licensure, average salary, and job outlook to find out if this the right career for you. Schools offering Marriage & Family Therapy degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Relationship Counselor?

Relationship counselors may also be known as marriage and family therapists. Their objective is to help couples and families with their relationships and any issues that may be negatively affecting their relationships. For example, a relationship counselor may work with one couple that is dealing with infidelity while another couple they're seeing may be having problems because of one of the partners losing their job. The specific types of issues that are affecting the couple or family may vary widely; however, their objective is to help the individuals recognize their issues, develop strategies to resolve or cope with their issues and lead a more fulfilling life. They may meet with individuals, couples or the entire family, must maintain confidentiality for their patients, and must also document the progress of their patients over the course of their sessions with them.

Degree Required Master's degree
Education Field of Study Counseling, marriage & family therapy
Training Required Completion of required clinical hours
Key Responsibilities Enhance communication between family members, assist families with relationship issues, treat emotional and mental disorders using theories and techniques
Licensure/Certification Required Licensure is required by all 50 states. Certification is optional.
Job Growth (2014-2024) 19% for all mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists*
Average Salary (2015) $53,520 for marriage and family therapists*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Relationship Counselor Do?

A relationship counselor is often referred to as a marriage and family therapist. You may work with individuals, but you would place more emphasis on relationships and your clients' interactions with others. This is in contrast to traditional counseling, which focuses more on internal conflict. You might also work with couples, families or other groups.

The treatment of emotional and mental disorders is an important focus in relationship counseling, but you would treat them using theories and techniques developed for family systems, which could include efforts to enhance communication among family members and change a client's negative perceptions and behaviors. Some specific relationship issues you might deal with include child or elder abuse, substance abuse or chronic illness within families, marital conflict, divorce, adoption or juvenile delinquency.

You might work in a private practice, but you could also be employed at a community organization, hospital, family service agency or family court. In addition to providing therapy services, you might also perform research or teach classes relating to interpersonal relationships or human development.

What Type of Degree Do I Need?

To become a licensed relationship counselor, you'll typically need a master's degree. Accredited master's degree programs in marriage and family therapy are available from colleges and universities across the nation. You might also pursue a general counseling degree with a specialization in marriage and family therapy. If you're interested in performing research, you may want to pursue a Master of Science (M.S.) degree rather than a Master of Arts (M.A.) degree.

Master's degree programs in counseling or marriage and family therapy generally require between 48 and 60 semester hours of coursework, plus supervised clinical experiences. You'll learn about family dynamics, as well as dysfunctional and healthy relationship patterns, including communication patterns. You'll learn theoretical approaches and practical therapeutic techniques, which could help you encourage healthier functioning within your client's relationships.

Your education will likely also include a variety of experiential learning opportunities, including fieldwork and visits to family service agencies. If you want to teach, perform research or obtain an advanced clinical position, you might consider pursuing a doctoral degree in marriage and family therapy. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the average annual salary in May 2015 for marriage and family therapists was $53,520. The BLS also reported the job outlook for 2014 to 2024 for all mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists was much faster than average at 19%.

What Are the Licensing Requirements?

All 50 states require some type of licensure for marriage and family therapists. Common licensing requirements include the completion of a relevant master's degree program and a certain number of supervised clinical hours. Generally, licensure requires up to 3,000 hours or two years of clinical experience beyond what is required to earn a master's degree.

You'll also need to pass an exam to get your license, and continuing education is required every year to keep your license valid. Although it's generally not required to work in this field, voluntary counselor certification could help demonstrate to potential employers and clients your experience, education and expertise. You might consider earning the National Certified Counselor (NCC) designation from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), or you might pursue membership with a professional organization, such as the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Like relationship counselors, substance abuse counselors, behavioral disorder counselors and social workers meet with their patients, help them identify issues that are negatively affecting their life and help them develop strategies to resolve or manage the issues that are affecting them. The fundamental goal all of these professionals share is to help their patients lead a more satisfying life. The specific issues they address may vary widely; while a relationship counselor is more likely to work with a couple that's contemplating divorce, substance abuse counselors are more likely to work with individuals who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. All of these professionals must maintain a high level of confidentiality and they must also document their sessions and the progress their patients make towards their goals. Substance abuse counselors and behavioral disorder counselors need a bachelor's degree; social workers need a bachelor's or master's degree.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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