Background, Current Practice, and Resources on the Web
Marriage Counseling can be a way for couples experiencing relationship trouble to reconnect, get through their problems or crisis, and rebuild their relationship.
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Marriage Counseling is a term referring to the act of counseling or "therapy" as it applies to married couples. The practice evolved out of traditional one-on-one therapy as a means of helping "the relationship" and the individuals involved. Due to the fact that many of today's marriages end in divorce, marriage counseling has become a popular way that couples attempt to save their marriage. While there is a lot of research that demonstrates the effectiveness of marriage counseling, it does require some commitment on the part of the individuals involved in order to be successful.
Marriage Counseling as a Profession
Marriage counselors should be licensed by the state in which they practice, and they can have a wide range of educational backgrounds which enable one to practice therapy. At the present time, there are no state licensing requirements that differentiate between therapists who can practice general "mental health counseling" and those who can practice "marriage counseling." One reason for this is that these two concepts overlap considerably. It's very difficult to treat and individual without also considering their relationships with family, friends, and their environment. That being said, all professional counselors should have educational background that involves working with the family system.
One of the more popular licensing bodies today is the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). Therapists who are licensed by the AAMFT are required to complete educational and supervision requirements specific to marriage and family therapy. There are also many other educational backgrounds that marriage counselors may have, such as a Master's Degree in Counseling (MA) or Social Work (MSW), Psychologists (Ph.D), Psychiatrists (M.D.), and this is not limited to other fields like Psychoanalysis, where marriage counseling might not be the primary domain of most practitioners, but is practiced by many clinicians.
Marriage Counseling Educations
In order to become a professional marriage counselor, there are a number of requirements one must fulfill; and those requirements can vary depending on the final licensing and educational goal. In general, one needs to have attained at least a master's degree in a counseling related profession, followed by entering a licensing program with supervision and continuing education requirements. Below is a list of some of the licensing bodies that allow practice as a professional counselor; they will have information on their licensing and educational requirements. It is also prudent to check with one's state to see if they allow these professionals to practice professionally there, and what requirements the state board may have.
The licensing bodies above work with each state to come up with standards and testing for licensing in that state. As a result, different states may potentially have different licensing requirements for counseling professionals. To find out licensing information for your state, visit your state's website and navigate to the appropriate place. (Usually under "Professional Licenses" or "Health"). State website addresses are usually the state name + .gov extension, example: http://www.louisiana.gov, or http://www.california.gov. There's also a website called CheckATherapist.com, that (at the time of writing, July, 2008) provides links to each respective state's web page where licenses can be checked online. It is not known to this author how well-maintained the site is, but I have used it frequently in the past to check licenses.
It is important to check with your state to make sure that a therapist you're considering is properly licensed. Why? Because in order to be licensed, one must abide by strict ethical guidelines required for the counseling profession. Licensure is a way to keep therapists accountable for their practices, and help ensure that those who do not follow ethical guidelines are not allowed to continue professional practice. If you ever feel that your counselor has not treated you in an ethical manner, the state professional licensing board is the appropriate authority to bring the matter to. Below are some links to professional ethical guidelines.
All abbreviations related to Clinical Social Work licensing. Check with your state board to find out which ones are licensed to practice in your state and whether or not the individual therapist actually has a license. Also see the official NASW website for more information.
Master of Social Work. This abbreviation necessitates that the individual have a master's degree in social work from an accredited university. This abbreviation does not mean that an individual is licensed, however licensing is required in order to practice in the field.
All abbreviations related to professionals licensed by their state through the National Board for Certified Counselors. See also: State Licensure Chart. Check with your state board to find out which ones are licensed in to practice in your state and whether or not the individual therapist actually has a license.
Master of Arts degree in counseling. This abbreviation necessitates that the individual have a master's degree in counseling from an accredited university. This abbreviation does not mean that an individual is licensed, however licensing is required in order to practice in the field.
The Ph.D. abbreviation stands for "Doctor of Philosophy," however it is used to represent doctoral degrees in many different fields of study. The Ph.D. as it relates to counseling professionals necessitates that the individual have a doctoral degree in their field of study. Fields of study usually include, but are not limited to: social work, counseling, psychology, and clinical psychology (Psy. D.). These abbreviations do not mean that an individual is licensed, however licensing is required in order to practice in the field. It should also be noted that in some states, psychologists can prescribe medicine (a recent action that has opponents and proponents).
MFT, LMFT, LCMFT
All abbreviations related to professionals licensed or undergoing the licensing through the AAMFT. This abbreviation does necessitate completion of a master's degree program approved by the AAMFT and that the individual be enrolled in the AAMFT program. Usually the "LMFT" version of the abbreviation signifies that the individual has completed the licensing process. Check with your state board to find out which ones are licensed in to practice in your state and whether or not the individual therapist actually has a license.
The MD abbreviation stands for Medicinae Doctor (latin), or Doctor of Medicine. As this abbreviation relates to the counseling profession, individuals using it are most likely Psychiatrists who can also prescribe medicine.
Resources for the Public: Finding a Marriage Counselor
For couples seeking marriage counseling, there are many resources available on the world wide web. There is a lot of information out there about the practice, and many resources that help people find licensed therapists in their area. Below is a list of some available resources.
Therapist Locator is a directory of therapists licensed by The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). It is a comprehensive resource that contains only AAMFT members throughout the US.
Counselor Find is a directory provided by The American Counseling Association (ACA) and their respective licensing body, the National Board for Certified Counselor (NBCC). This directory lists NBCC licensed counselors, and gives the visitor the option of selecting different specialties to narrow down the search results.
The FMC Directory is a commercial directory that lists therapists who pay to advertise in most major US cities, as well as some in Canada. The directory also publishes articles written by members of the counseling profession, provides resources for the public, as well as some self-help alternatives to counseling.
Choosing a Marriage Counselor
Much has been written about the process of choosing a marriage counselor. While this web page has some information on the different educational backgrounds, each therapist has their own personal experience from their education, outside training, or life, that may help them to be a good marriage counselor. Talk to the therapist about their experience with marriage counseling and what your expectations are before making your decision. Some good questions to ask may be:
Are you licensed by the State?
What is your experience in counseling married couples?
What is your educational background in?
What are your fees and what is your cancellation policy?
Do you accept health insurance?
How long have you been in practice?
Some therapists will offer a free initial consultation. In those cases, an initial consultation can help you to get a feel for the therapist's style and your own comfort level with that person. Even if you have to pay for an initial session, the first meeting will be a good indicator of whether or not you feel comfortable with that therapist.
Below are some helpful articles on the web about choosing a marriage counselor.
Just as every marriage is unique, so is every therapist and their approach. A qualified marriage counselor will work with the couple to help them get through the time of crisis and rebuild their relationship. If the couple is not in crisis the counselor should work with them to achieve therapeutic goals. It is prudent to discuss your goals and desired outcome of marriage counseling in the initial meetings with the therapist. This way the therapist is clear on your expectations and can provide feedback in terms of the therapeutic process, and potential timelines.
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