Free Marriage Counseling: You Get What You Pay For

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated April 5, 2024by Regain Editorial Team

The biggest difference between free marriage counseling and clinical therapy is usually the quality of the services, as free counseling is rarely offered by licensed mental health professionals. Free counseling services may offer basic recommendations and resources but are usually not the ideal option for long-term treatment. Meanwhile, clinical therapy for marriages can help partners work through their individual and common challenges in order to strengthen their relationships. Online marriage therapy can be a more affordable option.

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Free counseling vs. clinical therapy

Free marriage counselors or free counseling services typically offer introductory advice and provide resources and referrals for resolving immediate challenges. These can be a great starting point for many people.

However, those who need long-term marriage and family support for serious relationship issues and chronic mental health concerns often require the clinical support of a licensed marriage and family therapist or other therapy professional. In many cases, free marriage counseling may not offer the same type or quality of service that you can typically receive from a licensed professional providing clinical therapy.

While people living with chronic mental health conditions may benefit from the emotional support offered by free counseling and therapy services, free emotional support services aren’t usually a long-term substitute for clinical therapy provided by licensed marriage and family therapists. 

The people who provide free therapy options are often unlicensed professionals who provide free therapy and emotional support options as a community service. A potential benefit of free family counseling, marriage counseling, and family counseling options may be to connect you with volunteer support providers (or people who have taken a crash course in therapy) who are available to provide marriage help in a pinch.

Free referrals and advice in marriage and family services can be beneficial, especially in times of crisis and for unexpected issues that arise. Still, in order for those living with mental health challenges or marriage struggles to receive the proper diagnosis and treatment, the guidance and psychotherapy support of a licensed marriage counselor is usually recommended.

The goals of clinical therapy

A licensed marriage and family therapist can be one of the types of counselors that can also specialize in the diagnosis, assessment, and treatment of chronic mental health conditions.  Licensed marriage counselors typically study for years to receive a degree in marriage and family studies and are then required to finish on-the-job-training with hands-on clinical practice. Once marriage counselors finish their clinical training, these newly qualified marriage and family therapists may become officially eligible to receive their license to practice.

Each state generally has its own individual requirements for prospective marriage counselors to meet before they are officially awarded a license to practice therapy.

The role of a marriage counselor is typically to provide treatment options and relief for people living with mental health conditions, emotional issues, and substance use disorders that may be creating further challenges in their marriage and family relationships. Marriage counselors can provide tips for finding common ground, assessments, and psychotherapy services geared toward helping people find the meaning of marriage and take back control of their lives. The American Association for Marriage Counseling usually receives thousands of requests for licensed marriage and family therapist referrals each year.

The best marriage counselors usually offer their clients a holistic approach to healing the individuals in the family as well as each individual partner in married couples. Marriage counselors often understand that married couples can bring their own individual issues to the table, including mental health concerns that may damage the marital bond. The following are three examples of chronic mental health conditions that marriage counselors commonly treat.

  • Anxiety: According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, people who live with an anxiety disorder often seek professional treatment to manage debilitating symptoms of anxiety. Those who have anxiety are often overwhelmed with a sense of impending doom or fear that can strike at any time and last for varying periods of time.
  • Psychotherapy treatment can be beneficial for treating symptoms of anxiety. In some cases, anxiety medication may be prescribed by a psychiatrist or medical doctor in addition to therapy. Never start or stop any type of medication unless under the guidance of a licensed medical professional. 
  • Depression: When people feel overwhelmed by a deep sense of sadness and loss for an extended period of time, depression may be the culprit. People who are depressed often feel lethargic, disinterested, and no longer enjoy the things that once brought them joy. It’s not uncommon for depression and anxiety symptoms to occur at the same time.

The combination of anxiety and depressive disorders can quickly become debilitating for people who are learning how to cope with their individual conditions. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, depression and major depressive disorder (MDD) may account for up to 16 million cases of chronic mental health issues reported annually in the US. Similar to anxiety, depression is often treated with therapy, medication, or a combination of both.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):  When someone experiences or witnesses a traumatic event, post-traumatic stress disorder can develop as a result. People with PTSD may relive a traumatic event in their minds repeatedly.

Post-traumatic stress disorder can cause issues with daily functioning and sleep disruption, as those with this disorder are often re-traumatized each time they relive the experience. In the past, PTSD was thought to be limited to first responders like police, firefighters, and the military. However, PTSD can affect anyone who has experienced trauma.

Examples of traumatic life events that can trigger episodes of PTSD can include living in poverty-stricken or war-torn countries, being a witness to or survivor of domestic violence*, and experiencing child abuse or neglect. It can be important to note that any or all of these things can lead to someone experiencing a bout of PTSD, but PTSD does not necessarily develop in all people who have experienced trauma.

*If you or a loved one is experiencing any form of abuse, please know that help is available. You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline anytime at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

A medical doctor may prescribe medication as one option for people to manage symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. In most cases, your medical provider will also recommend clinical psychotherapy in conjunction with medication as a holistic solution to treat these disorders.

Marriage counselors typically help couples as individuals and as a partnership. This can mean helping each partner address underlying mental health conditions and assisting the pair in connecting and communicating in a healthy way.

Online therapy for marriage challenges

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If you’re experiencing challenges in your marriage, therapy can be an excellent tool to help yourself and your partner work together to resolve any issues you’re facing. Online therapy can be especially convenient to those with busy schedules or children because it can empower you to get help from the comfort of your home at a time that works for you.

As one study explains, internet-based couples therapy interventions can be effective and are often recommended for couples who face barriers to care. If you’re interested in trying couples therapy, please don’t hesitate to reach out and get the professional help you deserve.


Clinical therapy often provides a much more professional, experienced form of treatment than free marriage counseling, which is usually not offered by a licensed mental health professional. While you may take advantage of free counseling services to get additional resources and recommendations, it’s typically best to choose clinical therapy for long-term treatment. This type of marriage therapy can help partners work through challenges and resolve issues in their marriages. You may find that online marriage therapy is a more affordable option than in-office therapy.

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