How To Become A Therapist Specializing In Relationships

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox
Updated November 13, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

To become a therapist specializing in relationships, the first step is usually to get a bachelor’s degree in psychology, social work, or a similar field. Next, you will typically need to get a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling or relationship counseling. You may need to finish an internship and two or more years of clinical experience before applying for licensure in the state where you plan to work. After licensure, you’ll typically need to finish ongoing education to continue your practice. If you’re trying to decide whether becoming a relationship therapist is the right career choice for you, speaking with a therapist in person or online can help you gain clarity.

What Are The Educational Requirements For A Relationship Counselor?

For anyone interested in learning how to become a counselor specializing in relationships, the first thing to do is typically to get a bachelor's degree in social work, psychology, or a related area. These classes will usually cover psychology, social work, marriage counseling, social psychology, cognitive psychology, sexuality, sociology, interpersonal relationships, and more. Most bachelor's programs also require an internship or clinical practice before students can graduate.

Most relationship counselors get their master's degree, which normally entails full education in the social sciences of marriage and family counseling. A master's degree in relationship counseling may include adolescent and family counseling, cultural diversity, couples therapy, family systems sociology, marriage counseling ethics, and more.

A master's degree level of certification usually emphasizes applied clinical experience and research. Students working on their master's degrees in relationship counseling will often need to serve an internship to obtain their degree. To work as a marriage and family counselor, graduates with this degree students must usually have at least two years or more of clinical experience and apply for a state license to practice. Beyond the educational requirements, licensed counselors generally need to have compassion, people skills, listening skills, and speaking skills.

Some relationship counselors may continue their education to get their doctorate, potentially opening up opportunities for work in academia or research.

What Types Of Certifications Can I Get As A Relationship Counselor?

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MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist)

This is generally a mental health professional with training in psychotherapy and family systems. Therapists usually have training in a theoretical approach to working with clients, which is referred to as "systems theory." An MFT typically administers treatment by focusing on the mechanics of relationships between couples and families.

GRN (Gottman Referral Network) Counselor

This type of counselor usually receives intensive training from Doctors John and Julie Gottman and works independently.

Psychologist

A psychologist is often defined as a therapist with professional training and clinical skills who helps people learn to cope with life's issues and mental health disorders. Psychologists usually also have a doctoral degree of Ph.D., PsyD., or EdD.

LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor)

Counselors who provide mental health and substance use care to clients in need are often LPCs. This is usually a master's degree-level clinician who provides care to individuals, families, and groups and treats mental health, emotional, and behavioral problems.

LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker)

Licensed clinical social workers often follow a traditional psychological approach to counseling that tends to focus on individual improvement. Licensed clinical social workers can provide therapy services to clients in schools, health settings, and other work settings, something a social worker with a bachelor's degree normally can't do.

What Are The Requirements For Clinical Experience For Relationship Counselors?

Each state usually forms its laws regarding licensed clinicians' requirements, so the requirements can vary from state to state. Generally, clinicians must have a certain number of hours of supervised marriage counseling work experience before they are allowed to get a license.

Some state requirements may be in addition to college credits. Credit hours are usually measured in weeks or hours. Unless the state laws indicate otherwise, the standard supervised clinical requirement for relationship therapists is typically two years or more.

State clinical licensing nearly always requires a written examination. In addition to clinical licensing, relationship counselors may also have to take classes or exams on ethical standards if their state requires them. Some states may have their own examination, and others may use an examination provided by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards.

Once someone has finished all the necessary education, training, and exams, they may apply for state licensing.

Are There Opportunities For Ongoing Education After Licensure?

Not only are there often many opportunities to obtain continuing education credits for additional study, but also, in most states, continuing education is a licensing requirement.

Counselors may opt to take classes or programs that will help them develop a specialty within their practice. The National Board of Certified Counselors offers an optional certification known as the National Certified Counselor (NCC) credential. Relationship therapists who desire to develop a specialty within their practices may find success by assessing their community’s needs.

There may also be many opportunities for counselors to join professional associations. Two notable organizations can include the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and the Child Welfare League of America.

Nearly all states require relationship counselors to take continuing education to keep their licenses. Continuing education can be important because it can keep counselors up to date on current laws and regulations and keep them fresh at their craft. Most states require relationship counselors to finish approximately 20 to 40 hours of continuing education credits to renew their clinical licenses. Some states have lists of approved topics or course providers that are acceptable for continuing education credits. Most clinical licenses expire annually or biannually unless the person has finished the proper continuing education requirements. Most licensed relationship counselors also attend lectures and workshops to stay in the loop with industry trends and research. These opportunities sometimes afford them continuing education credits toward licensing renewal credits.

What Do Relationship Therapists Do In Practice?

Relationship therapists usually work with individuals, couples, or families to diagnose problems within their relationships. Therapists can create customized treatment plans to resolve individual problems that contribute to marital discord. Treatment plans often help clients explore the dynamics in their relationships to get to the cause of the problem. When relationship therapy is successful, clients generally have the necessary communication skills to repair their current problems and prevent similar problems from re-occurring in the future. The result is that they will have usually developed the ability to have more positive relationships moving forward.

Couples counseling is not just for married partners. According to the American Psychological Association, pre-marriage counseling is a "vital, untapped niche." Pre-marriage counseling can help to prevent more serious problems later in the marriage.

What Can Relationship Therapists Expect From Their Work Environment?

In most cases, therapists will schedule their patients for 45-to-90-minute sessions. They usually determine the approximate number of sessions needed after the first visit.

Some therapists develop good working relationships with psychiatrists or other professionals within their community. For example, a relationship therapist may partner with a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication to aid the client as they work through their therapy sessions. It can be common for relationship therapists to consult with other therapists who provide individual therapy for difficult cases.

In addition to their clinical practice, many relationship therapists provide related services within their communities either for a fee or to build their brand and drum up business for their practice. Some therapists teach classes at local universities or work as supervisors for other counselors working on their degrees. Counselors may find opportunities to provide public speaking engagements, which may be important if the community is going through a crisis. Educational conferences for clinicians can be good opportunities to present information to other clinicians and become known in their field.

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Technology can be a game-changer in the counseling field. Computers, mobile phones, and tablets often provide a way to bring counseling to clients in the comfort of their own homes. Online therapy is a growing field that can be as popular with clients as it is with clinicians.

Newly licensed relationship therapists generally have their choice of various work environments. State and federal governments often hire counselors, therapists, and social workers to work in their buildings. Some communities have set up nonprofit organizations that have community clinics. There may also be opportunities to work for police or fire departments.

When clinicians aren't seeing clients, they're usually taking care of the business by writing progress notes, answering phone calls and emails, attending staff or supervisory meetings, filing insurance claims, and finishing other administrative or marketing tasks.

Therapy Can Help You Determine The Right Career Path

Settling on a career path, whether it’s becoming a therapist specializing in relationships or going into another field altogether, can be challenging. This decision can impact many areas of your life and future, so it’s understandable if you’re having trouble settling on a specific choice. However, speaking with an impartial third person, like a licensed therapist, about your career options can be beneficial in offering clarity and helping you see which choice may be the best one for you.

If visiting a therapist’s office in person isn’t convenient for you, speaking with a mental health professional through an online therapy platform may be more effective. With online therapy, you can choose to connect with a therapist who often helps others think about their careers and futures in general. You may also schedule sessions at a time that works for you, even if it’s outside typical office hours.

As this study explains, online career counseling can help individuals make stronger choices. If you feel you’d benefit from speaking with a professional about your goals and career options, please don’t hesitate to reach out for the help you deserve.

Takeaway

If you’d like to become a relationship therapist, you must generally obtain bachelor’s and master’s degrees before finishing two years of clinical experience and applying for licensure in the state where you’ll work. After becoming a relationship therapist, you’ll generally need to finish continuing education on a consistent basis for your license to stay current. If you’re having trouble determining whether this is the right career path for you, having a discussion with a licensed therapist in your local area or on an online therapy platform can be helpful.

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