Marriage Counselor Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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A marriage counselor's mean annual salary is about $48,000, but is it worth the education and licensing requirements? Get the truth about job duties and career prospects to decide if it's the right career for you.
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The Pros and Cons of a Career in Marriage Counseling

Marriage counselors work with couples and families to help them manage crises, whether by providing group therapy or helping partners improve their communication. Read the following list of pros and cons to find out whether or not becoming a marriage counselor is right for you.

PROS of a Being a Marriage Counselor
Job openings expected to outnumber qualified applicants (29% employment growth from 2012-2022)*
High paying field (marriage counselors earned a median salary of about $48,000)*
Holistic therapy and whole lifestyle improvements (90% of patients state improved emotional health, almost 66% claim better physical health and many attribute increased work performance to counseling)**
A variety of job settings are available (including private practices, community mental health centers and hospitals)**

CONS of Being a Marriage Counselor
Requires education and training beyond a bachelor's degree*
Some positions require counselors to be on-call or work after regular business hours***
Job duties can be stressful*
Travel to schools or patient homes might be necessary***

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, ***CareerBuilder.com.

Career Information

Job Description

Also known as marriage and family therapists, marriage counselors work with couples and/or families who need help coping with mental health problems or emotional disorders, such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse. If you pursue this career path, you might also help families work through difficulties arising from divorce or domestic violence.

The primary duties of marriage counselors are to carefully assess and diagnose clients' needs. They must also develop treatment plans and provide follow-up to determine whether or not intervention strategies have been effective. Marriage counselors will typically work with several clients at once and must be able to carefully document all details associated with each case.

Job Prospects and Salary

As of May 2014, marriage counselors earned a median annual salary of around $48,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, your earnings might vary depending on your employer. While self-employed marriage counselors were among some of the top earners, those working in state government agencies also earned a higher-than-average salary of about $67,000. Those working in local government offices averaged just under $56,000. If you work for a residential care facility, you might earn less. Marriage counselors working in these settings earned a mean annual salary of about $43,000.

Employment opportunities for marriage counselors were expected to grow 29% between 2012 and 2022, according to the BLS. This was due to the fact that people have become more receptive to marriage counseling in recent years. In addition, new insurance policies are more likely to cover counseling services. Job prospects are expected to be especially bright for counselors who want to work in rural areas.

Education, Licensing and Skills Requirements

Prospective marriage counselors will need to first complete a master's degree program in the mental health field, according to the BLS. Degree options could include programs in counseling, marriage and family therapy or clinical psychology.

All states either certify or license marriage counselors. To qualify for these credentials, you'll usually need to complete a 3,000-hour or two-year clinical internship after you've finished your master's degree program. This requirement can be met while working under the supervision of a licensed counselor as an employee or paid volunteer at a school, charitable organization or private practice. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy provides resources to help you locate one of these approved internship opportunities. To earn certification or licensure, you'll also need to pass a state-approved exam. Some states use the Examination in Marital and Family Therapy administered by the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards.

Useful Skills

Successful marriage counselors need to develop decision-making and observational skills to design and implement treatment plans specific to each client. The ability to attentively listen to client concerns is also essential. Many of these skills can be fine-tuned while working with your supervisor during an internship program. Some other skills and abilities you might consider developing are listed below:

  • Written and oral communication skills to document patient progress
  • Energy and resilience to manage job-related stress
  • Interpersonal skills to work with other staff members

What Employers Are Looking For

In addition to a master's degree and up to two years of experience, organizational and computer skills are among some of the more common job qualifications listed by employers. In some cases, applicants will also need to be bilingual. Following are some March 2012 marriage counselor job postings to give you an idea of the skills and experience employers are looking for:

  • An outpatient care facility in Georgia is seeking a licensed counselor to provide family counseling, individual counseling and group therapy services at both the facility and at individual homes, courts and public schools. Requirements include a master's degree in social work or counseling and full Georgia licensure.
  • A nonprofit social services agency in California needs a licensed or license-eligible therapist to manage patient referrals and provide counseling services. This position also requires the therapist to be on-call in the event of an emergency or to answer phones after hours. Applicants will need fluency in Spanish, a master's degree in marriage and family therapy and at least two years of experience.
  • A Louisiana medical center managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs seeks a marriage and family therapist who can develop treatment plans for veterans and provide training to new counselors or interns. Applicants must have at least a master's degree in a mental health field, a therapist license and one year of counseling experience. However, a doctoral degree may be accepted in lieu of experience requirements.
  • A Connecticut naval base with a mental health program wants a clinical counselor who can provide counseling services to children and families. Other duties include coordinating medical, legal or social services to meet the needs of clients, and serving as a liaison for community agencies. Applicants will need a master's degree in marriage and family therapy, psychology or social work in addition to a therapists license and two years of experience.

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

One way to get the attention of potential employers is to obtain voluntary certification from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). According to NBCC, earning certification demonstrates your competence to future employers. You might be able to waive any state-required licensure testing by earning certification as a National Certified Counselor since its National Counselor Examination includes the same education and experience requirements as most states. Family therapy certification is also available from the National Credentialing Agency.

Membership in professional mental health organizations, such as the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, could also help you stand out. As a member, you can enjoy networking opportunities and access to marriage and family therapy resources, such as online courses, journals and videos, to stay updated in the field. You can also post your resume on the organization's job connection board where potential employers can search for your particular skills.

Other Careers to Consider

Social Worker

If you'd like to pursue a career that requires less education for an entry-level position, you might consider becoming a social worker who helps clients access rehabilitative or mental health services. These professionals can enter the field with a bachelor's degree in social work, sociology or psychology. Moreover, job opportunities for mental health and substance abuse social workers were expected to grow 20% between 2008 and 2018, according to the BLS. As of May 2010, these professionals earned average salaries of around $42,000, which was a bit less than marriage counselors.

Postsecondary Teacher

If you'd rather help others learn how to effectively counsel couples and families than work directly with clients, you might want to consider becoming a postsecondary teacher. While you'll probably need a doctoral degree for one of these positions, the BLS reported that psychology professors earned considerably more than marriage counselors. Their mean annual salary was about $74,000 as of May 2010. A 15% job growth was projected for these all college-level teachers through the 2008-2018 decade.

Psychologist

If you're more interested in researching and assessing individual behaviors and thought processes, you might want to pursue a career as a psychologist. You'll need an education specialist or doctoral degree from a school accredited by the American Psychological Association to qualify for one of these positions. However, the extra investment in time and tuition might pay off in the long run. As of May 2010, psychologists earned a mean annual salary of over $86,000, according to the BLS. These professionals can also look forward to a 12% employment growth over the reporting decade.

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