How To Become a Marriage Counselor

What Is a Marriage Counselor?

Humans are social creatures and relationships give meaning to life. However, relationships can be challenging at times, particularly when partners have trouble seeing eye to eye. When couples and families are experiencing problems, they may choose to seek help from a marriage counselor.

If you have excellent problem-solving skills and enjoy working with people, you may be wondering how to become a marriage counselor. Clinical mental health counseling is a profession that does require some advanced training. The process starts with learning more about this counseling specialization and then pursuing the necessary academic qualifications.

Over 75%

Three-fourths of clients receiving marriage or family therapy report an improvement in the relationship1

What Does a Marriage Counselor Do?

Asking What does a marriage counselor do? can help reveal the important role of these professionals within our communities. Marriage counselors are best known for conducting therapy sessions with couples, but their role extends beyond this. They also work with entire families. For example, a professional may counsel children who are coping with the divorce of their parents, siblings who frequently argue with each other, parents who are coping with childhood defiance, and other interpersonal family conflicts.

Sometimes, marital and family problems arise from or are complicated by the presence of mental illnesses, such as depression, substance use or oppositional defiant disorder. A marriage and family counselor can evaluate clients for these mental illnesses and develop appropriate treatment plans that help the individual work toward recovery while also strengthening the family dynamic.

Every day is different in the life of a marriage counselor, but some of the most common responsibilities can include:

Marriage counselor speaking with patient

Create a calm, nonjudgmental space for clients to discuss their experiences and emotions within a safe environment.


Give couples the opportunity to see situations from each other’s point of view to broaden their perspectives and nurture empathy.


Offer clients effective ways to manage their problems (e.g., relationship building and effective communication skills).


Provide clients with the skills and resources to navigate life transitions and make important decisions.

In essence, a marriage counselor helps clients work through problems and miscommunications to grow both as individuals and as members of the family unit. When necessary, a marriage counselor will refer clients to outside resources. These may include support groups, substance abuse treatment centers or inpatient treatment facilities.

What Education Does a Marriage Counselor Need?

Learning how to become a marriage counselor is beneficial if you are interested in a career helping couples and families develop sustainable relationship skills. Here is a typical educational pathway to help you get started in this career:

If you are considering a career in marriage counseling and you’re in high school, talk to your guidance counselor about taking counseling-related subjects, such as psychology. You should also consider taking courses in mathematics and life sciences, including biology, as well as humanities classes, which can help you develop important communication skills.

After high school, the next step of how to become a marriage counselor is to earn your undergraduate degree. Choose a degree program that is relevant to the counseling and psychology field. To be a licensed therapist, you’ll need to earn a master’s degree in counseling, preferably with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy. A master’s degree from an accredited institution is a requirement to obtain state licensure.2

In graduate school, your curriculum will typically involve a practicum and internship experiences to help you gain the supervised clinical hours you need for licensure. Licensure requirements vary by state, so be sure your intended master’s program meets your state’s requirements.

Occupations that have similar job responsibilities to a marriage counselor, but may not require a graduate degree or licensure, include:3

  • Health education specialists
  • Social and community service managers
  • Social workers

The state in which you plan to practice will provide detailed requirements for obtaining a counseling license on the website of its relevant board. You will also be required to pass a statemandated counseling exam that proves your knowledge of clinical mental health counseling.

Now that you have a better understanding of the educational pathway to becoming a marriage counselor, it’s time to start planning your next steps.

Now that you have a better understanding of the educational pathway to becoming a marriage counselor, it’s time to start planning your next steps.

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Best Degrees for Marriage Counselors

Although there is generally some flexibility in selecting an undergraduate program (e.g., choosing a degree in social work, psychology or behavioral health science), it’s important to choose a master’s degree program that is more closely aligned with the marriage and family counseling field. This will better prepare you to pursue licensure and tackle the challenges you will face in your practice.

  • Counseling techniques and processes
  • Building and maintaining a rapport with clients
  • Methodologies for couples intervention and counseling
  • Mental health assessment and treatment development
  • Psychological and behavioral dysfunctions

GCU Recommends These Degree Programs for Marriage Counselors

If you are interested in becoming a marriage counselor, we invite you to explore these relevant degree programs at GCU. If you have specific questions regarding eligibility or requirements, please complete the form on this page to connect with a university counselor.

Bachelor’s Programs

Master’s Programs

What Skills Does a Marriage Counselor Need?

Some of the most essential skills and characteristics needed to serve as an effective marriage counselor are:

  • Communication: This is important to be able to clearly explain ideas and concepts and to elicit clear communication from clients.
  • Trustworthiness: Clients must be able to trust their counselors before they can voice their innermost feelings.
  • Problem-solving: The ability to brainstorm solutions and creatively solve problems is crucial for every counselor.
  • Interpersonal skills: Marriage counselors must have a keen grasp of interpersonal skills and high emotional intelligence (EQ).
Two GCU students showing lopes up

Median Annual Wage


Median annual wage for marriage and family therapists in May 2022.4

Most marriage and family therapists work full time; however, a part-time work schedule is common. To accommodate the needs of their clients’ schedules, therapists may work evenings and weekends. For a marriage counselor salary, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states the median annual wage for marriage and family therapists was $56,570 in May 2022.4

Projected Job Growth


Estimated job growth for marriage and family therapists from 2022 to 2032.5

The BLS projects job growth for marriage and family therapists to increase by about 15% from 2022 to 2032, much faster than average, accounting for an estimated increase of 10,600 jobs in the field.5 Growth is expected due to the increasing use of integrated care, which is a treatment of multiple problems at one time by a team of specialists.5

Where Do Marriage Counselors Work?

Many marriage counselors work in private practices — either their own practice or the private practice of another counselor. Marriage counselors can also work in:6

Healthcare offices

Some marriage counselors work in the offices of other providers to offer whole-person healthcare.

Mental health centers

Dedicated mental health centers hire marriage counselors to provide targeted care through individual and group therapy sessions.

Treatment programs

Marriage counselors can offer therapy sessions for those in longer-term stay facilities who are dealing with substance use, addiction and other mental health disorders.


Some hospital patients need both mental and physical intervention, so marriage counselors will work in conjunction with medical doctors to provide therapy, so patients can return home safely.


Schools may hire marriage and family counselors to help children with behavioral issues or for those facing problems at home. They may also help students cope with life transitions.


Marriage and family counselors may offer their services by phone, video or other virtual methods for those who are unable to travel for in-person care.

Advancement Opportunities Within Marriage and Family Counseling

Licensed and experienced marriage and family therapists may choose to pursue possible career advancement into supervisory, managerial or administration positions. Another possible option for advancement is to open a private practice. Some further certifications or credentials may be needed based on state requirements.

Two GCU students talking with counselor

Earn a Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with an Emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy from Grand Canyon University. This program meets the requirements to pursue licensure in Arizona as a Licensed Associate Counselor (LAC) or a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC).

1 American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. (n.d.). About Marriage and Family Therapists. Retrieved on Feb. 28, 2024.

2 Feeney, A. (2023, Sept. 28). How To Become a Licensed Counselor. Retrieved on Feb. 2, 2024.

3 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, Dec. 18). Marriage and Family Therapists Similar Occupations. Retrieved on Feb. 27, 2024.

4 The earnings referenced were reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Marriage and Family Therapists as of May 2022, retrieved on Feb. 2, 2024. Due to COVID-19, data from 2020 to 2022 may be atypical compared to prior years. BLS calculates the median using salaries of workers nationwide with varying levels of education and experience. It does not reflect the earnings of GCU graduates as Top Executives nor does it reflect the earnings of workers in one city or region of the country or a typical entry-level salary. Median income is the statistical midpoint for the range of salaries in a specific occupation. It represents what you would earn if you were paid more money than half the workers in an occupation, and less than half the workers in an occupation. It may give you a basis to estimate what you might earn at some point if you enter this career. Grand Canyon University can make no guarantees on individual graduates’ salaries. Your employability will be determined by numerous factors over which GCU has no control, such as the employer the graduate chooses to apply to, the graduate’s experience level, individual characteristics, skills, etc. against a pool of candidates.

5 COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 to 2022 may be atypical compared to prior years. Accordingly, data shown is effective September 2023, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Marriage and Family Therapists, retrieved on Feb. 2, 2024.

6 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, Dec. 18). Marriage and Family Therapists Work Environment. Retrieved on Feb. 2, 2024.

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