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Marriage therapists are psychological counselors who specialize in working with couples as a unit. The job of the marriage therapist is to evaluate and understand the dynamics between the two people, and then to plan and carry out a treatment intervention. Marriage therapists specialize in helping couples understand personal and cultural differences, communicate more effectively, resolve conflict more productively, and express emotions appropriately. They meet with the couple over a series of sessions with the goal of creating a healthier union. When it is inevitable that the couple wants to split up, the marriage therapist helps them to get the resources they need to take care of the situation and each of the partners in the best way possible.
Marriage therapists must have an acute understanding of psychological theory as it pertains to development and to issues affecting individuals and couples. They must be able to sit with a couple and be impartial, helping the two people understand themselves and resolve their differences without getting personally attached to either party's point of view. Marriage therapists work best when they are insightful, perceptive, compassionate, just, and honest. They should be able to work independently but also be willing to collaborate with peers when necessary. The best marriage therapists understand themselves thoroughly as well and can recognize when their personal reactions are getting in the way of treatment.
They must also be highly ethical and have an understanding of the kinds of troubles that couples face. Marriage therapists sometimes need to troubleshoot in very difficult or even dangerous situations, such as those involving abuse. Finally, marriage therapists keep good records of their sessions with clients.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for marriage therapists in 2008 was $44, 590 with the top earners making over $70,000.
Training and Education
Like other counselors, marriage therapists need at least a master's degree in a related field such as a social work (MSW). Marriage therapists not only take courses in many relevant areas such as ethics, psychological theory, and human development but their training typically includes supervised experience as an intern. Marriage therapists receive ongoing continuing education (and often supervision) as well. Almost all states require therapists to be licensed, although the requirements vary from state to state. The license in family and marital therapy (MFT) is highly recommended. Requirements for licensure typically include a master's degree, two years of supervised clinical experience, an exam, and ongoing education or conferences to stay current in your field.
Marriage therapists can be employed at mental health clinics, hospitals, and group practices. A growing number of therapists have their own practices.
The outlook for marriage therapists is favorable as counseling becomes more accepted in our society. Also, the continuing high rate of divorce makes some couples eager to seek treatment to avoid this option. With so much complexity and pressure in today's culture, marriage therapists help couples to cement their bond and function more effectively together.