A couples counselor is a mental health professional who helps couples work toward having healthier, happier relationships.
Learn more about couples counselors do, when to see a couples counselor, effectiveness, and how to find the right couples counselor for you.
What training do couples counselors have?
There is no specific certification that couples counselors need to have in order to practice, but couples therapists do generally undergo specialized training in order to gain skills and techniques that may differ from those used in individual therapy. Couples counselor may have a variety of different kinds of mental health licensure, including many who are Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs).
Couples therapists may be trained in a variety of therapeutic modalities, which may include elements of psychodynamic therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and mindfulness therapy, among others. Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT) is also a common modality for couples counseling.
What are some signs we need a couples counselor?
Couples seek counseling for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes couples who seek counseling are going through a particular crisis or challenge, while others might be more generally dissatisfied with some area of their relationship. You don’t need to have particularly acute problem in order to seek therapy; many couples who seek counseling are simply looking for an additional resource to strengthen their bond and make their relationship even happier.
You don’t need to be married or monogamous to seek couples counseling; this form of mental health treatment can be helpful couples of any kind, as long as both parties are willing participants.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but some of the reasons you might choose to look for a couples counselor include:
- Difficulty communicating
- Financial issues
- Challenges related to sex and intimacy
- Household issues related to things like chores and day-to-day routines
- Issues with other family members, including children and parents
- Conflict resolution
- Crises, such as illness, addiction, loss of a job, or death of a loved one
- Setting goals and making shared life decisions
It’s also important to note that couples therapists will never take sides in any disputes. The therapist is there to work with both parties equally and will do their best to balance each partner’s goals and concerns.
What happens in couples counseling?
Couples counseling sessions often focus on the issues you’re facing as a couple, but may also involve some discussion of each of your individual histories and challenges.
Couples therapy is often focused on solutions and behavioral change, and a couples therapist may assign you homework to complete between sessions.
How effective is couples counseling?
Some studies have found that couples counseling is often helpful, with one report stating that counseling was associated with improved relationship outcomes for 70% of couples.
A study from the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists also notes that over 98% of clients of marriage and family therapists were satisfied with the quality of their treatment, while 90% said that their emotional health had improved. No therapy is guaranteed to be effective, but the available evidence indicates that counseling can be an effective treatment for couples in distress.
Is online couples counseling helpful?
Some couples counselors offer online services, which tend to be less expensive and more convenient than in-person counseling and can also be a good option if you’re having trouble finding an in-person counselor in your area.
While some studies have found that online relationship education can be helpful for couples, there isn’t yet much hard evidence for the effectiveness of online couples counseling. Still, if working with a counselor online is a good fit for your lifestyle, doing so may be helpful.
You can find more information about the pros and cons of working with an online practitioner in our full guide to online therapy.
How can we find free couples counseling?
Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to find free couples counseling. Depending on where you’re located, some churches or community centers may offer free counseling, but it’s more difficult to find free care from licensed mental health providers.
However, many couples counselors do offer sliding scale fees, in which the cost per session depends in part on your ability to pay. Asking potential couples counselors whether they offer a sliding scale can be a great way to find affordable counseling.
How long can we expect to see a couples counselor for?
As with any therapy, the number of sessions you have with a couples counselor can vary, but generally speaking, couples counseling tends to be shorter-term than individual counseling. Depending on your goals and challenge, you might see a counselor for only a few sessions, or you might continue for several weeks or months.
The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists reports that the average number of sessions with a marriage and family therapist is 12.
How can we find the right couples therapist for us?
It’s important to know that every couples therapist is different, so you and your partner should look for someone you both feel comfortable with.
Take your time looking for the right fit – that might mean coming up with a list of questions you want to ask the therapist, scheduling an initial call (or separate calls for each of you), and interviewing three or four different therapists until you find your perfect match. As long as you and your partner are both committed to putting in the work, you’re off to a great start.
It can also be helpful to clarify your goals together before starting couples counseling. Sit down and discuss the following questions together:
- How do we want to grow as a couple?
- Do we need to work on our conflict style?
- Could we improve the quality or frequency of our intimacy?
- Are we abusive to each other?
- Do we have shared goals, and what are our goals as a couple?
- Do we need to work on listening to and validating each other?
Once you have a clearer idea of what you want out of therapy, it can be easier to find a therapist who’s prepared to help you meet those goals.
Do couples counselors take insurance?
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find couples counselors who take health insurance.
Some insurances may be willing to cover couples counseling when one or both partners has a diagnosed psychiatric disorder (such a bipolar disorder or schizophrenia), but this is not always the case and can be complicated. Check with your provider and review the details of your specific plan to be sure, but it’s often necessary to pay for couples counseling out of pocket. Again, looking for a provider who offers sliding scale fees can be a helpful way to keep costs manageable.
How much does couples counseling cost?
Rates vary widely depending on your area and the kind of provider you choose to see, but an approximate average range is $75-$250 per session.