Choosing a Marriage Counselor

Choosing a marriage counselor can be very confusing; there are so many letters behind everyone's names, and the professionals can have a hard time keeping it all straight, much less a couple seeking help. Here are some tips to help you discern what it all means.

To become a mental health counselor a person must obtain a Masters or Doctoral degree, then they must become licensed by their individual state. Here are some common letters and what they mean.

API does not endorse any individual counselors. Please be sure to contact any counselor to find out if they will be the right fit for you and your family. For a list of counselors who have acknowledged their agreement with API's 8 Principles of Parenting, please see the Professional Listings page.

Types of Degrees

Doctorate Degree Level

Psy.D. - Their program specialized in counseling psychology, not research.

Ph.D. - Their program was research-based, with training in the practice of counseling.

Psychologist - This person either holds a Psy.D., or a PhD

Psychiatrist - This person is a medical doctor, MD, specializing in the pharmaceutical treatment of psychiatric illness.

Masters Degree Level

Also look for specialties, this would indicate that within their degree program they took extra training to specialize in working with a specific population.

Counselor - Their program provided specific training on diagnosing and treating mental health disorders, and concerns in the individual.

Social Worker - Their program focused on providing counseling in a community health setting, focusing on social systems and on practical skills. They may have received additional training on counseling individuals through their internship experiences.

Marriage and Family Therapist - Their program focused specifically on the practice of marriage and family therapy.

Types of License

The practice of mental health counseling is protected, and therefore in order to practice mental health counseling you must hold a license from your state’s governing board. There are several, and here are some of the common licenses and what they mean.

LMFT - Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist; this person has either a Masters degree or Doctoral degree and has specialized training in the practice of marriage and family therapy.

LCPC or LPC - Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor or Licensed Professional Counselor; this person has a Masters degree or Doctoral degree. Their training was more general, covering all areas of mental health. Depending on your state they may have different levels of experience and areas of expertise.

LCSW or LSW - Licensed Clinical Social Worker, or Licensed Social Worker; this person has a Masters degree in social work. Depending on your state they may have different levels of experience and areas of expertise.

Certifications in the Practice of Marriage Counseling

Currently there are three main schools of marriage counseling theory. The different theories provide specific training to counselors who practice marriage counseling. A counselor may be trained in one or all three.

Gottman Method Couples Therapy
Developed by John Gottman, PhD, a leading researcher in marriage counseling. This method has been developed on 3 decades of research conducted by John Gottman and the Gottman Institute. The Gottman institute describes it by saying, "Through research-based interventions and exercises, it helps couples break through barriers to achieve greater understanding, connection and intimacy in their relationships. Gottman Method Couples Therapy is a structured, goal-oriented, scientifically-based therapy."

Imago Relationship Therapy
Developed by Harville Hendrix, PhD, and Helen Hunt, PhD, in 1988; they focused on the couple rather than academic publishing. Imago Relationships describes their style by saying, :"Imago weaves together leading psychological theories and practical observations on the experience of love, offering an approach to relationships that is both compelling and easy to understand."

EFT - Emotionally Focused Therapy
Developed by Sue Johnson, PhD, and Les Greenberg, PhD, in the 1980's, it is based on empirical research and is designed to be short-term and solution-focused. ICEEFT describes their method this way, "New cycles of bonding interactions occur and replace negative cycles such as pursue-withdraw or criticize-defend. These positive cycles then become self-reinforcing and create permanent change. The relationship becomes a safe haven and a healing environment for both partners."

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