Marriage & Family Counseling Degree Programs

Newlyweds kissing.
Photo by Blavou London, Creative Commons License.

Marriage and family counseling is a psychology subspecialty that uses family systems theory, principles and techniques to work with families, individuals and couples. They attempt to modify their clients’ perceptions and behaviors and enhance communication and understanding among family members. Their role is to help stabilize familial relationships and prevent family and individual crises.

The support that families and married couples lend to each other during times of hardship can be an uplifting guide through the maze of life, but even the closest individuals may have problems that require outside assistance. Behavioral issues in children and adolescents are only one factor that can put a strain on the family unit. Emotional issues and poor habits can also get in the way. To help navigate these pitfalls, more people are turning to qualified marriage and family counselors to help deal with inner conflicts and turmoil, so that the focus of life can get back to enjoying and helping each other.

What Does a Marriage & Family Counselor Do?

Counselors for marriage and family issues do not focus on relationship participants individually. Rather, they prescribe treatments within the context of the family or marriage unit. By analyzing and evaluating the roles of each person within the family, it becomes easier for marriage and family counselors to see where issues occur and schedule a plan of attack for finding long-lasting solutions.

For example, as a child moves from adolescence into puberty, hormonal changes can cause a variety of conflicts as the child struggles to find an individual identity. Marriage and family counselors can help parents to understand the changes their children are going through, and can recommend parenting techniques to break down the generation barrier that exists.

Other issues for which a marriage and family counselor may offer advice or treatment include bereavement, domestic violence, infertility, infidelity and substance abuse. Additionally, counselors can treat mental health issues such as depression.

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Obtaining a Marriage and Family Counseling Degree

Following undergraduate studies, a marriage and family counselor can earn a master’s degree with just two to three years of coursework. Primary areas of study for marriage and family counselors include human sexuality, human growth and development, group therapy and counseling theories.

Additional studies are needed for adolescent psychology, marriage and family systems, and principles and techniques of counseling. Marriage and family counselors also learn how to deal with substance abuse issues and how to apply theories of psychotherapy to patients. One or more elective courses must accompany the state-sponsored curriculum.

While requirements vary from state-to-state, most will require that you follow your marriage and family counseling degree with a practical internship under the guidance of a practicing counselor before an independent practice may be pursued. This internship can take a half-year or more to complete during the student’s final year of study.

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