Marriage Counseling and Couple Therapy: What's the Difference?

How do you know what you need? A marriage counselor? Or a therapist? What's the difference?

If you've looked for couple therapy services before, you have noticed that we have more titles than any person can keep track of. Do these titles mean anything? The short answer is yes and no. They should not mean much to you unless you have had academic training with a psychology or counseling background. But they make a big difference to us who practice in the mental health field.

The best way I know to break this down is by license. Licensed professional counselors are usually trained in traditional psychological methods like cognitive and behavioral therapy. Licensed marriage and family therapists have been trained to understand how common behavioral and mental health challenges are created and sustained by social and family relationships. 

How does this impact the work of therapists and counselors?

Therapists tend to be more experiential. We want to see change happen right before our eyes. We also tend to be impatient, so we don't like to wait long for change. For this reason, we practice methods of brief therapy, which burgeoned the first family therapists who tired of long and ineffective psychoanalysis.

Therapists also don't care as much about inner self-actualization. We value relational interactions.When we work with individuals, we rely heavily on narrative histories and to-the-point behavioral changes. For these reasons, for example, I see teens mostly with their families. 

So what should you look for?

I'll let you in on a trade secret. There's some research out there we call common factors. It describes commonalities across different professions that create clinical change. What the researchers discovered was that professional training mattered little when compared to the impact of the therapeutic relationship. What should you look for? You should be a shrewd consumer of your own mental and relational health by monitoring your therapeutic relationship.

Take a risk by contacting a practitioner and if you feel comfortable with your therapist, stick around. Chances are that you will see the changes you'd like to accomplish.

I call it family and couples therapy.

Whatever you call it, therapy can be an opportunity to confront the disappointments and missteps we all encounter. Find someone you trust and start there. Don't hesitate to change if the relationship is not working. It's your time and your money. Be your best advocate.

Dr. Mathis Kennington