What is the Difference Between Couples Therapy & Marriage Counseling?
Couples therapy is for couples who have unhealthy patterns of behavior. With treatment, both parties work with a therapist to identify factors contributing to conflict. Research shows that couples therapy can help rebuild trust and offer healthier ways for couples to relate to each other.
Couples therapy can:
- Tackle the root of issues
- Help identify specific areas of a relationship that might need attention
- Look at past history, arguments, and conflicts in the relationship
- Address the whys first, then might focus on the hows
- Focus on both personal and individual issues
- Answer why you have the obstacles you do
- Deal with conflict resolution
- Help you both learn how to communicate in a relationship
- Be beneficial if you have substance abuse, infidelity, or parenting issues
Marriage counseling might be a bit less formal and more short-term than couples therapy, and it isn’t just for couples with problems — think: premarital counseling.
While it can help couples work through issues, marriage counseling can also help prepare a relationship for future challenges. Again, it’s about education and support and can help with communication and conflict-resolution skills.
Marriage counseling can:
- Help couples face struggles together
- Get a relationship on track
- Focus on the present
- Be an opportunity to talk through differences before they cause major conflict
- Allow you to build a happy, strong foundation
- Mend trust or rekindle a flame
Basis for seeking help
When you compare couples therapy vs marriage counseling, one of the most significant differences stems from the reasons a couple is seeking help in the first place. Marriage counseling can benefit a wide range of couples. That said, it may not help if you’re looking for a solution to a very specific problem. For example, some couples might choose to go through counseling before getting married to build a strong foundation as they start their united life together.
In contrast, couples therapy can treat specific problems in a marriage. For example, one of the many couples therapy techniques, behavioral couples therapy, can help couples struggling with substance abuse in the relationship. Couples may also seek help after a breach of trust, such as infidelity.
“Couples therapy is the blanket statement approach where partners are seeking help for problems whereas marriage counseling is reserved for either the premarital or early post-marital phase of the relationship.”
Couples therapy tends to be more intense and might require a more significant commitment from both parties. During therapy, couples will look closely at the issues they’ve had over their relationship. While both parties are usually present during sessions, a therapist may ask to meet with each person for individual counseling.
Marriage counseling is usually a short-term treatment program with a specific end date. The average couple engages in 12 therapy sessions. Sessions typically focus on finding solutions to marriage problems and helping couples build the skills they need for a healthy relationship.
“Early on in couples therapy, it is to be expected that the routine and structure of the relationship is the main focus — figuring out the why behind the issues. Later, there’s a focus on the how. For example, how information is communicated, what kind of tone, emotional expression, and receptivity become the focus.”
Professional qualifications can be another major difference between a marriage counselor vs a therapist. Some marriage counselors aren’t fully licensed to diagnose mental health conditions. A church leader who offers premarital counseling is an example of a counselor who’s not a trained mental health professional. You should always check a professional’s qualifications before starting treatment.
Costs can vary for both marriage counseling and couples therapy. On average, marriage counseling costs between $75 and $150 an hour. However, depending on a professional’s experience, training, and location, the full range can be much broader — from $50 per hour to $200 or more. Couples therapy has similar rates, but because it usually requires more sessions, it can be more expensive in the long run.
Mental health services in general are an essential benefit under the Affordable Care Act (meaning they must be covered). Unfortunately though, in most cases, insurance companies aren’t required to provide coverage for couples therapy or marriage counseling. This means many couples must cover expenses out of pocket. However, coverage may be available to couples seeking treatment due to a medical or specific diagnosed mental health condition.