Marriage counseling costs are dependent upon five important factors and we’ll cover each in this article.
Marriage counseling costs range widely. By doing your research ahead of time, you’ll know what you’ll be paying for. It’s a wise first move.
Couples counselors charge a wide range of prices depending upon location. Prices for out-of-network insurance providers vary by location as well. And “out of network” is important because insurance won’t cover your couples counseling.
Here are the costs for a 50-minute session in ten locations across the USA, according to one independent, national nonprofit organization:
Marriage counseling costs in ten locations by 50-minute sessions
Boston, Massachusetts: $200
Missoula Montana: $140.
Washington DC: $244
Blaine Washington: $248
Kentfield, California: $185
Houston Texas: $227
Ashland Oregon: $220
Chaska Minnesota: $180
Daniel Island, South Carolina: $164
Miami Florida: $250
You can find clinics or university training settings charging you as little as $35-$75 for a 50-minute hour. Many others have sliding scales.
Interns or pre-licensed professionals may work in these clinics under the supervision of a certified evidence-based couples therapist.
This can be a wiser financial choice than a licensed clinician with less experience or training in working with couples.
But location is just one variable.
The limits of the 50-minute hour for effective couples therapy
The 50-minute hour is the most common length of time spent in weekly couples therapy. This is based strictly on squeezing a couple into an individual model of mental health treatment. It makes sense that two people in a room require a longer time period than one individual. And it’s not the preferred standard for effective couples therapy.
Marriage counselors shouldn’t bill health insurance companies to curb costs
In addition, some therapists bill insurance companies to help their clients cover the cost. Not only is that practice unethical, but it’s also a terrible option for someone with severe marital problems needing months of therapy. 80-90 minute sessions provide the needed time to move through issues.
Longer sessions, however, will affect the cost of marriage counseling.
Marriage therapy is counseling worth paying out of pocket for. Bad couples sessions result in too many couples throwing in the towel prematurely.
A degree or license alone shouldn’t govern your choice when selecting the right couples therapist. It may, however, affect costs. A professional with a two-year graduate degree will most often be less expensive than a 4-year doctoral degree. Fewer student loans to pay off often means lower costs.
But even a degree isn’t enough. Couples therapy is a challenging specialty. Few psychotherapists (even Marriage and Family Therapists or MFT’s…) choose to specialize in it.
It requires drive and a passion to work with couples. And, it requires an education you’re not likely to find in any degree-granting program.
If a student is interested in specializing in couples therapy while in school, they face challenges in doing so.
Many must seek out additional coursework and locate appropriate clinical placements that specialize in treating couples.
Because insurance doesn’t cover couples therapy, many universities and training placements don’t offer specialized training in couples therapy. Also, private practices, a more likely placement for the eager student wanting couples therapy training, are sometimes poorly equipped to provide such extensive training students need.
Of the four counseling programs I’ve worked at, everyone offered no more than one survey course in couples. Even this single course was often an elective. Coursework in sex therapy is rarer still, even in MFT programs.
So a student has to really be motivated to become a specialist in this area. Training after graduate school is most often necessary to develop these skills.
You can’t know if someone is a good couples therapist and worth paying for, just by checking their degree or license. But investigate their degree in any case.
Costs are impacted by the actual skill and formal training in working with troubled couples
Research-based studies into the effectiveness of couples therapy continue, but one thing is for certain as mentioned above: Professionals who engage in an organized course of study to become expert couples therapists must do so AFTER their master’s program.
While it’s pretty easy to get basic training in effective couples therapy, few therapists bother. Institutes offering introductory science-based training are widely available but expensive. Supervision by a couples therapy specialist is even more so. These costs are passed along to the client.
And as a result, the costs for these more effective services are higher.
More advanced training in couples therapy requires actual practice using marriage counseling skills under supervision. Certification in these methods requires the submission of videotapes demonstrating actual competency in working with couples.
The difficulty in passing these stringent criteria vary and limit available providers. For example, there are only about 300 certified Gottman Method Couples Therapists worldwide and perhaps 1000 EFT Method therapists. Limited providers mean greater costs.
Post-graduate training specifically devoted to couples include:
Psychotherapists practicing 10 years or less are often less expensive than senior clinicians. Because most therapists start out practicing primarily with individuals, they’ll spend less time working with couples and therefore will require a longer time period to develop that expertise. And for most therapists, couples therapy is a smaller portion of their practice, as it is not covered by insurance.
While anyone can call themselves a “specialist,” or “coach,” certifications in evidence-based couples therapy requires a training agency “certification.”
A bad couples counselor is worse than NO couples counseling. Bad marriage counseling can actually make matters worse instead of better.
Older studies report the following:
Inexpensive marriage counseling at the hands of unskilled marriage therapists isn’t worth the time OR the money you’ll spend. Many couples, who could be helped even today, end up in a senseless divorce at the hands of the untrained generalists.
As in any branch of medicine, seek out a specialist if you are looking for the highest level of expertise.
It’s particularly important nowadays in marriage counseling.
If you have marital problems, also consider the cost of not getting help. The cost of a skilled couples therapy should be compared against a divorce attorney’s retainer and child support. Or supporting two households. When investigating the cost of marriage counseling, be sure to look for more than the per-session costs. Marriage problems are too important to leave to the unskilled.
Dr. K is the President and CEO of Couples Therapy Inc. She maintains her online couples therapy and sex therapy practice for couples in Massachusetts, Florida, Arizona and California. She is a Gottman Certified Couples Therapist, has advanced training in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, and has been a AASECT board-certified sex therapist from 1982-2017. She continues to work as a sex therapist.