When seeking marriage counseling, it’s important for couples to understand the key factors that impact the cost and quality of the therapy they’ll receive. While it may be tempting to simply look for the lowest-cost option, investing in a well-qualified, experienced therapist can make a significant difference in the effectiveness of the counseling and the long-term health of your relationship. The five main factors that determine marriage counseling costs are:

  1. Location
  2. Session length
  3. Therapist degree and training level
  4. Years of couples therapy experience
  5. Specialized certifications

Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors:

1. Location

Marriage counseling costs vary significantly by geographic location. According to one national survey, the average cost for a 50-minute session ranges from $140 in Missoula, Montana to $250 in Miami, Florida.1 Costs tend to be highest in major metropolitan areas on the East and West coasts, such as New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. In these cities, experienced couples therapists may charge upwards of $300 per session.

In contrast, prices tend to be lower in smaller cities and rural areas. University training clinics, community mental health centers, or therapists still in training may offer sessions for as low as $35-75. However, while these lower-cost options can be tempting, they may not always provide the most effective or specialized care for couples.


Research typical costs in your area to get a sense of the going rates, but consider that the lowest-cost options may not provide the most experienced or well-trained therapists. Be prepared to invest in quality care.

2. Session length

While 50-minute sessions are the norm in individual therapy, longer 80-90 minute sessions are strongly recommended for couples therapy. This extended time allows the therapist to fully understand each partner’s perspective, facilitate productive conversations, and work through complex issues.

However, longer sessions will increase costs, as therapists typically charge more for extended appointments. For example, a therapist who charges $150 for a 50-minute session might charge $225 for an 80-minute session.

Despite the higher per-session cost, longer sessions are more likely to be effective and may allow couples to make faster progress. This can make them more cost-effective in the long run, as couples may need fewer total sessions to see results.

Intensive couples therapy, often conducted over a weekend or several consecutive days, is an increasingly popular option for couples seeking to make significant progress in a short period of time. These intensive sessions, which can last 6 hours or more per day, allow the therapist to deeply explore the couple’s dynamics, history, and goals, and to help the couple practice new communication and problem-solving skills in real-time.

However, this concentrated format is also more demanding of the therapist’s time and energy. In order to be effective, the therapist must thoroughly understand the couple’s background and issues before the intensive begins. This typically involves an extensive assessment process, including lengthy questionnaires and individual interviews with each partner, which can take several hours to review and analyze.

The therapist must then carefully structure the intensive sessions to address the couple’s specific needs and keep the conversations productive over an extended period. As a result, the cost for intensive couples therapy is often significantly higher than for weekly sessions, as it reflects the therapist’s additional time and effort in preparation and delivery. However, for couples in crisis or those who cannot commit to weekly therapy, an intensive may be a worthwhile investment that yields rapid and lasting results.


Prioritize therapists who offer extended sessions, even if they cost more per session. The added time and focus on your relationship will be a valuable investment.

3. Therapist Degree and Training

Therapist Degree and Training Therapists with doctorate degrees (PhDs or PsyDs) tend to charge more than those with master’s degrees (MFTs, LPCs, LCSWs, etc.). This is due to additional years of training and higher student loan debt. In some areas, doctoral-level therapists may charge 20-30% more than master’s-level therapists.

However, the therapist’s degree itself does not necessarily indicate their skill level as a couples therapist. Most graduate counseling programs, even for Marriage and Family Therapists (MFTs), only include one overview course on couples therapy. Truly specialized training in effective couples therapy methods is typically obtained through separate certification programs after graduate school. 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.

So while a doctoral degree provides important additional training and knowledge, it’s not a guarantee of expertise in couples therapy. Similarly, a master’s-level therapist with specific training and experience in couples work may be a better choice than a doctoral-level therapist without that specialization.


Don’t assume a higher degree automatically means better couples therapy. Look for specialized training and experience specifically with couples, regardless of degree type.

4. Years of couples therapy experience

Therapists who have been in practice for over 10 years often charge more than those with less experience, as they have had time to build their skills, reputation, and client base. An experienced therapist may charge 20-50% more than a newly licensed therapist in the same area.

However, since most therapists primarily see individuals, years in practice does not automatically translate to expertise in couples therapy. A therapist who has been practicing for 20 years but only sees a few couples may be less effective than a newer therapist who has focused on couples work from the beginning of their career.

When evaluating a therapist’s experience, look for information about the types of clients they typically work with and the percentage of their practice dedicated to couples. A therapist who spends at least 50% of their time with couples is more likely to have developed significant competency in couples therapy over one who primarily sees individuals.

It’s important to note that intensive couples therapy is a very different form of treatment compared to traditional weekly sessions. Even therapists with many years of experience in couples therapy may have limited experience conducting intensive sessions.

Intensive therapy requires a unique set of skills and stamina to maintain focus and therapeutic presence over extended periods. It also involves a more comprehensive assessment process and carefully structured interventions to facilitate rapid progress.

Many therapists have few opportunities to conduct intensive sessions, even if their practice offers this option. Intensive therapy is not simply a “add-on” service, but a specialized offering that requires dedicated training and experience. When seeking an intensive couples retreat, look for therapists who have substantial experience specifically with this format, as it may be quite different from their regular weekly practice.


Prioritize therapists who have focused on couples therapy for a significant portion of their career, not just those who have been in practice longest. Look for experience treating couples specifically, not just years in practice overall.

5. Specialized Certifications

The most effective couples therapists have pursued certification in research-based methods such as the Gottman Method, Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), or Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy (IBCT). These certifications require completing an organized curriculum, receiving consultation from an expert supervisor, and demonstrating competence through recorded sessions that are evaluated for fidelity to the model.

Due to the significant time and cost involved in obtaining these certifications, and the limited number of certified therapists, costs for certified therapists tend to be higher than for uncertified therapists. A therapist certified in the Gottman Method or EFT might charge 30-150% more than an uncertified therapist with similar education and experience.

However, the added investment to work with a certified therapist is likely to pay off in better results. Couples who work with certified therapists tend to experience stronger, faster improvements in relationship satisfaction and communication than those who work with uncertified therapists. Certified therapists are also less likely to make common mistakes that can inadvertently harm couples, such as siding with one partner or allowing unproductive conflict during sessions.

In contrast, working with an unskilled couples therapist can be at best a waste of time and money, and at worst damaging to your relationship. Research has found that 25% of couples are worse off two years after completing therapy with an unskilled therapist than when they started, and up to 38% divorce within four years.2

Some research-based organizations, such as Couples Therapy Inc., offer specific training in how to provide effective intensive couples therapy. Therapists who have completed these specialized intensive training programs are best equipped to handle the unique challenges and opportunities of multi-day couples retreats.

They have learned how to structure the sessions for maximum impact, maintain a productive therapeutic environment over long days, and address a wide range of issues within a compressed timeframe. In addition, they have worked monthly with other clinicians who also conduct these types of services a minimum number of times each year, troubleshooting and honing their skills.

When considering an intensive couples retreat, give strong preference to therapists who have a track record in intensive format, beyond their general couples therapy certification. This additional level of specialization ensures that your therapist has the knowledge and skills needed to make the most of your investment in an intensive program.


For the highest quality therapy and best outcomes, look for a therapist certified in a research-based couples therapy approach. While pricier, their expertise may facilitate more effective and efficient therapy, making them a better value in the long run. The cost of working with an uncertified therapist who is not actually helping is ultimately higher than investing in a skilled, proven expert.


In summary, while you may need to balance cost considerations with other priorities when seeking marriage counseling, the lowest-cost therapy is unlikely to be the most effective. Investing in a well-trained, experienced couples therapist, certified in a proven approach, will give you the best chance of repairing and strengthening your relationship for the long run.

Extended sessions with a competent specialist are likely to be most cost-effective, even if the per-session cost is higher than seeing a generalist for 50-minute appointments. Be sure to thoroughly evaluate a potential therapist’s qualifications, experience, and approach before committing. Choosing a good fit from the start can make all the difference in your counseling experience and outcomes.

If possible, plan to budget for at least 10-20 sessions to give the therapy a chance to create meaningful change. Many couples find that front-loading their investment in intensive work leads to more rapid and long-lasting improvements.

Ultimately, the cost of effective marriage counseling is small compared to the financial and emotional costs of divorce. By understanding the factors that impact the quality and cost of couples therapy, you can make an informed choice to invest in your relationship and family stability. With commitment and the support of a skilled therapist, most couples can overcome challenges and create a stronger, more fulfilling marriage.


  1. Fair Health Consumer.org. https://www.fairhealthconsumer.org
  2. New York Times (2005). Married With Problems? Therapy May Not Help.