Couples Therapy vs Marriage Counseling: What is the Difference?

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Many people confuse the two processes of couples therapy and marriage counseling as the same thing just with different names, but they are different in so many ways. That is why these professionals are referred to by different titles – counselor and therapist.

You will find that the terms couples therapy and marriage counseling are defined in the dictionary with two very different things. For instance, to be a therapist you need to be qualified and licensed, but any authority figure can act as a counselor.

Let’s take a look at these two professions and what the differences are, as well as what the function of each profession is.

The Purpose of Marriage Counseling and Couples Therapy

Both a marriage counselor and a couples therapist need to have some form of training and expertise about marriage or relationships.

The main goal of both of these processes is to improve relationships, and that is why there are overlapping features that may confuse people. While they are both geared towards the improvement of relationships between a couple, they also involve a third party to act as a mediator.

This is just to help the couple and guide them in a certain direction while they are sorting out their differences. Both of these processes try to reduce conflict while also trying to change behavior. This includes changing the individuals’ responses towards each other’s behavior.

This process will also help the couple learn how to react in future situations so that they can solve the problem without a third party. This will strengthen their relationship and help them make decisions in the future without causing conflict while considering each other’s point of view.

Both of these processes can be suggested to couples who are going through a rough time in their relationship. Couples therapy may also include counseling, which may be one of the reasons why people confuse these two processes.

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Marriage Counseling

Counseling a married couple can be done by anyone with counseling training and experience with guiding a couple to help them see each other’s side. This will lead the couple in a direction to find a practical and realistic solution for whatever the problem may be.

Counseling typically focuses more on the present than past events in order to help the couple solve a problem on neutral grounds. Marriage counselors will also try to provide advice, as well as allow the couple to deal with the problem and find a solution.

Marriage counselors will also help the couple by showing them how to develop reasonable solutions to a problem by themselves. This means the couple is learning how to solve the conflict by applying the rules taught to them to achieve a sensible outcome.

Counseling, in general, takes fewer sessions than therapy, but it all depends on the problem and the people involved. When a counselor encounters emotional problems that are driven by events from the past, they will refer the couple to a therapist.

Marriage counselors also help a couple handle the challenges they may face in a marriage and help get their relationship back on track. These sessions provide an opportunity to talk about compromises, as well as disagreements and misunderstandings between two very different people.

Counseling also helps a couple become more efficient in communicating with each other, mending any broken trust, and rekindling the flame. Marriage counseling is very effective to help a couple with a variety of experiences in only a few sessions.

Couples Therapy

On the other hand, couples or marriage therapy will try to tackle the root of the issue that is lingering in a relationship. This means that the therapist will take the couple back to previous arguments to find out where the problem started.

Therapy is a process that can last for many sessions while trying to get to the root of the behavior that causes the problems. These types of therapists need to be trained and licensed to provide the couple a range of mental services that may affect the relationship.

Couples therapists must also be trained and licensed to be able to diagnose mental illnesses if that is part of the relationship problem. In the case of serious findings, the therapist will refer the couple or just one of them to a psychiatrist for further treatment.

There are several steps that are followed by a therapist to treat a couple, including the following:

  1. The therapist will try to isolate and focus on a problem that may cause conflict in a relationship. This may include emotions, such as jealousy, or even drug or alcohol abuse, as well as problems related to sex.
  2. This is the step where the therapist will try to actively take part in finding a form of treatment for the relationship.
  3. Rules of the treatment are established, and the therapist lays out those rules and objectives to the couple.
  4. The final step is to find a solution, with all parties agreeing that there must be changes in behavior for the good of the relationship.

How Long Do Sessions Last?

Sessions for both marriage counseling and couples therapy may last anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes. With counseling, the solution may be found in only a few sessions, but with therapy, it may take much longer.

These sessions will normally take place once a week for as long as it may take to see the desired improvement. Sometimes, a therapist will find a serious problem that will cause them to immediately refer a couple to a psychiatrist.

It may also happen with a marriage counselor that they may find a problem they can not deal with, which will cause a referral to a therapist.


As you can see, there are a couple of differences between a marriage counselor and a couples therapist. It starts with the different training they must undergo to be able to practice their chosen profession.

Even though there is a stigma clinging to couples who make use of these services, it is always good to improve your relationship. This can be done by those who are trained to help your relationship be stronger and healthier.

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