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Marriage Counseling: Which Couples Therapist Suits Your Needs?

Second in a series of blogs about Marriage Counseling from Kathryn Wayne-Spindler & Associates. The first was “Marriage Counseling: Does it Work?”

The terms “Marriage Counseling” and “Couples’ Therapy” are often used interchangeably to indicate the process of spouses working out their problems with the aid of an advisor. In general, therapy is an umbrella definition for any service that addresses mental health issues or social and emotional well-being. Counseling is more narrowly defined to include advice, mediation, refereeing or treatment by a trained professional. Roy Huggins, who is described on his website as, “Counseling and Couples’ Therapy in Downtown Portland,” has the following to say, “Therapy is applying a process to treat a problem, soothe pain, repair damage and the like. Counseling technically means providing guidance and advice.”

Therapy providers
In terms of training and certification, just about any mental health professional can refer to him or herself as a therapist. A licensed counselor will have a degree, specialized training, certification and testing in any number of psychology fields. Counseling professionals can either be psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, counselors or religious leaders. Each has different levels of training, certification and specialty. Any can be helpful to couples but some may be more suitable based on your needs and resources. “…according to a large-scale survey of over 4,000 Consumer Reports readers showed in 1995, people in therapy generally rated psychologists, clinical social workers, and psychiatrists about as equally effective in helping their clients,” wrote Misty Will in an article titled, “The Effectiveness of Couples’ Counseling” on the FamilyMarriageCounseling website.

Psychiatrist – This person has received a medical degree and can prescribe drugs. Often, psychiatrists focus on medically-diagnosed mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia. This is not to say that a psychiatrist could not also be an excellent marriage counselor. (This is especially true if one of more of the parties is dealing with a mental illness.) However, with the level of education and training and the high demand in society for psychological prescriptions, the psychiatrist may charge more for his or her services and may have less time available for long counseling sessions.

Psychologist – According to WebMD, “A psychologist has a doctoral degree (PhD, PsyD, or EdD) in psychology, which is the study of the mind and behaviors.” The Psy.D. was, “created as an alternative to the traditional Ph.D. Psy.D. programs tend to be more focused on the professional practice of psychology,” as explained in the blog “Psychology Degrees” by Kendra Cherry. A psychologist performs evaluation and treatment for mental or emotional disorders. A Limited Licensed Psychologist (LLP) is in the process of earning full certification. Often a psychiatrist will prescribe drugs and a psychologist will handle the therapy end of mental illness treatment. Psychologists may be a great fit in marriage counseling if one or both spouses are struggling with an addiction or have anxiety, anger management, or other disorders.

“Psychologists and counselors are both mental health practitioners. Individuals in both fields are state licensed. They provide services that are reimbursable by insurance companies. In fact, they often have overlapping duties,” reads the Counselor-License website. Counselors and Social Workers help individuals or couples iron out social or emotional issues that may not have a medical diagnosis. They provide advice regarding communication and coping skills. Although psychologists and psychiatrists can spend the time facilitating in-depth emotional discussions, their practices are often focused on diagnosis and treatment. Counselors’ and social workers’ practices may be a fit for the couple that needs to work on rekindling love, fighting fair, or recovering from infidelity.

Counselor – A licensed psychological counselor (LPC) has a graduate degree in a psychology-related field and receives additional training and accreditation. The National Certified Counselor (NCC) holds a Master’s Degree, has documented counseling work experience, supervised counseling hours and passes the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification.

Social Worker – “A clinical social worker has at least a master’s degree in social work and training to be able to evaluate and treat mental illnesses,” according to WebMD. There are two types of social work. Non-clinical social workers require a Bachelor’s Degree and typically consult with organizations or agencies on topics such as adoption, rehabilitation, or career counseling. Clinical social workers are more likely to work one-on-one with clients, helping them through mental health issues or relationship counseling.

LSWA – Licensed Social Work Associate
“The LSWA is for entry-level social work employees wanting to work at a non-clinical level. With this certification you must be supervised by a LSW, LCSW, or a LICSW professional,” according to

MSW – Master’s Degree in Social Work
This is the foundation degree for clinicians going on in their training to achieve licensure. Either LMSWs or LCSWs receive additional experience and sit for a certification exam.

LMSW – Licensed Master Social Worker “This is listed as both clinical and non-clinical, as the LMSW is permitted to perform clinical social work, but only under the direct consultation of a LCSW. A LMSW also can’t engage in private practice,” according to

LCSW – Licensed Clinical Social Worker or CCSW, Certified Clinical Social Worker – LCSWs and CCSWs can operate a private practice.

DCSW – Diplomate in Clinical Social Work
“For 25 years, the Diplomate in Clinical Social Work (DCSW) has represented the highest level of expertise and excellence for clinical social workers,” according to the National Association of Social Workers.

ACSW – Academy of Certified Social Workers
Social workers who hold the ACSW have:

  • A current NASW membership;
  • A master’s degree in social work from a school accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE);
  • Documented two years of postgraduate social work employment and professional supervision by an MSW credentialed supervisor;
  • Provided professional evaluations that validate their knowledge, understanding, and application of social work principles and values from an MSW supervisor and two social work colleagues;
  • Verified 20 hours of relevant continuing education; and agreed to adhere to the NASW Code of Ethics and NASW Standards for Continuing Professional Education, and are subject to the NASW adjudication process.   – National Association of Social Workers website

Religious Advisor – Advice from a Priest, Minister, Pastor, Rabbi, Imam, or other ministry guide might be the most valuable to you if you have strong religious beliefs. Most worship-leaders are trained and experienced listening to parishioners’ problems. They may be willing to dispense words of wisdom that are in line with your beliefs. These professionals might be ideal for solving marital disputes involving ideals, morals and communications’ breakdowns. This may not be the best option for issues at odds with some religious teachings, such as infidelity, abortion, or sexual dysfunction.

Regardless of what level of training you seek, make sure that the counseling provider is comfortable with couples’ therapy. According to Couples’ Therapy Inc. Worldwide, “Choose someone who prefers to work with couples, because the skill-set is different for doing individual versus doing couples therapy.”

For more information about what questions to ask when selecting a marriage counselor, stay tuned for future blogs about marriage counseling from

WebMD, “Guide to Psychiatry and Counseling.”

FamilyMarriageCounseling, “The Effectiveness of Couples’ Counseling,” Misty Will., “What Is the Difference Between Clinical and Non-Clinical Social Work?”, “Psychology Degrees,” Kendra Cherry.

National Association of Social Workers, “The Diplomate in Clinical Social Work, Setting the Pace for Excellence,”

PsychCentral, “Emotionally Focused Therapy: Bolstering Couples’ Emotional Bonds,” Margarita Tartakovsky.