What is Christian Marriage Counseling?
Christian marriage counseling may mean different things to different people -both counselors and those receiving counseling- but overall, it means receiving marriage counseling given through the lens of religion. Religious parables, scripture, and thinking are used to approach the issues that the married couple is having and, hopefully, resolve them so that the couple has a long and happy life together.
The term “Christian Marriage Counselor” can be used for a number of people. For some, their pastor or church elder is their marriage counselor. They may go to this person for advice, to discuss their marital issues, and more. While a pastor can certainly approach counseling through religion, they generally do not have much, if any, education in the area of psychological counseling or family counseling. About a third of all Masters of Divinity programs, which is the degree many pastors hold, do not require counseling courses at all. Those that do often only require introductory classes.
On the other hand, some Christian marriage counselors are licensed therapists. They hold degrees in psychology or in counseling, and they often have their own private practices. However, instead of choosing to open a general practice, they have decided to offer marriage counseling that involves religious beliefs and therapies. Much of what they do may make use of their training as a counselor, but they also incorporate prayer and scripture into their therapy sessions.
A trained counselor may work with couples who are in need of help due to stress, infidelity, conflicts with each other or their in-laws, financial issues, or parenting difficulty. Some also provide pre-marital counseling to those who wish to get married.
Christian marriage counselors who haven’t opened their own practice may work directly for a religious organization. Most local churches don’t have one on staff, but the larger area like a diocese or region may have a Christian marriage counselor who travels to different churches as needed. Most work with people who attend the same church or are of the same religion as they are. However, that’s not always a requirement—some people who are not necessarily regular church attendees may seek Christian counseling if they believe that strengthening their faith will help their marriage.
Requirements to Become a Christian Marriage Counselor
The basic requirements to become a Christian Marriage Counselor are relatively straightforward, although there are a number of different qualifications that must be met to become certified. The following information assumes that you’re planning on becoming a licensed marriage counselor who combines training with religion rather than a minister who does some counseling as part of being a church leader. The qualifications for the latter are much more relaxed- any pastor can provide marriage counseling to members of the church congregation. To become a professional Christian Marriage Counselor, you’ll need to meet all of the following requirements.
- Have a Strong Faith
- Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology or a Related Field
- Earn a Master’s Degree in Counseling
- Complete at Least Two Years of Supervised Clinical Training
- Get Certified
First and foremost you must be a Christian. This is a fairly obvious qualification, but it really takes more than just being a Christian. You need to have a strong faith. In many cases, Christian marriage counselors are very active in their local church community. Many have been part of their church for most of their lives and felt the calling to become a counselor early on. You do not need to be ordained to be a Christian Marriage Counselor.
Education Requirements for Christian Marriage Counselors
Earning a degree in psychology, psychiatry, or sociology is recommended above other general degrees. Select a program that allows you to focus on counseling. Some universities may even offer a Bachelor’s of Counseling, while others consider it a specialization within the field of psychology. Take courses that include counseling techniques, interpersonal relationships, and communication. Here are some further details about different degree programs you may want to explore:
- Psychology – this is the study of the mental behaviors and functions of a person. The goal of psychology is to understand individuals and their behaviors. Courses include behavior theory, interpersonal communication, dealing with conflict, and research methods.
- Sociology – sociology students will study the social behavior of individuals and groups. They will look at how people interact, why they interact as they do, and what factors may have influenced their actions. Some of these courses will overlap with psychology, but sociologists may also study statistics and analytics.
- Psychiatry – psychiatry is much more of a medical specialization than either psychology or sociology. As such, it focuses more on the sciences of why people have certain mental disorders and how those disorders can be cured. Most marriage counselors will not pursue a degree in psychiatry, but some may take a few courses in this area.
- Religious courses – while not a requirement for your degree, if you plan on working as a Christian marriage counselor, you’ll want to take courses in religion. Many who know this is the field they want to go into will double major in psychology and religion or will do a minor study in religion.
Make certain your degree comes from an accredited university— this may play an important part in getting your counseling license. While most universities are accredited by one of a number of different organizations, their individual bachelor’s programs are not individually accredited— the university as a whole is given accreditation and is recognized as an educational institution offering quality educational programs. However, a master’s or a doctoral degree program in counseling needs to be fully accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) in order for the degree to be recognized by the various licensing and certification boards.
Earning a Master's Degree in Counseling
If you wish to become a certified counselor, you’ll also need to pursue a master’s degree in counseling. This means you’ll need about two more years of education. Because counseling is a very wide field, you will need to specialize during your graduate work. Those who want to do Christian marriage counseling will, naturally, want to take more courses in marriage. However, you may also want to take a course or two in areas such as working with addicts, abusers, and children These courses may help you better relate and understand couples who are having specific issues. If an internship is available, you should definitely avail yourself of these experiences.
Objectives and Goals
While many Master’s Degrees in Counseling don’t specifically aim to provide education in religious counseling, they all have the goal of providing graduates with the tools and resources needed to effectively listen, process, and advise their patients. Students will graduate with advanced knowledge in the areas of psychology, interpersonal communication, and behavior analysis.
After graduating with a degree, you will need to gain some experience as a counselor. While opening your own Christian marriage counseling practice may not be possible directly out of college because you’re not licensed, you can find some positions that will provide you with counseling experience under the supervision of a professional. You’ll need to hold one of these entry-level positions for at least two years in order to gain the necessary practical experience you need to become a licensed Christian marriage counselor, although if you did do an internship, you may be able to cut this time down. While you can do this type of clinical training under any licensed therapist, you may want to find a mentor in the church so you can gain experience in religious counseling and/or marriage counseling.
Licensing and Certification
Finally, you must meet the requirements of the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). This board is responsible for certifying all counselors, not just those in the area of Christian marriage counseling. In order to be able to call yourself a National Certified Counselor (NCC), you must have at least two years of experience in counseling, hold a master’s degree in counseling, and pass the NCC exam. If you plan on only working in one state, you may be able to take a state certification test instead of the national one. Some states, however, do not have their own state licensing exam—they use the NCC exam.
In addition to being certified by the NBCC, those who wish to open their own practice that focuses solely on marriage counseling will need to be certified by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. The guidelines for this certification are virtually identical to those of the NBCC, but your two years of clinical training will need to be in the area of marriage counseling. Both the NBCC certification and the AAMFT certification are considered substantially equivalent in most states, which means that your certification by both will transfer across state lines.
The American Association of Christian Counselors
It is important to note that the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) is an independent organization that is not a licensing body of any sort. While as a Christian marriage counselor, you may want to be a part of the AACC, taking one of their courses will not qualify you for certification by NBCC or AAMFT. However, the programs and resources of the AACC are ideal for a church leader who wants to provide informal marriage counseling to his or her congregation.