Why Does Marriage Counseling Cost So Much?

A skilled marriage therapist is worth the price. JGI Jamie Grille-Blended Images/Getty

So, your marriage is on the rocks and you have called around to a few recommended marriage counselors in your area. Some of the best therapists in town are charging between $150 - $250 per hour.  You are experiencing “sticker shock” over the cost. After doing the math, you realize you probably need months of therapy and this will amount to a few thousand dollars. Is it really worth it?  Yes it is, and here are the reasons why marriage and couples’ therapy can be so expensive:

  1. The therapist who specializes in marriage therapy has extensive and costly training that enables them to do this work.  All of these specialists have a minimum of a masters degree and many have a doctorate. These degrees require years of post-graduate study. After this extensive education, therapists must do their clinical hours under supervision that they pay for on a weekly basis for a minimum of two years. Most therapists elect additional training in a particular method of couples’ therapy. It is recommended that you ask about these credentials when choosing a marriage counselor. In summary, marriage therapists are highly educated and highly skilled, and their expertise is not, and should not be, inexpensive. 
  2. Insurance does not cover marriage therapy.  Relationship problems and couples/marriage therapy do not have a “billable diagnostic code” for insurance.  Some therapists will give one partner a diagnosis and bill for sessions under that client. You may be able to find a therapist willing to do this, but again, he or she may be a general therapist and not have specialized training to work with couples. Some therapists ethically wish to avoid labeling one of you when the problem being treated is a relational issue.   
  1. Marriage counseling takes longer than individual therapy.  Relationship dynamics are complex. Working with you both as a couple takes more time than individual therapy.  The assessment process alone can take up to four sessions. You also may have waited too long to get help and the problems can be bigger and more complicated by the time you finally make the call to find a therapist.
  1. Marriage counselors have a hard time with the “50 minute hour.”  The sweet spot for an effective couples’ session seems to be around 75 – 90 minutes.  Things are usually hitting a pivotal time around 50 – 60 minutes and stopping at this point is a challenge.  It is best to tie up loose ends as much as possible in each session and this often requires more time with two people than it does with one.

Are there any other options if you really can’t afford it?

Remember, marriage therapy will always cost less than a divorce.  If you are financially struggling, you may be able to find a “sliding fee” therapist or community agency for less than a traditional marriage therapist. If you are near a university or training center, going to that institution’s clinic may be a viable solution as well, but expect to be working with someone still under supervision for their degree and/or license.  Note that the quality may vary with these selections, so be sure to ask the right questions to find out about the therapist’s specialized training with couples and/or how he or she will be supervised.

A couples workshop or group is also often a lower cost option. Reading highly recommended self-help books together can also be beneficial.

This may only work for couples with minor or less complicated issues. Doing a workshop and reading self-help books can also possibly assist in shortening the time you need to be in marriage therapy. It never hurts to ask a marriage therapist for a reduced fee.  The worst he or she can say is no.  The next question might be about another therapist or a resource the therapist might recommend if their services are still  not affordable.

Although marriage therapy is costly, it is absolutely worth it. If you are not sure that it is right for you and your spouse, you both can always commit to an initial visit or trying “discernment counseling” to explore if therapy is a good option for your relationship. Making the effort to find the best help you can afford or budgeting your money for this service is a smart idea.

 When you commit to counseling, give it your full, sincere effort and you will find it was wise investment in your marriage.