A small family sits with a counselor.

Tips for Starting a Private Practice in Marriage & Family Therapy

Dr. Trent Langhofer, Director of the Community Counseling Center at Colorado Christian University

Clinicians can take a few different routes after completing a counseling degree including joining a group practice, joining a mental health agency, and sometimes becoming a business owner and opening a private practice. A private practitioner is one that has their own business, and their own office either part-time or full-time. When a mental health professional chooses to start their own private practice, they can choose from a variety of different areas to specialize their practice in. One example is marriage and family therapy.

Marriage counseling is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after varieties of counseling in the mental health field. The Journal of the American Medical Association executed a study with 300 women with heart disease. This study found that marital stress — by itself — tripled the risk of heart surgery, heart attacks, or death in the following five years.

As we are learning more about the importance of having a satisfying marriage, the need for specialized marriage counseling practices is growing.

6 tips for Establishing Marriage Counseling Practices in Different Communities

Quality Marriage and/or Personal Life for Yourself

A common phrase floating around counseling training programs is, "You can't take clients farther than you have gone." Not only is that useful in working with individual clients, but it's also useful in working with marriages. It is possible that a counselor's personal life comes across to clients. In psychotherapy, this naturally influences rapport, which is one of the more critical components in treating clients of all verities, especially marriages. Marital counseling is intense work that costs a significant amount of emotional energy. Counselors need to have a quality personal life and/or marital life to be effective in this work to prevent their personal lives from spilling over into their therapy practice.

Specialized Training in Marital Counseling

Marital counseling is complex. The moment two clients enter a counseling session simultaneously, the degree of complexity increases by orders of magnitude. Thankfully, in the last decade, a number of evidence-based marital therapy approaches have been developed that can be used to effectively treat marriages. Specialized training provides martial counselors with marriage-specific interventions that can be used to successfully treat couples. Keeping up to date with common and modern practices is not only essential for the growth of a mental health professional, but also for practice management within a private practice. The greater the success with couples, the greater the number of referrals for your private practice.

Public Presence in Your Community

Couples are more likely to seek marriage counseling from someone with whom they have at least some familiarity. So, counselors setting up a marital counseling practice offer to teach marriage classes at their local church, or offer free marriage seminars to the community. Another way for clients to familiarize themselves with a potential couples counselor in a small business would be to look into a couples counselor's blog or by looking at their counseling practice social media presence. This will familiarize potential clients with the philosophy and approach of the marriage counselor prior to initiating the first appointment.


Specialized services should be promoted, as they are often harder to find. Social media offers an excellent, affordable, targeted way to advertise to clients who are most likely to need marriage counseling services. When targeted advertising drives potential clients to social media or online content of marital counselors, the likelihood of that potential client calling and setting up an appointment is high. This has proven to be a successful method of growing the practices I have developed over the last decade.

Create a professional website to act as the hub for all of your business activities. WordPress and Squarespace both offer affordable and easy-to-use interfaces that can make creating a website very easy. Your website will be the perfect place to position yourself as an expert and your private practice as the leader in your space. Activities like blogging or starting a podcast are great ways to show potential clients why they should consider becoming a new client of your private practice.

Offer Intensives

Marriage counseling shouldn't be a one-size-fits-all specialty. Clients may desire one appointment a week for a year. Other clients may prefer doing a year of counseling in a week-long intensive. Marriage counseling practices should offer a number of different options for marriage counseling clients. This broadens the potential number of clients a marriage counseling practice can serve, which will increase the caseload of the practice over time through different referral sources.

Stay The Course

Once again, marriage counseling, and any counseling for that matter, is hard work. When a counselor succeeds in helping a couple heal it can be extremely rewarding. On the other hand, when the counselor does not succeed, the pain of failure can last for a long time. Marriage counselors should not judge themselves by their greatest successes or their greatest failure but by the degree to which they stay the course. The first year of your small business will be difficult. Whether you are considering part-time or full-time hours, dealing with health insurance companies, or adapting to becoming your own boss, there will be growing pains. Marriage counselors, who remain tenacious, develop quality reputations that will contribute to a successful private practice.

Want to read more tips on starting a general counseling practice? Read our blog about the 7 Things You Need to Know When Starting a Counseling Practice.

Get A Master's in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at CCU

Colorado Christian University's Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Counseling offers an in-depth understanding of interpersonal relationships, human behavior, social influence, mental and emotional issues or disorders, conflict resolution, and most importantly, family dynamics.

Orth-Gomer K et al. Marital stress worsens prognosis in women with coronary heart disease. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2000. December 20, 2000. 284: 3008-3014.


Colorado Christian University does not guarantee any job placement as a result of earning this or any other degrees offered by the university.

Learn more about CCU's master's in Counseling with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy.

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