You and your partner are finally ready to meet with a couples therapist. Congratulations. According to research, the average couple waits six years while being unhappy before calling a therapist.
Now that you are going to go to marriage counseling, you want to know: How much does marriage therapy cost? What makes marriage counseling more expensive? Is there such a thing as free marriage therapy that is good?
The Honest Cost of Marriage Counseling
I cannot tell you how much your marriage counseling is going to cost any more than I can tell you how much time it takes to get treated at a hospital emergency room. There's just a lot of variables. If you have a relatively healthy marriage it will cost less than if you are living out The War of the Roses. But we can talk about the variables that affect the cost of marriage counseling.
Per session, the typical range is anywhere from $100-$300 per session. The lower end of the spectrum most likely being for no less than 45 minutes and the higher end usually 80 or 90 minutes. Some marriage counselors insist on meeting for longer than 60 minutes and others insist that anything longer than 60 minutes is too long.
As I have become more experienced as a couples therapist I have wanted all the time I can get with my couples. There are still situations where shorter meetings are indicated as best practice, for example, if hostility cannot be contained and made into a productive meeting.
What Makes Marriage Counseling More Expensive?
- Multiple or severe mental health symptoms: When there are clear individual symptoms in one or both partners, like depression, anxiety disorder, active addiction (including anger), or infidelity, many counselors will recommend therapy with an individual therapist in addition to couples sessions. This obviously gets pricey.
- Working with an individual therapist that undermines your couples therapy: Here, I wrote about how some individual therapy and under-trained marriage therapists can be hazardous to your marriage. It's also hazardous to your pocketbook.
- Scheduling problems with you or your therapist: Make sure the therapist you choose is available to meet regularly with you. You don't want to start making progress only to have your therapist say she can't see you again for another month after she's back from France. It is also less economically productive if you or your partner need to miss multiple weeks of therapy because of your own schedule issues.
The typically recommended frequency of marriage counseling sessions for a relationship in moderate distress is once per week. If your relationship is in severe distress (high levels of contempt, hopelessness, distance and isolation), it's not uncommon to undertake weekly couples sessions plus adjunct individual therapy for both parties, which may also be once per week. So, for a relationship on the rocks you could be looking at a weekly price tag of between $350-$600 (for all three sessions.) Most couples spend much less than this and receive excellent results in the hands of an experienced couples therapist.
I strongly suggest that you interview your therapist on the phone, and schedule your first meeting only if you feel comfortable with how your questions are answered.
Some therapists will offer a free 20 minute consultation. Our practice offers an in-person free consultation in addition to any initial phone conversation because we know what a serious investment it is to find the right person.
Once you meet with your therapist, and if you like the way the first session is conducted, consider scheduling a series of 3-4 more appointments on the spot. Don't wait around and think about it and let your brain start to make up stories about how you're not going to get much from therapy.
After you have met a few times, assess how much progress you have made. Maybe you need to ask the therapist to make adjustments in how you are working together. Voice your concerns. You will get your money's worth if you take an active role in your therapy. Good therapists will respect you in doing this and will love it. So you are also testing your therapist's bona fides a bit. I'm not saying shake things up just for the heck of it, but by all means don't keep quiet about something that is a concern. If you do, I guarantee you won't feel like you got your money's worth.
What your therapist may not tell you: "We should meet less often"
If you more or less get along well with your partner, have no inner contempt, no infidelity, and no major mental health symptoms, some therapists still won't turn you down if you wanted to meet multiple times per week. It can be a red flag if your therapist seems to think there is no limit to how often you could meet. While it is true that the more you put into therapy the more you get from it, there should be clear objectives and goals to increased frequency of meetings. Make sure these goals make sense to you and are clear.
Discernment Counseling: Testing the Waters
If there are serious issues in the relationship but you aren't sure you want to sign up for trying to work on staying together, many therapists are offering what is called discernment counseling. Discernment counseling is "pre" marriage therapy. Your counselor will guide discussions aimed at assessing areas of concern without specifically challenging your assumptions or asking you to make big changes. If you begin to build trust with your counselor you may experiment with some more challenging exercises that are part of formal couples therapy.
Is there such a thing as free marriage therapy that is good?
Universities and teaching hospitals often run public clinics for low-cost or free counseling in which students receive clinical supervision. Some of these centers have excellent reputations and well-regarded teachers and staff.
Churches, synagogues and mosques often promote family and marriage classes and may offer private meetings with clergy. In my regular consultation with clergy that refer to our practice, I usually get the sense that couples going through "a few bumps" are well-suited for the spiritual and pragmatic advice rendered by most pastoral staff, while highly symptomatic couples need more specialized care. However, more and more seminaries are offering courses in marriage and family care, and you may find a highly trained pastoral staff in some larger congregations or parishes.
Don't be afraid to ask your clergy about what his or her training is and how it compares to a clinical couples specialist. If you meet with this person you can then feel more free to address your questions about goals and direction and keep in mind what the limits of your meetings might be.
Lastly, even in major cities most marriage therapists have some room to lower fees for some clients. Most will not advertise this and some might base it on your income. It never hurts to ask and find someone who is willing to work with you at a reduced rate.
The Bottom Line: Invest in Your Marriage
A surgeon announces his retirement at age 55. His amazed and envious colleagues ask him how he can do it.
"Simple," he answers with a smile. "One wife, one house."
This joke illustrates a simple point: There are monetary benefits from avoiding divorce.
To invest in your marriage you have a lot of choices for marriage counseling. If you do your homework you have a better shot at finding the best therapist and being prepared for the cost. It can be a big-ticket investment in your family's wellness, and it can yield some big-ticket returns.
Upcoming Posts on the Cost of Marriage Counseling:
- How to Use Your Out-of-Network Insurance Benefits to Get Excellent Marriage Counseling
Five Ways to Make Marriage Therapy Cost-Efficient
Please share your thoughts: Have you done marriage counseling or filed for divorce? How did the costs compare? Was marriage counseling worth the cost for you?