Family, Marriage and Other Related Counsellors - What They Do

Family, marriage and other related counsellors assist individuals and groups of clients to identify, understand and overcome personal problems and achieve personal objectives. They are employed by counselling centres, social service agencies, group homes, government agencies, family therapy centres, and health care and rehabilitation facilities, or they may work in private practice.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Interview clients, prepare case histories and assess problems
  • Conduct vocational testing and psychometric assessment
  • Develop and implement counselling and intervention programs to assist clients in determining goals and means of attaining them
  • Counsel clients, provide therapy and mediation services, and facilitate group sessions
  • Liaise with community agencies or partners, and identify additional or alternative services and provide referrals
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of counselling programs and interventions, and clients' progress in resolving identified problems and movement toward defined objectives
  • Follow up on results of counselling programs and clients' adjustments
  • Prepare assessment, progress, follow-up and court reports
  • May supervise other counsellors, social service staff and assistants
  • May provide public education and consultation to other professionals or groups regarding counselling services, issues and methods
  • May provide witness testimony in court proceedings
  • May conduct research, publish research papers, educational texts and articles and deliver presentations at conferences.
  • May participate in fundraising activities.
  • Family, marriage and other related counsellors often specialize in dealing with a specific client group such as injured workers, or with specific problems, such as drug and alcohol addiction, marital difficulties or behavioural disorders.

Job titles

  • psychoeducator
  • addictions counsellor
  • rehabilitation counsellor
  • marriage counsellor
  • bereavement counsellor
  • family counsellor
  • sex therapist
  • vocational rehabilitation counsellor
  • child and youth counsellor
  • registered clinical counsellor
  • registered marriage and family therapist
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • A master's degree in the field of counselling, mental health or a related social service discipline is usually required.
  • In Quebec, a master's degree in psychoeducation is required to practise as a psycho-educator.
  • An undergraduate degree or college diploma in a social science is required for certain areas of counselling.
  • Membership with a provincial association for marriage and family therapists or clinical counsellors is required to use the title "Registered Marriage and Family Therapist" or "Registered Clinical Counsellor", and in Quebec, to use the title "marriage and family therapist (MFT)", "family therapist (FT)" or "marriage therapist (MT)". Membership with a provincial association may be required by some employers.
  • In Quebec, membership in the professional association is mandatory for counsellors and psychoeducators.
  • Registered marriage and family therapists and registered clinical counsellors must meet strict criteria involving post-graduate education and a period of supervised clinical work with clients.

Essential Skills


  • Read e-mail from clients, co-workers and colleagues. For example, they read e-mail from clients confirming appointments. They may also read e-mail from colleagues requesting information about their counselling services and wait times. (1)
  • Read case notes to review observations made and goals set during counselling sessions. They may read lengthy passages which explain clients' life circumstances. (2)
  • Read text entries and comments on intake and referrals forms to learn about clients' backgrounds and presenting problems. For example, marriage counsellors review entries on clients' intake forms to understand why clients are seeking relationship counselling. (2)
  • Skim newsletters and bulletins to identify community resources for clients and training opportunities for themselves. For example, family therapists read bulletins circulated by provincial associations of family therapists to learn about upcoming training events. (2)
  • Read referral letters from other professionals including psychiatrists, lawyers, probation officers and medical doctors. For example, disability counsellors read referral letters from physicians outlining the medical needs of clients. (3)
  • Read counselling guides and manuals to enhance their skills and prepare for counselling sessions. For example, play therapists may read manuals to learn about new play therapy techniques that can be used to evaluate children's adjustment to divorce. Addictions counsellors may read manuals about gambling addictions to evaluate the appropriateness of content for group therapy programs. (3)
  • Read and interpret psychosocial and educational test summaries, clinical assessments, medical reports and investigation reports. In these reports, they read about psychiatric conditions, educational and vocational capacities, social functioning and investigation results. For example, vocational rehabilitation counsellors read medical reports, psychometric assessments and summaries of vocational testing to develop rehabilitation plans for injured workers. (4)
  • Read academic journals and resource books to learn about psychosocial and health conditions such as mental illness, abuse, addictions and eating disorders which are affecting their clients. They read peer-reviewed articles and textbooks in order to expand their theoretical knowledge and to incorporate new therapies into their counselling practices. For example, mental health counsellors may read sections of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to further their understanding of specific mental health disorders. Bereavement counsellors may read articles from Death Studies and Omega: The Journal of Death and Dying to learn about new bereavement research. (4)

Document use

  • May scan labels on clients' medications to identify what drugs they are taking and the dosages. For example, a counsellor may scan the label on client's prescription for anti-depressants to identify the daily dosage. (1)
  • Scan lists and tables. For example, they scan resource directories to identify community resources for clients. They read tables which list symptoms associated with mental disorders and treatments. (2)
  • Complete reporting forms such as case summaries, progress reports, interview forms, evaluations and insurance claims. They enter contact and identification data, tick checklists to identify problem categories, mark assessment scales and write comments to summarize their observations and recommendations. For example, counselling supervisors complete evaluation forms for students and interns. Marriage, family and other related counsellors may use interview forms to record observations made during counselling sessions. (2)
  • Locate data in consent, intake, survey and program evaluation forms. For example, child and youth counsellors may review child behaviour checklists completed by parents. Addictions counsellors may skim intake forms to locate information about clients' use of drugs and alcohol. (2)
  • Interpret genograms and family relationship diagrams to identify clients' significant relationships and social support networks. (2)
  • Locate numerical and trend data in graphs. For example, school counsellors may use graphs to display clients' percentile ranking for intelligence against population norms. (2)


  • Write case notes for clients' files. They record information about clients' personal problems, counselling goals and their own observations. (2)
  • Write e-mail to clients, co-workers and colleagues. They write e-mail to set up appointments with clients and exchange information about clients with other professionals. For example, court counsellors may write e-mail to clients and lawyers in order to confirm court dates. (2)
  • Write follow-up and referral letters to other professionals such as psychiatrists, lawyers, probation officers and medical doctors. For example, they write brief letters to confirm clients' attendance in counselling programs. They write longer letters to colleagues in which they summarize patients' problems and recommend further treatments. (3)
  • May draft text for promotional materials and information sheets for clients. For example, they draft information sheets to inform clients about the limits of confidentiality, fees, billing procedures and cancellation procedures. Private practitioners may write text describing their services and philosophies of practice for brochures, advertisements and website pages. (3)
  • May prepare facilitation notes and learning materials prior to facilitating group sessions and giving presentations. For example, they summarize topics to be covered and discussion points for group exercises and hand these summaries out to participants. (3)
  • Prepare progress, assessment and evaluation reports. For example, they write assessment reports that detail clients' case histories and test results. They offer their observations, analysis and recommendations for additional treatment and support. They give careful consideration to the content of these reports because they may be used as evidence in legal proceedings and compensation reviews. For example, play therapists may write parenting assessment reports that are used as evidence in custody and access decisions. (4)
  • May write journal articles and educational books about counselling and therapy. They may write about new models and counselling strategies derived from research and comment about specialized areas of clinical practice. For example, a clinical counsellor may write an article about street culture and the treatment of homeless youth for a mental health journal, citing research from multiple disciplines including sociology, psychology, health and anthropology. (5)


Money Math

  • Calculate personal expense claims. They calculate reimbursements for travel costs at per kilometre rates. They add amounts for meals, accommodations, conference fees and incidentals. (2)
  • Prepare invoices and collect service fees from clients. They calculate counselling and therapy fees using hourly rates and add applicable taxes. Family, marriage and other related counsellors prepare invoices for third party billing to insurance companies and employers. (3)

Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math

  • Schedule appointments for clients, allocating amounts of time for counselling and therapy sessions. They reschedule appointments to accommodate cancellations and urgent requests. (1)
  • May prepare budgets and file tax returns. For example, family, marriage and other related counsellors in private practice may allocate money to operating expenses such as telephone lines, Internet service, utilities and leasing costs for office space. (3)

Measurement and Calculation Math

  • Measure allowances on leather pieces using a tape measure. (1)
  • Calculate the area of a piece of fabric. (2)
  • Measure the length, width and thickness and calculate the square footage of irregularly shaped fabrics to determine the number of products that can be cut from them and with what amount of waste. (3)

Numerical Estimation

  • Estimate whether there is enough material to complete orders so they can order more if necessary. (2)
  • Estimate the cost of completing a product run. (3)

Oral communication

  • Discuss schedules, billing, filing and other matters with support staff. (1)
  • Respond to telephone inquiries from the public about their counselling services. They outline their counselling approaches and fee structures. They ask questions to screen potential clients for suitability and recommend alternative resources if they feel that would be more appropriate. (2)
  • Consult co-workers and professional colleagues about clients' problems, referrals and treatment plans. For example, vocational rehabilitation counsellors consult occupational therapists to discuss the progress of injured workers. Mental health therapists discuss referrals with psychiatrists. Marriage, family and other counsellors may participate in committees to discuss counselling policies and programs. (3)
  • Discuss counselling theory and individual cases with co-workers, colleagues, supervisors and students. For example, they may meet with supervising psychologists to discuss cases and further develop their clinical skills. They may give criticism and advice to students and other counsellors. Counsellors who co-facilitate therapy groups meet to discuss group activities and group dynamics. (3)
  • May interact with parents, other family members and guardians to discuss clients' assessments, test results and progress. They provide them with reassurance and offer strategies they can use to support clients. For example, counsellors for people with disabilities may meet with guardians to discuss their concerns about independent living arrangements. (3)
  • May testify in court proceedings. For example, family counsellors may testify in court hearings and offer their recommendations for child custody arrangements. (3)
  • Counsel clients and facilitate group therapy sessions. They ask open-ended questions to gather information about clients' reasons for seeking counselling. Family, marriage and other related counsellors require good listening skills to help clients explore their feelings. They validate clients' feelings and ask probing questions to spark insight that will help clients to heal. Marriage counsellors use oral communication skills to mediate conflicts and negotiate solutions. (4)
  • May deliver educational seminars and conference presentations to other professionals. They present information about counselling theories and therapeutic interventions and describe specific programs and case examples. They adjust their communication styles and content to suit their audiences. For example, sexologists may present information about therapeutic treatments for sexual dysfunction at conferences attended by physicians and peers. Bereavement counsellors may facilitate learning exercises with graduate students to teach them about the cycle of grief and loss. (4)


Problem Solving

  • Lose income when clients do not show up for appointments and fail to pay for services. They reschedule appointments with other clients and review their terms of service with the delinquent clients. They absorb financial losses for clients who do not return for additional counselling. Some family, marriage and other related counsellors request retainers from clients who habitually cancel their appointments without adequate notice. (2)
  • Encounter uncooperative and difficult clients who will not follow through with therapies and interventions and consequently fail to realize positive change. For example, addiction counsellors may encounter clients who deny they are addicts and exhibit negative attitudes during group therapy sessions. They discuss their concerns with clients, clarify expectations and work with them to understand and resolve their negative feelings. They outline clients' treatment options including termination of counselling and referral to other resources. (3)

Decision Making

  • Decide to accept new clients. They consider whether they have the time and expertise to meet clients' counselling needs. They often limit their caseload numbers to be able to accommodate urgent requests from existing clients. Family, marriage and other related counsellors in private practice may also consider clients' financial means. (2)
  • Decide to refer clients to other helping professionals and organizations. They consider clients' counselling needs and goals and the availability of suitable resources. For example, crisis counsellors may refer clients who exhibit intense and prolonged anxiety to psychologists for mental health assessments. (2)
  • Select tests, counselling strategies and interventions to use with clients. They consider clients' problems, emotional needs, counselling goals and requirements for particular interventions. They question clients about their comfort levels and progress. Family, marriage and other related counsellors may also consider their own confidence and expertise when choosing particular counselling methods. For example, child and youth counsellors may choose to conduct intellectual quotient testing with children who exhibit attention problems to determine if they are bored. Psychoeducators may decide that clients are ready for group therapy. (3)
  • Decide to terminate clients' counselling and therapy programs. They consider the effectiveness of the counselling offered, the benefits that clients will gain from continuing counselling and the ability of each client to maintain emotional health. They also recognize their own professional limitations in dealing with their clients' problems and make referrals to appropriate helping professionals. For example, vocational rehabilitation counsellors may discharge injured workers from workers' compensation programs because they are unable and unwilling to achieve their vocational goals. (3)

Critical Thinking

  • Evaluate the performance of other counsellors, practicum students and interns. For example, they may assess practicum students' communication styles and rapport with clients through direct observation and by listening to recorded sessions. They review students' case notes and read comments on evaluation forms completed by clients. They analyze students' engagement, analysis and closure skills in order to provide them with specific criticism. (2)
  • Assess clients' mental and emotional health. They interview clients directly and review information such as medical reports and psychiatric assessments. They observe clients' behaviours and listen carefully to what they are contributing and omitting from discussions to identify indicators of distress. Family, marriage and other related counsellors may use assessment tools to screen for problems such as substance abuse, depression, anxiety and abuse. For example, clinical counsellors may assess the mental health of clients who are suffering from depression. (3)
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of counselling interventions. They compare clients' self-assessments over time and consider whether clients are making progress and resolving their problems. They observe clients' behaviours and overall demeanours to identify positive changes that indicate they are moving towards their goals. For example, mental health counsellors may look for improvements in clients' energy levels and moods to judge whether therapies for depression are effective. Couples counsellors may judge the effectiveness of mediation services for couples who are separated. (3)
  • May assess clients' safety to determine the need for protection from abuse. They interview clients to gather information about indicators of abuse such as financial control, isolation, name calling and physical violence. They observe clients' behaviours and look for signs of harm such as bruises. They report cases of suspected child abuse to officials and make safety plans with adults who are at risk for abuse. (3)

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Family, marriage and other related counsellors plan and organize their own tasks and schedules. They usually schedule one to two hour sessions with clients. They adjust their schedules to accommodate urgent requests. (2)

Planning and Organizing for Others

Some family, marriage and other related counsellors plan and organize tasks for practicum students and other counsellors under their supervision. Those who work in larger organizations may contribute to organizational planning and development of operational policies and practices. They may participate in committees to coordinate care of clients, evaluate program goals and develop new counselling initiatives. Family, marriage and other related counsellors who are employed in non-profit agencies may also contribute to fundraising initiatives. (2)

Significant Use of Memory

  • Remember names and details of conversations with clients in order to draw connections and identify patterns of behaviours and thoughts. They commit key insights to memory so that they can record information in their case notes after clients leave.
  • May memorize the contents of case files in order to prepare for court testimony.

Finding Information

  • Find information about mental and physical health conditions affecting clients. They search university libraries, consult textbooks, look up information on the Internet and speak with colleagues to gather relevant information. For example, a psychoeducator may look for information about Prader-Willi Syndrome in order to help a child develop effective social integration strategies. (2)
  • Find information about clients. They interview clients, review information from intake forms and speak with family members, guardians and other professionals such as teachers, lawyers and probation officers. Some family, marriage and other related counsellors analyze test scores and other data collected from various assessment instruments. They use this information to help clients establish counselling goals and to guide counselling sessions. (2)

Digital technology

  • Use word processing. For example, they use basic text editing and formatting features of word processing programs such as Word to write progress reports and client assessments. (2)
  • May use graphics software. For example, they may use presentation software such as PowerPoint to create slides for group presentations. They import pictures and clip art and may set up custom animation features to make the slides more visually appealing. (2)
  • May use databases. For example, clinical counsellors in hospitals may enter information such as clients' test results, demographic data and observation notes into their organizations' case management databases. (2)
  • Use communication software. For example, they exchange messages with colleagues and send attachments such as referral letters, articles and clinical assessment reports. They use e-mail to confirm appointments with clients. (2)
  • Use the Internet. They use the Internet to locate community resources for clients and to carry out research. For example, pre-retirement counsellors may use the Internet to look up community resources for seniors. Clinical counsellors may use the Internet to search for information about psychiatric disorders. (2)
  • May use other computer and software applications. For example, they may enter data and test results into software programs that compute the scores for standardized tests such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children and the Quebec Adaptive Behaviour Scale. (2)
  • May use spreadsheets. For example, self-employed therapists may create spreadsheets to organize information about clients, finances and the operation of their practices. They may use spreadsheets to prepare invoices for clients. (3)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Family, marriage and other related counsellors work in a variety of contexts. Counsellors in private practice work independently to provide service to individuals, couples and small groups. Family, marriage and other related counsellors who work in social service, health care and rehabilitation facilities may work collaboratively with colleagues and other professionals. They coordinate job tasks with other members of clinical teams to provide complementary care to clients. Counsellors who work in supervisory roles may manage counselling teams and direct the activities of practicum students, interns and co-workers with less experience. (2)

Continuous Learning

Continuous learning is integral to the work of family, marriage and other related counsellors. They determine their own learning goals. They acquire new learning by reading books about counselling and therapeutic interventions and academic journals. They attend seminars, conferences and courses to upgrade their knowledge and counselling skills in specialized topic areas such as eating disorders, domestic violence, bereavement, mental health, couples counselling and sexual abuse. To develop their clinical skills and to meet certification requirements outlined by their respective professional associations, they seek out analysis and criticism of their practices from psychologists and other qualified supervisors. (4)