Catholic marriage counseling can refer either to premarital counseling and education programs offered by the Catholic church or couples counseling provided by clergy or mental health professionals. The Roman Catholic church as an organization is generally very committed to promoting the sanctity of marriage and the well-being of families. As a result, in many countries Roman Catholics who plan to marry are required to complete an extensive pre-marriage counseling program. For those couples who are already married, clergy and religious workers at their local parish may offer informal Catholic marriage counseling to address disagreements that may arise. Some couples may also take advantage of counseling services offered by mental health professionals who incorporate their Catholic faith into their counseling sessions.
In the United States as well as some other countries, couples who wish to marry in a Roman Catholic parish church must participate in a Catholic marriage counseling program. In the United States, the program is called Pre-Cana and consists of individual meetings with a marriage counselor, psychological testing, and group discussion and education regarding Catholic family life and social teaching. In some parishes, specialized versions of Pre-Cana are offered to older couples or couples who have previously been married in order to address their specific needs.
Many Catholic couples prefer to receive counseling from a professional who shares their faith and its values. Some psychologists, counselors, and clinical social workers offer Catholic marriage counseling that combines psychotherapeutic and counseling techniques with Catholic spirituality and counsel that conforms to the church's teachings. As the Roman Catholic church does not permit divorce, the goals of Catholic marriage counseling may be quite different than that of secular counseling. For example, while a secular counselor may focus on whether a couple should stay together, in Catholic marriage counseling the emphasis may be on finding ways to bring about reconciliation between feuding spouses.
Many parishes offer church members the opportunity to speak with a priest or other staff member regarding marital difficulties. Most clergy members receive training in basic counseling skills while in seminary, though not all clergy have specialized training in marital therapy. This type of counseling is often short term and informal and may take place in a church office. Often, the priest or staff member will evaluate the couple's situation and, if necessary, recommend either the couple or both spouses as individuals to a professional counselor.