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"You don't say to a couple, 'Too bad, you've got all the predictors of divorce,'" he says.

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Divorce rates for baby boomers have doubled in the past 20 years, with one in four couples over age 50 calling it quits by 2009, according to a study from Bowling Green State University released earlier this summer.

Although overall figures have fallen in recent years, some estimates still put the divorce rate for all new marriages at roughly 50%.

But couples looking to stave off a split may want to choose their expert help with care.

Training and experience levels among purveyors of marriage advice run the gamut from never-took-Psych-101 to spent-more-time-in-school-than-your-doctor.

State-licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health counselors and social workers can all offer sessions for couples, as can licensed marriage and family therapists.

To earn the latter distinction, therapists are required by states to get at least a master's degree in the discipline and a passing score on a national licensing exam, followed by a set number of client hours -- from 1,500 hours in New York to 3,000 in Texas -- under the supervision of another fully licensed practitioner.

But pretty much anyone can hang out a shingle as a marriage coach, relationship adviser or other uniquely labeled provider of "alternative marriage counseling" -- they just can't call the services "therapy." License or no, experts say the risk for consumers is that it's so easy to pick a provider who doesn't have the education or skills to solve their problems.

A license provides a baseline -- the client knows that the therapist has experience and education in the field, which isn't guaranteed with unlicensed providers, says Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, which oversees licensing. Couples should ask about the provider's overall qualifications, says Dr.

Karen Ruskin, a Boston-based licensed marriage therapist and clinical member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

For example, an unlicensed provider might well have earned a psychology degree or completed training or certification courses in relevant areas.

Pastors and other religious leaders can get counseling certifications or even qualify as a state-licensed pastoral therapist.


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