Child Counseling Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a child counseling degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of a master's degree and Ph.D. and potential careers.
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Studying Child Counseling: Degrees at a Glance

A graduate degree in child counseling allows you to counsel children in elementary and secondary schools, hospitals, mental health facilities and therapy center settings. Some child counseling professionals also work for government agencies, such as within child protective service agencies. Information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that careers related to child counseling are expected to increase 19-22% (

Some child psychology and counseling careers require a Ph.D., particularly clinical counseling positions dealing with hospitalized patients. You may also need a Ph.D. if you plan to organize and run child counseling research projects. With a master's degree, you could work as a school counselor or private therapist.

Master's Ph.D.
Who is this program for? People who want to counsel children and adolescents Counseling professionals wanting to work with patients in clinical settings
Counselors interested in conducting psychology research projects
Common Career Paths (with median annual salary) - School counselor ($54,130)*
- Family therapist ($46,240)*
- Mental health counselor ($39,190)*
- School psychologist ($67,880)*
- Psychology professor ($68,150)*
- Clinical psychologist ($67,880)*
Time to Completion 2-3 years full time 6-10 years full time
Common Graduation Requirements - 60-65 credits of counseling courses
- Completion of concentration courses
- Clinical internship hours
- Final projects
- Approximately 80 units of coursework
-Clinical internships
- Teaching assistantships
- Competency exams
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Some psychology and counseling undergraduate courses
- Bachelor or master's degree
- Some graduate-level psychology course work
- Counseling experience
Online Availability Yes, but not all programs are accredited Very few programs available

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's Degree in Child Counseling

Master's degree programs are available in child counseling, child and family therapy or a specialty, such as school counseling. Most programs train you to use multiple therapeutic techniques, like play therapy. You also learn about assessing patient needs, providing education to the public and adhering to professional counseling standards.

Besides coursework, you complete supervised clinical internships, in which you work with and build case files for real patients. Many times, state-mandated licensing requirements are fulfilled through these clinical internships.

Pros and Cons


  • School counseling is one of the fastest-growing career fields in education*
  • Most master's degree programs offer several concentration options to suit your career goals
  • Required clinical experiences provide you with hands-on experience and help you select an intended field of future practice


  • Professionals with only master's degrees in counseling can expect significant job competition*
  • Many employers prefer candidates with Ph.D.s in counseling*
  • Master's degree programs with only a concentration in child counseling may not provide enough academic training to adequately prepare you for a career in the field

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Most programs require you to complete a broad range of counseling-related courses in topics like mental health, group counseling techniques, psychopharmacology, human development and crisis intervention. You also learn about the paperwork side of counseling, which can include creating patient case portfolios, writing clinical notes and outlining treatment options. You usually also complete a practicum course that prepares you to start your clinical internship.

Courses directly related to child counseling may include:

  • Special-needs child therapy
  • Child and adolescent development
  • School counseling strategies
  • Approaches to child behavior
  • Child trauma and violence

If you attend a school counseling program, you may also need to complete courses that make you eligible to earn your teaching certificate. Other concentrations or specialty child counseling programs may also have additional requirements, such as exit exams, research projects or more internship hours.

Online Degree Options

Accredited online master's degree programs related to child counseling are rare. In these programs, however, although you complete coursework online, you cannot complete clinical internship hours without being physically at the internship location.

Stand Out with This Degree

To stand out with this degree, consider enrolling in graduate-level certificate programs related to child counseling while completing your degree. For instance, you could earn a certificate in childhood trauma and recovery counseling, family therapy, school counseling or substance-abuse counseling. Most certificate programs in counseling require you to complete coursework as well as a clinical internship, but some of the required classes for your certificate may also count toward your master's degree. Earning any of these certificates in addition to your degree shows potential employers that you possess the academic training necessary to help children dealing with multiple issues.

Ph.D. in Child Counseling

Many Ph.D. programs are offered in counseling or counseling psychology, but some offer concentrations related to child counseling. A large number of Ph.D. programs have structured their curriculum to train candidates to become counseling psychologists. Although psychologists do many of the same duties as counselors and therapists, psychologists usually work with patients in hospitals or mental health institutions. Furthermore, psychologists often conduct research projects related to mental health issues.

Pros and Cons


  • Adults and children suffering from clinical depression, autism, trauma and other issues are creating a high demand for clinical psychologists*
  • Professionals with Ph.D.'s in school counseling will have extensive job opportunities*
  • Curriculum includes several years worth of counseling internship experience


  • Some counseling psychology Ph.D. programs are so selective that they only accept as few as eight students a year
  • It can take up to ten years to complete your Ph.D., which could mean a total of 14 years of study to earn both an undergraduate and graduate degrees
  • Required courses in child counseling may only cover general topics, which means you may have to take additional electives to acquire training in specialized subjects of your interest

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Common Courses and Requirements

Courses in counseling Ph.D. programs include core psychology courses in topics such as the biological factors that trigger behavior, sociocultural issues, advanced counseling techniques and ethical issues. You also learn how to conduct psychology research, including reviewing accredited research, designing experiments and interpreting data.

Child counseling courses at the Ph.D. level may include:

  • Adolescent counseling
  • Family therapy
  • Child assessment
  • Therapy for special-needs children
  • Child intervention techniques.

You may also complete internships that allow you to spend a sizable portion of your required clinical hours treating children. Additionally, you complete teaching assistantships and write a dissertation.

Online Program Info

Online Ph.D. programs in psychology counseling are rare. Many online programs focus on applied psychology, which differs from psychology in that it focuses more on clinical experiences. Moreover, online programs may not meet state licensure requirements due to their lacking a suitable number of clinical internship hours.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

According to the BLS, many positions in the psychology counseling industry require a large amount of work experience. Therefore, in addition to your program's internship, you may consider acquiring additional work experience by completing more than one internship.

You might also consider completing advanced research design courses as well as a class in empirically supported treatment methods. Having extensive knowledge in research design and interpretation may help you stand out against your competition when applying for a job.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Northcentral University

    Program Options

      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Child and Adolescent Therapy
      • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Medical Family Therapy
      • PhD in Psychology - Gender Studies
      • PhD in Psychology - General Psychology
      • PhD in Psychology - Health Psychology
      • PhD in Psychology - Addications
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Liberty University

    Program Options

      • PHD: Counselor Education and Supervision
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Regent University

    Program Options

      • Doctor of Education - Educational Psychology
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - Grief Counseling
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - Human Services Counseling
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - Human Services/Student Affairs
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - International
  • Stanford, CA

    Stanford University

  • Cambridge, MA

    Harvard University

  • Philadelphia, PA

    University of Pennsylvania

  • Queens, NY

    St. John's University

  • Durham, NC

    Duke University

  • Notre Dame, IN

    University of Notre Dame

  • Nashville, TN

    Vanderbilt University

Featured Schools

Northcentral University

  • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Child and Adolescent Therapy
  • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy - Medical Family Therapy
  • PhD in Psychology - Gender Studies

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Liberty University

  • PHD: Counselor Education and Supervision

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Regent University

  • Doctor of Education - Educational Psychology
  • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies
  • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - Grief Counseling

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