Counseling Psychology Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Class Info

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What jobs can you get with a master's degree or PhD in counseling psychology? Get the truth about requirements, online options, courses and training programs.
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Counseling Psychology Master's and PhD: Degrees at a Glance

As a student in a master's degree program in counseling psychology, you will learn a variety of problem-solving techniques in order to help clients resolve issues in everyday life, as well as deal with more serious mental health problems. During the program, you will study group dynamics, family therapy, career psychology, human development and other topics. Upon receiving your degree, you can start your career as a professional counselor in many different settings, including hospitals, government agencies, schools, or mental health centers. You also can continue your schooling by enrolling in a doctoral program that focuses on research or clinical practice.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the field of psychology is growing, and the number of jobs for psychologists in general was expected to increase by 22% from 2010 to 2020. Counselors who specialize and have doctoral degrees should have an easier time in finding employment.

Who is this degree for?People who want to work as a counselor Individuals interested in developing a specialty in counseling or becoming professors or researchers in academia
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary)- Psychotherapist ($47,000)*\- Industrial-Organizational Psychologist ($67,000)*\- Psychologist, Christian Counseling ($50,000)*- Clinical Psychologist ($67,000)*\- Psychology Professor ($68,000)**
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 6 years
Common Graduation Requirements Graduate level courses and supervised practicum and internship Most of the master's degree requirements, plus a dissertation and internship
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in Counseling Psychology Bachelor's or master's degree in Counseling Psychology
Online Availability yes yes

Source: *Payscale, Inc. (May 2012), ** Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011)

Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology

While students interested in counseling psychology must have a bachelor's degree before enrolling in a master's program, it does not have to be in psychology. While some states allow licensing for professionals with only a master's degree, most require a doctoral degree.

In this program, you will learn the theories and practices of the field. Clinical training involves small classes with experiential components, such as role-playing. Coursework also emphasizes self-exploration and the development of professional ethics. You can complete a master's degree in counseling psychology program in 2-3 years, depending on whether you attend full-time or part-time.

Internships allow for hands-on experience in the field, and comprehensive exams will test you on both your practical and theoretical knowledge.

Pros and Cons


  • Provides an opportunity to gain clinical experience in the field
  • Helps you develop your interpersonal communication and research skills, which can be applied in other jobs
  • You can go on to practice counseling in a broad variety of locations, such as mental health clinics, social service agencies, and college career centers


  • It can be emotionally stressful to work with patients who have serious mental health issues
  • Counselors with a master's degree usually have to work professionally under the supervision of a licensed psychologist
  • Pursuit of a doctoral degree after graduation is still usually required to be a licensed psychologist

Common Courses and Requirements

Typical courses for a counseling psychology master's program will further expand your knowledge by integrating psychological theory and applied practice. You will develop skills in counseling individuals, as well as couples and people in small groups. You will also develop your research skills. Course specifics at the master's level may include:

  • Family counseling
  • Child psychology
  • Group dynamics
  • Research methods
  • Counseling psychology ethics
  • Counseling theories

In addition to course requirements, you will most likely need to complete a supervised practicum and internship, as well as a comprehensive examination.

Online Degree Options

Some universities offer online master's degree programs in counseling psychology with similar requirements to campus-based programs. Hybrid programs in counseling psychology provide online classes, but require some time on campus. Students in need of a flexible schedule can complete much of their coursework at home.

Getting Ahead with Your Degree

If you want to stand out in the job market, it might be a good idea to specialize in a specific area; one such specialty might be school psychology. The number of jobs for school psychologists was also expected to grow 22% from 2010-2012 as more children attend school, according to the BLS.

Demand for industrial-organizational psychologists also is expected to increase, with employment predicted to increase 35%, so training in this area could be beneficial. Education and experience in computer science and quantitative research can help you to be more competitive in this specialized field.

Employment in health care, which involves working with doctors or social workers in treating mental health issues, is another possible expertise, with employment also expected to grow. Internships are available for gaining experience in this specialty.

PhD in Counseling Psychology

A master's degree is the usual prerequisite for entrance into a PhD program; however a few programs may allow admittance with only a bachelor's degree. Some programs allow you to transfer credit from previous graduate coursework toward your PhD.

Enrolling in a PhD program enables you to study advanced research methods, refine counseling skills, and study ethical dilemmas in the field. Working closely with faculty, you will choose an area of research to focus on and develop expertise. A 6-year PhD program in counseling psychology will include coursework and a dissertation. An internship, as well as written and oral comprehensive exams, is also required. If you see your future as being more in the actual practice of counseling and treating patients, you may want to conisdee PsyD doctoral program.

Pros and Cons


  • Having a PhD with an applied specialty makes it easier for licensure and employment
  • You learn how to conduct independent, scholarly research
  • You can become a university professor


  • Earning a doctoral degree can take up to 6 years in addition to the 6-7 years needed to earn a bachelor's and master's degree
  • Getting into a counseling psychology doctoral program is very competitive
  • The PhD program in psychology focuses more on research and independent study than on counseling clients

Common Course Requirements

A PhD program allows for more independent study while working closely with professors to develop a specialization and a narrow topic of research. Some required courses might include:

  • Ethical and professional issues in counseling psychology
  • Advanced research methods
  • History and systems of psychology
  • Group counseling

Online Degree Options

Online PhDs in counseling psychology are not very common, but some programs exist with curricula that are similar to campus-based programs. Students can take classes online,enabling them to have more flexibility in scheduling. Residency on-campus for part of the time may be required when students work in-person with classmates and faculty.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

You need a license to start an independent counseling practice in every state in the US. In order to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, most counseling psychologists need a doctorate and a completed internship, as well as some experience in the field.

You can get one of the 13 specialty certifications by the American Board of Professional Psychology in psychoanalysis, clinical health, rehabilitation, or other areas. The certification can help in getting jobs in some clinics or hospitals.

To become a practicing school psychologist, you need a license or certification through the state's department of education. Requirements can differ in each state, and you can get this information from the National Association of School Psychologists.

You can earn a national certification in school psychology by passing the National School Psychology Examination and completing 60 graduate semester hours in school psychology, as well as a supervised internship of 1,200 hours.

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