Becoming a Counseling Psychologist: Salary & Job Description

About this article
What are the pros and cons of a counseling psychology career? Get real job descriptions, career outlooks and salary info to see if becoming a counseling psychologist is right for you.
View available schools

Pros and Cons of Being a Counseling Psychologist

Being a counseling psychologist can be a difficult and rewarding career because it requires you to support people who are going through emotional difficulties. Check out these pros and cons to learn if becoming a counseling psychologist is the right fit for you.

Pros of Being a Counseling Psychologist
Ability to help people in need address their problems*
Well-paying career ($74,030 mean wage in May 2014)*
Job growth in the field (12% from 2012-2022)*
Ability to work in variety of settings (private practice, community treatment center, hospital or nonprofit organization)*
Self-employment opportunities (nearly one-third are self-employed)*

Cons of Being a Counseling Psychologist
Extensive job preparation (9+ years of undergraduate and graduate education)*
Emotionally draining career*
Long hours and demanding schedule (evening and weekends)*
Need to stay up-to-date on research and therapy trends in counseling*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Career Info

Job Description and Duties

As a counseling psychologist, you're a resource for people who are facing emotional and personal problems as part of everyday living. Counseling psychologists commonly treat patients who are dealing with challenges at home, work or in a community setting. You're likely to address social disorders and help people adjust to everyday life through therapy and support. Your sessions may include groups, individuals and families. Within your daily duties, you'll collect information, develop therapeutic treatments, analyze notes and evaluate treatment results. You may also be able to work alongside other medical professionals as a way to meet all the needs of your clients, whether it's emotional or medical conditions.

A career as a counseling psychologist often requires you to take part in research studies and stay in the loop on developing trends. Counseling psychologists may be able to lead studies on the side or possibly teach at a college or university.

Job Growth and Salary

The BLS projected that clinical, counseling and school psychologists should see fast as average growth from 2012-2022. An estimated 145,000 of these psychologists were employed in 2012 and that figure is predicted to grow to 161,500 in 2022, the BLS finds. Counseling psychologists that have a doctoral degree are likely to hold an edge over fellow job candidates. Most clinical, counseling and school psychologists earned between $51,000 and $89,000 as of May 2014. The states with the highest employment levels were California, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Massachusetts.

Education Requirements

If you want to become a counseling psychologist, in most cases, you'll need to earn a doctoral degree. This is especially important for those who want to open a private practice that is separate from a hospital or treatment facility. You may choose to earn a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.).

Counseling psychologists may begin their education requirements by studying psychology for four years as part of an undergraduate program. Some choose to earn a master's degree in counseling psychology, prior to their doctorate degree, as a way to further their psychology skills and gain access to research studies. Your courses are likely to cover theory and practice with a strong emphasis on conducting, understanding and implementing research. As part of your doctoral program, you're likely to take part in internships as a way to understand how your classroom skills will translate to the real world, as well as a dissertation.

Licensure

A key part of becoming a counseling psychologist is becoming licensed to practice in the state where you want to work. To become a licensed counseling psychologist, you'll need to earn your doctoral degree, take part in an internship and earn professional experience. The approving board will also require you to take and pass an examination that focuses on your counseling psychology abilities.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Counseling psychologists are employed nationwide in a variety of settings, like private counseling centers, hospitals or outpatient mental health facilities. Some also opt to open their own private practice on their own or with a group of fellow medical professionals. For the most part, employers look for counseling psychologists that have a doctorate, experience and a good sense of research trends in psychology. The following is a sample of job openings posted by the American Psychological Association (APA) in March 2012:

  • A private practice in Pennsylvania is looking for a psychologist with a Ph.D. to join the practice. You'll need to work with clients of all ages and backgrounds providing counseling and therapy services. The candidate will also need to be licensed in order to be hired.
  • A medical group in North Carolina seeks a counseling psychologist that can work full-time providing assessment and psychotherapy to nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the state. You'll need to have doctoral degree for the position and the ability to work with the aging population.
  • A not-for-profit mental health organization in Washington is looking for a counseling psychologist that can provide counseling, therapy and assessment services to families, children and the elderly. You'll need to have your doctorate and licensure, as well as hold about three years of experience to be considered for the position.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

If you want to stay ahead in the field of counseling psychology, you can take part in leadership academies and workshops, like the ones offered by the American Psychological Association (APA). The national organization is designed to connect psychologists of all backgrounds and highlight the latest in research studies and trends. The APA organizes conventions where counseling psychologists are able to submit research papers, make presentations and meet fellow mental health professionals. The organization also prints publications, which means you can stay up-to-date on how your field is changing.

Alternative Career Paths

School and Career Counselor

If you don't want to become a counseling psychologist, you can become a school counselor. Your career will focus on bettering the lives of others through therapy, counseling and treatment sessions in schools, universities and vocational rehabilitation services. School and career counselors need to hold a master's degree and licensure. The job outlook for counselors is expected to be favorable, as the employment of counselors is predicted to grow by 19% between 2010 and 2020, the BLS finds. However, the wages are typically a bit lower at $57,000 as of May 2011.

Social Worker

Another option is to become a social worker, which means you'll focus on promoting social services to various populations including the elderly, families, children and individual adults. You may be able to find work as a social worker with a bachelor's degree, but many go on to earn a master's degree for better career opportunities. Social workers can work in a variety of settings that include schools, private practices, hospitals and government institutions. As a social worker, you are projected to see a faster than average growth of 25% and wages of about $54,000 as of May 2011.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Walden University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PhD in Clinical Psychology - General
      • PhD in Clinical Psychology - Health Psychology
      • PhD in Clinical Psychology - Teaching Psychology
      • PhD in Psychology - Social Psychology
      • PhD in Psychology - Teaching
      • PhD in Clinical Psychology - Forensic Psychology
    Master's
      • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Addiction Counseling
      • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Forensic Counseling
      • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - General Program
      • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Military Families & Culture
      • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Trauma & Crisis Counseling
      • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Marriage, Couple & Family Counseling
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Psychology - Clinical Mental Health (MS AIM Track)
      • BS in Psychology - MS AIM Track
      • BS in Psychology - Addictions
      • BS in Psychology - General Psychology
      • BS in Psychology - Human Services for Psychology
      • BS in Psychology - Workplace Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Performance Psychology
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision
    Master's
      • Master in Christian Counseling of Substance Use & Addictive Disorders
      • MS in Professional Counseling
      • M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness with Emphasis in Grief and Bereavement
      • M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness with Emphasis in Prevention
      • M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness with an Emphasis in Integrated Health
      • M.S. Psychology with an Emphasis in Gerontology
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Counseling - Addiction, Chemical Dependency, and Substance Abuse
      • BS in Psychology
      • B.S. in Psychology with an Emphasis in Performance and Sports Psychology
      • B.S. in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Substance Use Disorders
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Trauma
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Psychology
      • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis
      • MS in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
      • Master: Psychology/Addictions
      • MS in Educational Psychology
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Psychology in Addictions
      • BS in Psychology in Industrial/Organizational Psychology
      • BS in Psychology in Applied Behavior Analysis
      • BSCJ: Forensic Psychology
    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate in Addictions
      • Graduate Certificate in Industrial/Organizational Psychology
      • Applied Behavior Analysis Postbaccalaureate Certificate
      • Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Liberty University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PHD: Counselor Education and Supervision
      • PHD: Psychology: Developmental Psychology
      • PHD: Psychology: General Psychology
      • PHD: Psychology: Social Psychology
      • PHD: Psychology: Industrial/Organizational Psychology
    Master's
      • MA: Marriage and Family Therapy
      • MA: Clinical Mental Health Counseling (CACREP)
      • MA: Addictions Counseling
      • MA: Human Services Counseling: Addictions and Recovery
      • MA: Medical Sciences: Biopsychology
      • MA: Pastoral Counseling: Addictions and Recovery
    Bachelor's
      • BS: Psychology - Christian Counseling
      • BS: Religion: Christian Counseling
      • BS: Psychology
      • BS: Psychology: Addiction and Recovery
      • BS: Psychology: Life Coaching
      • BS: Psychology: Developmental Psychology
    Associate's
      • AA: Psychology: Christian Counseling
      • AA: Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Regent University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies
      • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies - Biblical Counseling
      • 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
    Master's
      • M.A. in Marriage, Couple & Family Counseling
      • MS in General Psychology
    Bachelor's
      • B.S. in Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Colorado Christian University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Clinical Mental Health Counseling, M.A. On Site Curriculum
      • Clinical Mental Health Counseling, M.A. Online Curriculum
    Bachelor's
      • Psychology, B.S.
      • B.S. Applied Psychology: Biblical Studies
      • B.S. Applied Psychology: Clinical Counseling
    Associate's
      • Psychology, A.S.
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Masters in Psychology
  • Campus and Online Programs
    8. The Chicago School

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Ph.D. Applied Behavior Analysis
      • Ph.D. Applied Behavior Analysis, Credential Track
    Master's
      • M.A. Clinical Mental Health Counseling
      • M.A. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: ARP Track
      • M.A. Psychology
      • M.A. Forensic Psychology
      • M.S. Applied Behavior Analysis
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Florida Tech

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BA in Applied Psychology
      • BA in Applied Psychology/Child Advocacy
      • BA in Applied Psychology/Clinical Psychology
      • BA in Applied Psychology/Organizational Psychology
      • BA in Applied Psychology/Forensic Psychology
    Associate's
      • AA in Applied Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • HS Diploma

Featured Schools

Walden University

  • PhD in Clinical Psychology - General
  • MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling - Addiction Counseling
  • BS in Psychology - Clinical Mental Health (MS AIM Track)

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Performance Psychology
  • Master in Christian Counseling of Substance Use & Addictive Disorders
  • BS in Counseling - Addiction, Chemical Dependency, and Substance Abuse

What is your highest level of education?

Purdue University Global

  • MS in Psychology
  • BS in Psychology in Addictions
  • Graduate Certificate in Addictions

Which subject are you interested in?

Liberty University

  • PHD: Counselor Education and Supervision
  • MA: Marriage and Family Therapy
  • BS: Psychology - Christian Counseling
  • AA: Psychology: Christian Counseling

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • Ph.D. in Counseling & Psychological Studies
  • M.A. in Marriage, Couple & Family Counseling
  • B.S. in Psychology

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado Christian University

  • Clinical Mental Health Counseling, M.A. On Site Curriculum
  • Psychology, B.S.
  • Psychology, A.S.

What is your highest level of education completed?

Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology

  • Masters in Psychology

What is your highest level of education completed?

The Chicago School

  • Ph.D. Applied Behavior Analysis
  • Ph.D. Applied Behavior Analysis, Credential Track
  • M.A. Clinical Mental Health Counseling
  • M.A. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: ARP Track

What is your highest level of education completed?