Online Counseling Psychology Degree Guide

A degree in counseling psychology prepares you for a career assisting others with personal and/or relationship problems. People who choose this course of study generally cite a desire to improve the well-being of others as their main reason for pursuing this field. 

The discipline also offers promising job prospects. The U.S. Department of Labor includes mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors, and rehabilitation counselors on its list of Bright Outlook occupations. These careers are projected to grow faster than average during the time period of 2019-2029.

Also, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reporting 40 percent of American adults struggling with mental health or substance use during the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for services continues to soar.

What is Counseling Psychology?

The American Psychological Association (APA) recognizes counseling psychology as a specialty within professional psychology. Counseling psychology practitioners talk with patients to gain understanding of the situations or behaviors negatively affecting their lives. 

Using this knowledge, counseling psychologists work with the person seeking counseling on decision-making, possible solutions, and coping mechanisms. 

What Degrees Do I Need to Get a Career in Counseling Psychology?

A counseling psychologist’s educational path depends heavily on career aspirations. As in most professions, graduate-level degrees open more doors and typically lead to greater responsibility and pay.  

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Counseling Psychology

A career in counseling psychology generally starts with an undergraduate degree in psychology. Some students may complete their bachelor’s degree and find entry-level work in environments like: 

  • Mental health centers
  • Substance abuse facilities
  • Community outreach programs
  • Prisons

However, the majority of counseling psychology positions require a master’s degree or higher.

Numerous schools offer undergraduate psychology degrees online. Working professionals often favor this way of learning so they can continue holding a job and fulfilling familial obligations while earning a degree. Online education also eliminates additional costs like campus housing and transportation.

Admission requirements and standards for undergraduate psychology programs vary by institution. Things applicants may need to submit when applying to a school include:

  • A high school transcript listing classes, GPA, and graduation date
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Standardized test scores (SAT or ACT)
  • A personal essay or response to essay prompts

Courses in Undergraduate Counseling Psychology Programs

The exact courses you take in a counseling psychology bachelor’s program vary by interests and institutional offerings. However, all prospective undergraduate psychology majors should anticipate classes such as:

  • Introduction to psychology — a general overview of the discipline.
  • Research methods in psychology – coming up with topics to explore and designing studies to collect that information.
  • Statistical methods in psychology – a look at how to interpret data and judge validity.
  • Neuroscience – understanding the brain and nervous system and their effect on psychological response .
  • Cognitive development – how people think, learn, and problem-solve at various stages of their lives.
  • Abnormal psychology – understanding unusual patterns of behavior, thought, and action that may signify a mental disorder.
  • Personality – examining theories about individual differences in thinking, feeling, and behaving.
  • Social psychology – looking at the effects other people have on an individual’s behavior.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Counseling Psychology Bachelor’s Degree?

A bachelor’s degree in psychology typically takes four years to complete. Accelerated online studies may help ambitious students shave off some of that time. 

Likewise, someone who previously completed an associate’s degree may be able to count some coursework towards the requirements of the bachelor’s degree.

Online Master’s in Counseling Psychology

Earning a master’s in counseling psychology positions you for greater career possibilities. Applicants to counseling psychology graduate programs usually hold a bachelor’s degree in psychology but sometimes earned a degree in a related field like education or social work. 

Just as for undergraduate psychology studies, a variety of online programs exist at the graduate level. This set-up allows greater flexibility in choosing an institution and creating a schedule that works with your lifestyle.

Applying for admission to an online master’s program in counseling psychology may involve submitting:

  • An official college transcript from undergraduate studies listing classes, GPA, and degree awarded with date
  • A resume of work history with dates and duties
  • Descriptions of relevant activities such as volunteer work or participation in professional associations
  • Letters of recommendation
  • A personal statement or responses to essay prompts
  • Scores from the GRE (Graduate Record Exam)

Courses in Graduate Counseling Psychology Programs

Graduate programs often allow you to specialize in specific counseling areas. Thus, many of the classes you take are geared toward your desired career outcome, such as marriage and family therapy or vocational counseling. 

However, all enrolled in master’s programs in counseling psychology tend to receive instruction in core areas such as:

  • Ethical and legal issues in counseling
  • Counseling skills
  • Counseling theory
  • Case conceptualization
  • Psychological assessments
  • Developmental psychology
  • Psychopathology
  • Psychophysiology
  • Statistical techniques and research methods
  • Group counseling
  • Multicultural counseling

Students should also expect to complete a supervised practicum/internship in a counseling or mental health setting. This hands-on experience proves vital to both future careers and licensure qualification. An online seminar in which students and faculty discuss the experience may accompany the training, but students should plan on fulfilling the actual training at a physical location. 

For specifics on how practical experience requirements are being handled in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, consult individual schools of interest.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Counseling Psychology Master’s Degree?

Earning a master’s in counseling psychology involves completing 45-60 credits. The exact number varies by institutional program and your desired concentration. In terms of completion time, this translates to a range of 2-5 years. 

Factors influencing length include:

  • Previous education/transferable credits
  • Part-time vs. full-time learning
  • Online vs. on-campus learning
  • Whether you select an accelerated program or not

Additional Counseling Psychology Education Requirements

People wishing to become counseling psychologists usually earn either a PsyD (doctor of psychology) or a PhD (doctor of philosophy) in psychology. These advanced degrees allow a wider scope of practice and the ability to provide patients with more therapy and treatment options.

A PsyD takes 4-6 years to complete, while a PhD program runs 5-7 years. Admission to either type of program can be quite competitive.

Internships in Counseling Psychology

Supervised professional experience is a vital component of counseling psychology doctoral programs. Students pursuing online studies should think of their program as a hybrid arrangement rather than purely virtual. Doctoral candidates work with their institution to find suitable on-site settings in which to gain counseling experience.

Counseling Psychology Certification and Licensure

When considering a counseling psychology career, it is important to look into specific licensing requirements from the get-go. Licensing requirements may play a significant role in the educational institution and path a student chooses.

In most states, counseling psychologists need a doctorate in psychology, an internship, at least 1-2 years of supervised professional experience, and a passing score on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. Hospitals and clinics may require counseling psychologists they hire to possess certification from the American Board of Professional Psychology.

Other types of counseling occupations also require licensure. Marriage and family therapists, for example, need a master’s degree, 2,000-4,000 hours of post-degree supervised clinical experience, and a passing score on a state-recognized exam. 

Good sources of information on state licensure include:

Note that some states and employers require that a prospective employee’s degree come from an APA-accredited program. Finding out the status of institutions of interest before pursuing a degree is a smart move.

Another important thing for aspiring counselors and psychologists to remember is that licensure requirements differ by state. Schools oftentimes gear their counseling psychology program toward the standards set by the state in which they are located. 

A student who chooses an on-site or online program from an institution in one region but ultimately wants to work somewhere else geographically should figure out how the qualifications translate. This certainly isn’t to say one can’t pick a school based in a different state – just keep an eye on licensure requirements to avoid an unpleasant surprise down the line.

Counseling Psychology Career Outlook and Salaries

Schools and universities, hospitals, clinics, employee assistance programs, crisis centers, and social service agencies are some of the many places that hire people with a background in counseling psychology. Some professionals opt to go into private practice as therapists, counselors, or psychologists.

This chart provides specifics for a few common career outcomes for graduates of counseling psychology programs:

CareerSalaryProjected Job Growth (2019-2029)About the Position
Psychologists$82,1803%Counseling psychologists help people understand and cope with personal and relationship problems.
Marriage and Family Therapist$49,61022%Therapists help couples and families better understand one another and work through challenging life situations.
Rehabilitation Counselors$35,95010%Rehabilitation counselors help individuals with mental, emotional, or physical disabilities find employment and develop independent living skills.
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors$47,66025%These counselors advise, treat, and support people suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental health problems.
Source: BLS

Can You Earn a Counseling Psychology Degree Online?

There are a plethora of online bachelor’s degrees in psychology. Students can also complete most or all of their graduate degree coursework online. 

Hands-on components such as internships and practicums, however, get completed at a physical location under professional supervision. Students work with their institution to find sites in line with their geographical location and interests. Some online programs also require a short period of residency on campus.

Counseling Psychology Career Resources

People interested in counseling psychology may find the following organizations helpful to their educational and career endeavors:

American Psychological Association – Consider this long-respected group boasting 122,000+ members an ideal starting place for information on all matters related to psychology. Its website includes publications, webinars, databases, career development advice, academic guidance, and articles on both evergreen and current topics in psychology. 

American Counseling Association – This professional and educational organization has been dedicated to the growth and enhancement of the counseling profession since 1952. Members gain access to award-winning publications, job boards, networking opportunities, and industry updates.

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy – Professional education and job development are two of the many areas covered on the website of this leading organization representing the interests of marriage and family therapists. Members receive free legal consultations, discipline-related magazine and journal subscriptions, and opportunities to interact with colleagues across the world.

The Association for Addiction Professionals – Since 1972, this organization (commonly known as NAADAC) has been representing the professional interests of counselors, educators, and others involved in addiction prevention, treatment, recovery, and support. Its website includes a special resource section designed for student members. 

American Mental Health Counselors Association – This organization is dedicated to helping counselors meet the needs of those they serve as well as advancing the profession. Individuals still in school may find the organization’s student community particularly supportive and interesting.

FAQ

What does a counseling psychologist do?

Counseling psychologists help people understand and cope with personal and relationship issues. They assist clients in making decisions and adjustments that improve well-being.

What is an example of counseling psychology?

The COVID-19 pandemic led many people to seek the services of counseling psychologists for assistance with anxiety, depression, and other feelings of distress.

Is counseling psychology a good career?

Based on their skills and interests, individuals need to decide for themselves what constitutes a good career. Counseling psychology might be of interest to someone who enjoys helping others. A variety of career paths exist for those with a degree in counseling psychology. Many of these occupations pay well and possess promising job prospects.

Is a counseling psychologist a therapist?

The two professions are similar but not completely alike. A counseling psychologist holds a doctorate, while a therapist usually possesses a master’s degree. Both must meet state licensure requirements in order to practice, but the qualifications differ. Because of their more extensive education and training, counseling psychologists are able to offer a wider variety of treatment options and may handle more complex cases.