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Distance Learning Counseling Degrees: Overviews by Program Level

Get information about distance learning counseling degrees. Read on to learn about program requirements, course details and descriptions, as well as career options.

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Essential Information

Many schools offer online counseling degree programs at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels. Much of the coursework in these programs can be completed online, with students accessing video lectures and course materials as their schedules permit. They can interact with classmates and instructors through e-mail, chat rooms and online message forums. While coursework can be completed totally through distance learning, there are also often required field experiences, on-campus residencies, and practicums.

Many types of counselors must be licensed or certified, which generally calls for meeting education and experience requirements. Before choosing a degree program, students should make sure it meets the standards for their state.

Most counseling positions call for at least a master's degree, but it's possible to work as a substance abuse counselor with training at the bachelor's level. Counselors who hold master's degrees can be licensed as mental health counselors and can move on to doctoral programs to work in counselor education.

Bachelor of Science in Substance Abuse and Addiction Counseling

People interested in helping others overcome problems with chemical dependency and behavioral addictions may enroll in bachelor's degree programs in areas such as alcohol and drug studies, addiction studies, and substance abuse counseling. Some schools present the coursework as a degree completion program intended for those with college credit, although standalone programs also exist. Students enrolled in these degree programs learn about the roots and effects of addiction. Counseling skills are acquired for treating and preventing addiction to drugs and alcohol as well as other behavioral addictions like eating disorders, gambling and sex.

Program Information and Requirements

This bachelor's degree program generally requires 120-180 credits. It can be completed online, though some schools also require independent field experience that must be completed in person. Online materials are delivered through Blackboard, Moodle or a similar online course management software program. Students have 24-hour access to online lectures, assignments and exams, but they must meet certain weekly deadlines.

Common Substance Abuse and Addiction Counseling Courses

A combination of major core courses, general education requirements, electives and field experience make up the curriculum. Schools that offer a degree completion program generally make available only the core courses, so students must transfer credits from previous college experience.

Alcoholism and Alcoholics

Assessment and treatment of clients suffering from addiction to alcohol is the focus of this class. Incorporating social, behavioral and psychological elements into discussions of counseling techniques that include the 12-step program, the class allows students to explore ways to provide counseling support to clients in ongoing recovery.

Substance Abuse Counseling Group Practices and Processes

Students examine key concepts, theories and ideas involving group therapy and counseling, from effective leadership skills to appropriate management of the group and client progress evaluation. Future counselors are taught how to perceive and channel the subtle dynamics of group interactions appropriately, as well as weigh the benefits of group counseling for individual members and recognize the stages inherent in the process of counseling from first meeting through recovery.

Familial Issues in Substance Abuse Counseling

The effect of addiction on the family unit is analyzed, including indications of the disorder in the addicted person and his or her family members. Family counseling models are examined, and the responsibilities of family members in the treatment and prevention of substance abuse are illustrated. Other issues discussed include codependency, domestic abuse as a result of addiction and intervention strategies.


Master's Degree in Mental Health Counseling

Programs that confer a Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling or Master of Arts in Counseling intended for those seeking to work in the field of mental health are available online. These degree programs provide students with the knowledge and abilities necessary to diagnose and treat a variety of emotional and mental problems, as well as help promote and support positive mental health. Graduates are eligible to pursue professional licensure.

Program Information and Requirements

A master's degree in mental health counseling requires 60-62 credit hours. While most coursework is available online, many schools require students to participate in 2-3 campus residencies, which allow enrollees to study in a supervised clinical environment and interact with professors. Additional in-person internship requirements may also exist.

Online materials are usually presented asynchronously, though some courses have synchronous components. Students must have a headset and webcam in order to participate in live Web conferencing activities.

Common Mental Health Counseling Courses

The curriculum of a master's degree program in mental health counseling consists of core courses in areas such as human growth and development, helping relationships and appraisal. Some electives are offered to provide a more fine-tuned education. Additional credits come from clinical practicums and internships.

Psychology of Human Growth, Development and Behavior

This course reviews theories involving lifetime cognitive, physical, social and behavioral development. Concepts and ideas dealing with the development of a personal moral code are highlighted.

Appraisal, Assessment and Measurement Techniques in Counseling

Students analyze various psychological assessment and testing methods. Strategies for interpreting the data acquired from these tests are also practiced. The measurement of certain psychological constructs, such as intelligence, achievement, personality and aptitude, is emphasized.

Ethics and Legal Issues for Professional Counselors

Ethical dilemmas are considered from the viewpoint of the mental health professional. Modern legislative acts and decisions involving the counseling profession are analyzed. Laws and institutional protocols put in place to assure the safety of human subjects in clinical research are explored.


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Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision

Online Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree programs in counselor education and supervision offer specializations such as trauma and crisis, forensic mental health counseling and consultation. These degree programs are intended for counselors who already hold master's degrees and are seeking career advancement to leadership or teaching positions in clinical or academic settings. Students develop counseling skills while gaining techniques and strategies for imparting their knowledge to others, often working closely with other students attempting to earn their master's degree.

Program Information and Requirements

Completion of 66-96 credit hours is needed to graduate with a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision. Much of the degree program can be completed online, but a number of campus residencies are also required for students to sharpen their clinical skills and connect with peers. In-person internship and practicum work is also necessary.

Assignments are available online to be worked on, discussed with fellow students and turned in to instructors at any time day or night. Exams and tests are also administered online. Students are expected to participate in classroom discussions through message boards, chat rooms and e-mails.

Common Counselor Education and Supervision Courses

In addition to required core courses and electives, course credits come from practicum and internship experiences. Students also construct a doctoral dissertation project, which acts as a capstone to the Ph.D. program of study.

Teaching and Instruction in Counselor Education

This course summarizes key concepts, methods and current issues involving counselor education. Application of theories into the functional practice of teaching counselor education is emphasized. Strategies for effectively engaging students, evaluating their personal needs and assessing learning outcomes are also discussed.

Leadership and Advocacy for Counseling Professionals

Various roles and responsibilities of the counselor educator are illustrated, such as promoting social change and providing support for advocates and other counseling professionals. Contemporary movements and issues facing future counselor educators are examined as well as past events and philosophies that have led to current situations. Other topics studied include professional identity, client diversity issues and social advocacy processes.

Research Methods for Counselors

Students become acquainted with quantitative, qualitative and mixed-methods research practices and learn to apply these models to counseling research. Procedural steps involved in conducting proper scholastic research are outlined as well as strategies for utilizing library resources and acquiring, managing and interpreting data.


Career Information

Addiction and substance abuse counseling is one of the only types of counseling careers that does not require a master's degree. Several states consider a bachelor's degree sufficient education to become a licensed addiction counselor, while some states only require a high school diploma and certification. Licensure requirements vary greatly from state to state, so aspiring addiction counselors are advised to consult their state licensing board for specific information.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that in May of 2015, there were 87,090 substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors earning an average yearly salary of $42,920 (www.bls.gov). BLS predicted that jobs in the field will increase 22% between the years 2014-2024.

O*NET says that 62% of mental health counselors report holding a master's degree. Most states require professional mental health counselors to be licensed, and earning a requisite degree is part of this; prospective mental health counselors are advised to check the specific licensing requirements of their state of residence before enrolling in a degree program.

With an average yearly salary of $45,080, 128,200 people were employed as mental health counselors in May 2014, as reported by the BLS. The number of jobs for mental health counselors is predicted to grow by 19%, per BLS, for the years 2014-2024.

Earning a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision typically qualifies recipients to teach at a college or university. These positions involve instructing large groups of students in skills and methods of psychological counseling. BLS reported that there were 38,380 psychology teachers earning an average annual salary of $79,370 who were employed at the postsecondary level in May 2015. It also reported that jobs for postsecondary teachers in general are expected to increase 13% between 2014 and 2024.

Continuing Education and Certification Information

NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals, offers National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level I certification. Candidates must complete a combination of education, supervised clinical experience and testing. Graduates of bachelor's degree programs in substance abuse and addiction counseling who attain additional education and experience may qualify for advanced certification. Online master's degree programs in addiction counseling are also available.

Careers in counseling are more accessible when students hold degrees in the field, which are available at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral level. Master's and doctoral degrees are likely to both require residences for short periods of time on campus, while bachelor's degrees can be taken almost entirely online with the possibility of a field experience requirement.

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