Counseling Psychology Graduate Program Options

Graduate level counseling psychology students learn to assess and treat patients. They gain an understanding of various counseling techniques through coursework and research.

Essential Information

Graduate studies in counseling psychology are available as master's degrees, as well as two kinds of doctorates, PhD. or PsyD. These programs prepare students to be community, individual and family counselors. Through research in counseling methods and hands-on clinical practica and internships, graduates become prepared to seek state licensure or professional certification. In most states, a doctoral degree is required for licensure as a clinical psychologist. The American Board of Professional Psychology, among other sources, offers continuing education opportunities.

Master's programs require that applicants have a bachelor's degree, GRE scores, references, a resume, a statement of purpose essay and at least 18 hours of behavioral science undergraduate coursework.

Doctoral programs have similar requirements, like a statement of purpose, GRE scores, a scholarly writing sample and a resume. At minimum, doctoral applicants must have a bachelor's degree in a related field, but sometimes a master's degree is necessary.

Master of Science in Counseling Psychology

This degree program teaches students about psychological health and psychopathology, counseling methods and the ethical behavior of a professional counselor. Counseling psychology graduate programs focus on human development and behavior as well as how to evaluate and treat patients. Programs are research-intensive with a strong emphasis on advocacy, social justice and community health. Students are expected to evaluate their own belief systems and become more aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Coursework includes research methods, statistical analysis and counseling theories, which will be used to support a final thesis. Additional coursework may include:

  • Addiction counseling
  • Developmental psychology
  • Group counseling
  • Neuroscience
  • Cognition

PhD./PsyD. in Counseling Psychology

PhD./PsyD. students focus on a specialty such as social justice, women's issues, family counseling, human development or health psychology. These degree programs are research-oriented and students spend a considerable amount of time working on their research portfolio and dissertation. Student research is guided by a mentor who helps the student find an area of focus and provides academic support. Students are expected to perform quantitative and qualitative research and demonstrate their ability to apply their research findings to the assessment and treatment of patients. They must also demonstrate how their research contributes to the advancement of psychology as a scientific field of study. Typical courses in this program include:

  • Family therapy
  • Trauma studies
  • Developmental psychology
  • Behavioral science

Popular Careers

Counseling psychologists are employed in a variety of settings, including private practice, community health organizations and local and state government agencies. Other career options include:

  • Marriage and family counselor
  • Substance abuse counselor
  • School psychologist
  • Mental health counselor

Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), counseling, clinical and school psychologists held 155,300 jobs in the United States in 2014, and this number is projected to grow 20% from 2014-2024. The median salary for these workers was $70,580 in 2015.

Continuing Education Information

Graduates can pursue professional certification in a number of areas, including school counselor certification, issued through a state licensing agency. Graduates who hold a PhD. in counseling psychology are eligible for state licensure as licensed psychologists. This is awarded upon passing an exam administered by the state's board of psychology.

Certification is another level of professional credential that PhD. and PsyD. counseling psychologists can apply for. This is administered by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), which offers certification in 13 different specialties. Because scientific research is always expanding the field of psychology, the American Psychological Association (APA) offers continuing education opportunities and annual conferences for professional growth.

Psychology students can pursue a master's degree or doctorate in counseling psychology to gain a deeper understanding of their area of focus and become effective counselors.

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