Doctorate Programs in Counseling: Degree Program Overviews

Oct 12, 2019

There are several program options for students who want to earn a doctoral degree in counseling. Find out more about the prerequisites for enrollment, the primary focus of each program, and future prospects for graduates.

Essential Information

Students who are interested in obtaining a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Counseling can choose from a variety of degree programs, including counseling psychology, school counseling, and rehabilitation counseling. These programs offer instruction in methods of evaluating and assisting individuals with a range of emotional and behavioral issues. Students learn about assessment techniques, counseling theories and methods, and human development. Prior to graduation, students must complete a dissertation. In order to apply, students must hold an undergraduate degree and submit GRE scores and letters of reference.

Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology

Ph.D. candidates explore the basis for human behavior and techniques for providing effective counseling services to people who suffer from mental illness, trauma, anxiety, and personality disorders. Counseling psychology students also learn how to advise people who are looking to learn coping skills to overcome past experiences and personal hardships. In addition to transcripts and test scores, applicants may be asked to submit an essay outlining their research and career goals and a sample of an academic paper.

The curriculum is research-intensive and includes topics like social psychology, personality theory, human development, gerontology, and strategies for intervention. Other topics include professional ethical behavior, multicultural sensitivity, clinical theories, and pediatric and adolescent psychology. Ph.D. candidates take comprehensive examinations and must complete an externship, internship, and doctoral dissertation before graduation. Leading up to the dissertation, specific course topics may include the following:

  • School counseling
  • Disability and rehabilitation
  • Counseling the elderly
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Experimental psychology

Ph.D. in School Psychology

The curriculum is research-intensive and includes up to five years of study, comprising academic coursework, applied research, student teaching, a field practicum, and a doctoral dissertation. Students learn to assess the personalities of adolescents and work with students, parents, and teachers to treat adolescents and teens for a variety of emotional and learning difficulties, including behavioral and conduct disorders. Topics of study include counseling and development theory, intervention, therapeutic procedures, and adolescent psychopathology. Coursework in the degree program includes these topics:

  • Family counseling
  • Social psychology
  • Multicultural psychology
  • Biology and behavior
  • Vocational psychology

Ph.D. in Rehabilitation Counseling

The primary focus of a rehabilitation counseling degree program is to train future psychologists to counsel individuals with disabilities. In addition to an undergraduate degree and strong test scores, applicants may also need up to two years of related professional experience. Students in these programs learn statistics, counseling theories, and applied psychological practices and interventions. Rehabilitation topics include chronic illness, behavioral and cognitive counseling theories, and diagnosing psychiatric disabilities. The curriculum includes doctoral seminars, teaching experiences, and a doctoral dissertation that is to be completed toward the end of the program. In addition, a counseling practicum gives students hands-on experience working with people with disabilities in a rehabilitative setting. The following are some common course topics in a rehabilitation counseling program:

  • Case management
  • Group counseling
  • Culture, society, and disability
  • Physiology and behavior
  • Vocational behavior

Popular Career Options

Graduates go on to careers in a variety of settings, including private practice, hospitals, research facilities, and schools. Popular jobs for graduates include those listed below:

  • Professor
  • Research scientist
  • Psychologist
  • School counselor
  • Marriage and family counselor

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), educational, vocational and school counselors held 324,500 jobs in the U.S. in 2018 ( The BLS also reported that jobs in this profession were expected to grow by 8%, about as fast as the average for all occupations, between the years 2018 and 2028. The median salary for educational, vocational and school counselors as of May 2018 was $56,310, according to the BLS.

In 2018, the BLS reported that rehabilitation counselors held 119,700 jobs in the U.S. and made a median annual wage of $35,630 ( The BLS also reported that jobs for rehabilitation counselors were expected to grow by 10% between 2018 and 2028, faster than the average for all occupations.

Continuing Education Information

Graduates are eligible to sit for state credentialing examinations to become licensed psychologists or counselors. Requirements for licensure vary by state. The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) offers a National Certified Counselor credential and specialty credentials in addiction, mental health, and school counseling.

Graduates are eligible to sit for state exams, administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), to become licensed counselors. The NBCC also offers the National Certified School Counselor credential to graduates who hold at least a master's degree in counseling and school counseling. Licensing requirements differ by state.

Graduates are eligible to sit for the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) exam, administered by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. CRCs are required to either complete 100 hours of continuing education credits or retake the exam every five years to maintain certification.

Overall, no matter which specialty area you choose, a doctorate in counseling will provide you with the theoretical knowledge, clinical skills, and research experience you need for success as a counselor or as a professor in the field.

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