Online PhD in Counseling: Program Overviews

Learn about online doctoral programs with counseling courses. Get an overview of the program types, requirements and course descriptions available for this field.

Essential Information

There are many schools that offer online Ph.D. programs in counseling, either completely through distance education courses or as a combination of online and on-campus work. In the hybrid programs, on-campus requirements are generally scheduled for weekends. Many online Ph.D. programs are designed to accommodate working students, allowing them to log on for classes as their schedules permit, within certain guidelines.

Most programs require three to five years of study. Applicants must hold a master's degree in counseling or a related field. In some programs, a yearlong residency or internship is required for hands-on experience. Most programs also call for a dissertation.

Licensing requirements vary from state to state and may depend upon the type of counseling being done. However, most states call for a master's degree, clinical experience and successful completion of a certification exam. Continuing education courses are generally required to retain the license.

Ph.D. in Counseling

Doctorate programs in counseling are available through mostly online formats to master's degree holders in counseling or a similar field. Ph.D. in Counseling degree programs are offered as well as Ph.D. in Psychology degree programs with a counseling specialization. These degree programs instruct students to provide psychological counseling for a variety of addiction, sexual, compulsion and grief problems at all stages of human development. Skills involving the supervision and education of other counselors are also acquired.

Program Information and Requirements

A Ph.D. in Counseling degree program consists of 80-106 semester hours. Most coursework is accessible online, though a school may require students to complete a residency requirement, which may range from a few months to a year. Additionally, some schools offer hybrid programs requiring on-campus weekend meetings for each course for the benefit of out-of-state students.

The online components of the program are presented in an asynchronous format, which allows students the greatest amount of scheduling flexibility. Students have the ability to access online materials, view lectures, hand in assignments and participate in discussions at any time of day as long as certain deadlines are met. Students interact with their instructors and peers through online message boards, chat rooms and e-mails.

Common Courses

The curriculum of a Ph.D. in Counseling is made up of core courses, electives and (if applicable) specialization courses. Additional credit hours come from dissertation research and field experience, such as a practicum or internship.

Courses cover many types of counseling, including marriage counseling, group counseling and career counseling. Other courses explore diversity, assessment, supervision and counseling theory.

Psychological Assessment

This course examines the skills and theories involving psychological testing and assessment in various areas, such as cognitive ability, personality, academic achievement and social-emotional functioning. Contemporary topics in the utilization of assessment in counseling are discussed as well as the best methods of materials development and assessment instruction. The analysis and summation of test results is highlighted.


Therapeutic intervention strategies, treatment of mental disorders and group counseling techniques are the main components of this class. The key ideas, methods and skills in psychotherapy are studied in depth as well as how to use them to counsel people from different cultures and backgrounds. Face-to-face counseling experience is critical and is usually one of the areas of the program that must be conducted in person.

Counseling Research Methods and Designs

Students learn how to create and evaluate different types of psychological research, such as qualitative, quantitative and mixed-methods research. The positives and negatives of each type are discussed as well as the situations for which each is best suited. The different steps of the research process are identified, including writing a hypothesis, creating research questions and analyzing data. Ethical and legislative considerations involving research participants is emphasized.

Career Information

There are several varieties of professional counselors, including school counselors, mental health counselors, rehabilitation counselors and behavioral disorder counselors. While a master's degree is the minimum requirement to become a licensed counselor, a doctorate degree provides quicker advancement opportunities.

A Ph.D. in Counseling also facilitates careers as a counseling psychologist or a postsecondary psychology teacher. Most states require professional counselors and counseling psychologists to pass state licensing examinations, which can vary from state to state. Prospective counselors and counseling psychologists are advised to consult their state licensing board for more specific information.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that in May of 2015, there were 128,200 mental health counselors employed in the U.S. and 32,070 marriage and family therapists ( Occupational growth between 2014 and 2024 was predicted to be much faster than average for other professions: 20% for mental health counselors and 15% for marriage and family therapists. As of May 2015, mental health counselors earned $45,080 on average, while marriage and family therapists earned an average salary of $53,520.

Continuing Education Information

Many states require professional counselors to complete a certain number of continuing education credits every year. There are several online options for earning credits in various areas, such as dissociative identity disorder, abuse and neglect of the elderly and anxiety management techniques.

In Ph.D. in Counseling programs, students take advanced courses in the theory and practice of therapy in order to improve their counseling skills, and they conduct advanced research in a particular subject of interest, leading to a final doctoral dissertation. When they finish, they can become licensed to work as practicing counselors or seek academic positions as educators of future counselors.

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