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Counseling Psychology Master's Vs. PhD

May 29, 2019

Counseling psychology programs are available in several different forms at the master's level, as well as at the doctoral level. Learn about some of the graduation requirements, licensure outcomes, and admission standards here.

Some of the biggest differences between a master's and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Counseling Psychology degree program include degree options, length, and licensure outcome. However, both programs usually include hands-on learning experiences and prepare students for counseling-oriented careers. Compare and contrast the degree programs in more detail below.

Comparing a Master's to a PhD in Counseling Psychology

Master's in Counseling Psychology

Master's degree programs in counseling psychology are available as Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), and Master of Education (EdM) degree programs. Depending on the program, some of these plans of study may lead to specific state certifications and licensures, such as school counselor certification, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCC), or Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT) licensure. These programs may require around 48 credits or more of coursework, can be completed in 2 years, and typically include various hands-on learning experiences, such as practicum experiences, internships, and seminars. Although coursework varies based on the specific degree program and its focus, students in master's programs in counseling psychology may take courses that discuss topics in evidence-based practice, psychopathology, assessment, ethics, counseling psychology, and research methods. Graduates may pursue careers as counselors in a variety of settings, including schools, clinics, nursing homes, and hospitals.

PhD in Counseling Psychology

PhD in Counseling Psychology degree programs generally prepare students for professional practice in psychology and may lead to state licensure as a clinical psychologist. Students typically have to complete a dissertation, practicum experiences, and a 1-year internship/externship experience for hands-on training in the field. These programs may be completed in 4 to 5 years, may require around 45 to 69 credits beyond a master's degree, and may allow students to earn their master's degree in route to the PhD. Coursework for the doctoral program may include topics such as individual counseling, group dynamics, cross culture counseling, counseling theory and research, clinical assessment, and statistics. Graduates with their PhD in Counseling Psychology can work as researchers and/or practitioners in psychology in community agencies, colleges, hospitals, private practices, and mental health centers.

Common Entrance Requirements

Admission standards are fairly similar for both the master's and doctoral programs in counseling psychology with applicants needing at least a bachelor's degree, but some doctoral programs may give preference to students with master's degrees. Although it is not required, many applicants' degrees may be in an area of psychology, and some programs may require students to have made specific grades in psychology coursework. Some programs also expect students to meet a minimum GPA, and most programs require the general GRE and/or the psychology subject test score. Students applying to either level will commonly need to include their transcripts, letters of recommendation, a resume or CV, and a personal statement/essay response with their application. Some programs may also require an interview by invitation, and some doctoral programs may require students to specify potential faculty mentors.

Both a master's and PhD in Counseling Psychology program typically lead to state licensure in the field and include hands-on learning through internships and practicum experiences. However, PhD programs in counseling psychology tend to take twice as long to complete as a master's and leads to professional practice licensure in psychology.


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