Online counseling courses and degree programs are more common at the graduate level since most counselors must have a master's degree to be eligible for state licensure. However, some four-year schools do offer distance learning bachelor's programs in areas like addictions or substance abuse counseling, family therapy, or psychology, since academic requirements for this specialty vary by state. In addition, undergraduate degrees in relevant fields like psychology could also be pursued online to provide a foundation for further study in counseling.
Like those available on campus, distance learning graduate programs in counseling are usually designed to prepare students to meet licensing regulations, which include completing supervised experiences and passing a state-administered exam. For this reason, few programs are totally online as they require students to take part in a clinical component that can usually be completed in the student's area.
Those planning to become a licensed counselor should expect to complete some on-site work as part of their education program, including possible campus-based residencies and clinical practice in a local mental health setting. Beyond that, students generally enjoy the flexibility that comes from taking online classes. At a time that fits their schedules, they can access lectures, assignments and other course materials through the schools' virtual classrooms. Opportunities for peer and instructor interaction come from tools like discussion boards, chat rooms or even Web conferencing.
The following list offers some details on what to expect from distance learning programs in counseling.
Many schools offer online undergraduate degree programs in specific areas of counseling. For instance, a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Addiction Counseling introduces students to a number of topics, including psychotherapy models, drug abuse fundamentals and the therapeutic process. Candidates are generally required to complete a number of general education courses, such as general psychology, English and math, early in the program.
Those interested in pursuing advanced degrees in counseling may choose online master's degree programs. Admissions requirements typically include a bachelor's degree with credits in social science and perhaps some relevant experience. A variety of areas of specialization are available, and the specific courses taken may depend on an individual student's area of concentration. Most online master's degree programs can be completed in two years or less.
An online Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling may require students to complete courses, such as:
- Abnormal psychology
- Counseling theory and practice
- Foundation of mental health counseling
An online Master of Science in Family Therapy may involve some of the same courses but also requires students to complete courses specific to the field, including:
- Family therapy theories
- Sexuality and intimacy in families
- Couples therapy
- Perspectives in cross-cultural counseling
Designed for practicing professionals with master's degrees, doctoral programs are generally based in research and introduce candidates to advanced topics in the field. Online doctoral programs in psychology or counseling generally lead to the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree.
Students may be required to visit campus for certain courses and to receive academic advisement regarding their dissertations. Coursework could explore subjects such as:
- Psychoeducational consultation
- Counselor education
- Assessment methods
- Clinical supervision
Online counseling programs may be available in formats that include that both online coursework and clinical experiences, which prepare students for licensure. Specific areas of counseling may be offered, such as family therapy, substance abuse and addiction counseling, and psychotherapy.