Distance Learning Education Programs in Professional Counseling

Essential Information

Distance learning students in a counseling degree program learn about behavioral theories, how to conduct psychological research and how to develop and maintain ethical client relationships.

Programs in this field are commonly offered at the graduate level since having a master's degree is typically required to earn state licensure. Online professional counseling programs are designed to prepare students for professional practice and could lead to degrees such as a Master of Arts in Professional Counseling or a Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling. Online bachelor's programs in counseling or related subjects, like psychology, are ideal for preparing students for further study.

These programs are offered in a hybrid format. In addition to online classes, an internship or practicum is required in a master's program; short campus-based residencies may also be required.

Bachelor's Degree

This online program is designed to provide students with an idea of the kinds of patients they may prefer to work with. Students develop an understanding of psychological, mental health and developmental principles to create behavioral, systemic or cognitive changes in patients. They have the opportunity to learn in a structured environment and coursework prepares them for the issues and obstacles they will face in their careers. Classes in online professional counseling degree programs may include:

  • Human development and behavior
  • History and development of counseling
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Child and adult psychological development
  • Addictions

Master's Degree

These distance learning programs provide students with the necessary knowledge and skills to treat behavioral disorders effectively. Master's programs are open to applicants who have a bachelor's degree, undergraduate credits in the social sciences and possibly relevant experience. During a master's degree program, students examine the specialties in this field and choose to focus on an area of emphasis.

In addition to completing the internship component, students follow a curriculum that provides them with a strong foundation in scientific research, psychology theory and clinical approaches. They may also be required to complete a research project. Online courses may include:

  • Client and counselor relationships
  • Substance abuse counseling
  • Ethical, legal and regulatory issues
  • Patient treatment
  • Federal and state laws regarding confidentiality

Learning Environment

Enrolled students should be prepared for some on-site components. In order to help students meet licensing guidelines, programs -- particularly at the master's level -- require clinical internships or practicums in an approved local setting. Some schools may also require short campus-based residencies at certain points throughout the program.

Outside of these requirements, distance learners get lectures, assignments and other materials by logging into their school's online classroom. These virtual spaces offer chances to interact with peers and instructors through class chat rooms, discussion forums or Web conferencing.

Online programs in professional counseling are typically offered at the master's and bachelor's level and in a hybrid format to meet state requirements. Different topics that students may study include addictions, abnormal psychology, patient treatment, and client and counselor relationships.

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