Several four-year universities and colleges offer master's degrees in professional counseling through distance learning. These programs tend to offer specialization options, including community, school, and mental health counseling. The curriculum is designed to provide preparation for meeting state licensure requirements, so coursework focuses on counseling theories, practices and legal or ethical issues. This is a field that requires in-person training, so distance learners should expect to spend some time on campus, possibly taking classes, working as an intern, or completing a practicum.
Schools that offer master's-level programs in professional counseling require applicants to have a bachelor's degree prior to admission. Some may also require undergraduate coursework in psychology and related areas. Prospective students typically have to submit recommendation letters, personal statements, and possibly work histories.
For students who are looking for programs offered entirely online, there are some distance-learning graduate certificate programs offered in mental health counseling. Similar to the master's programs, these programs are sometimes intended for practicing professionals wanting to meet certification requirements.
Whether completed on-campus or online, most 2-year graduate degree programs in professional counseling include much of the same curriculum. These programs provide extensive instruction in the counseling of individuals and families from various cultural and social backgrounds. Emphasis is also placed on theory and research. Distance learners may take courses in the following areas:
- Marriage and family counseling
- Counseling theory
- Counseling research methods
- Counseling and addictive behaviors
- Legal and ethical issues in counseling
- Crisis and grief counseling
- Clinical diagnosis
- Treatment planning
- Counseling techniques
- Counseling and psychopathology
Distance Learning Considerations
Online courses for professional counseling degree programs are delivered within a course management system administered by colleges. These offer a virtual classroom environment that contains lectures, assignments and other course materials that are available to students anytime. Class chat rooms, discussion boards and Web conferencing may be used to foster interaction among students and professors.
Due to the hands-on nature of counseling, some schools offering an online learning option in professional counseling also require students to complete some of their courses on campus. To accommodate working professionals, many of the on-campus classes take place in the evening. Some schools also offer multiple single-week stints on campus, providing intense clinical instruction in a short amount of time.
To meet clinical practice requirements for licensing, counseling students usually must complete internships and/or practicums to gain supervised experience. These can usually be arranged at an appropriate counseling setting in the student's area. Internships may require a weekly part-time commitment for several weeks towards the end of the degree program. Professional liability insurance for students could be required prior to beginning this part of the curriculum.
Online professional counseling master's degree programs prepare students for careers as licensed professional counselors. As a professional counselor, graduates can work in a number of settings, including, mental health agencies, private practices and counseling centers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of mental health counselors is expected to increase 20% between 2014 and 2024, which is considerably faster than the national average of 7% for all occupations.
Students can pursue online master's degrees in professional counseling, though they should also expect to complete an in-person component, like a practicum or some on-campus courses. There is also the option of completing a graduate certificate in counseling, which can be done entirely online.