How to Become a Counseling Psychologist

January 21, 2022 · Updated on August 11, 2022

Counseling psychologists help clients with their emotional well-being. Explore how to become a counseling psychologist and learn what to expect in a counseling psychology career.

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Psychologists fall into two main categories: counseling psychologists and clinical psychologists. Clinical psychologists primarily diagnose and treat psychological disorders, while counseling psychologists focus on helping people improve their overall emotional well-being.

This guide explores how to become a counseling psychologist, describes counseling psychology jobs, and provides information on counseling psychology salary ranges.

What Is Counseling Psychology?

Counseling psychologists help people deal with problems and make difficult decisions in various aspects of their lives. It requires a deep understanding of personality, cognition (how we think and make decisions), and communication.

While this is a demanding field, it is also very rewarding.

Counseling Psychology Salaries

Psychologists
Lowest 10% Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Projected Growth Rate (2020-2030)
$46,270 $82,180 $137,590 8%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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How Do I Become a Counseling Psychologist?

You must have a state license to practice as a psychologist. While state requirements vary, many state licenses require a doctorate from an accredited school, including an internship and two years of supervised practice, before you can practice independently.

While not legally required for a license, many employers require or prefer board certification from the American Board of Counseling Psychology (ABCoP) or the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB).

Education for Counseling Psychologists

You can earn a counseling psychology degree as an undergraduate or in graduate school. Master's programs typically admit students with either a counseling psychology or a general psychology degree, as long as the general degree includes counseling classes or independent study.

Some master's programs require GRE scores, while others exempt applicants from this requirement if they have a GPA above a specific level. A master's program typically takes three years to complete and requires extensive fieldwork.

Most states require counseling psychologists to have a doctorate, either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. Ph.D. programs prepare you for a counseling psychology career in academia, so they emphasize research, while Psy.D. programs emphasize counseling practice.

States that require a doctorate accept both. A doctorate typically takes 3-5 years to complete, including a doctoral thesis and an internship during your last year. In your internship, you will work independently with patients, though always under a licensed counseling psychologist's supervision.

Licensure for Counseling Psychologists

Licensing requirements vary by state, but most require a doctorate. Others expect a master's degree and two years of supervised practice. Many states also require a jurisprudence exam (an exam on the legal aspects of practicing psychology in that state) and a passing grade on the ASPPB's Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPP).

Many states offer licensing by endorsement for those who have received certification from the ABCoP. The ASPPB offers a full listing of requirements by state. License reciprocity is not common because many states either accept ABCoP certification as licensing by endorsement.

Board Certification for Counseling Psychologists

While states cannot legally require board certification, many employers require or strongly prefer counseling psychologists who have earned ABCoP certification. Even if you plan to practice independently, board certification shows you hold the required knowledge and experience to practice.

Certification requirements include a doctorate; an internship (either one year or two half-year periods) from an accredited organization or one that meets accreditation requirements; at least two years of postdoctoral experience; an application that includes a practice sample; and passing the oral certification examination. You must also choose an area of focus from one of these specialties:

  • Counseling/psychotherapy
  • Supervision
  • Consultation
  • Administration/management
  • Training
  • Career counseling

Pre-Professional Experience for Counseling Psychologists

Doctoral programs culminate in an internship, during which you will work under a licensed counseling psychologist. The Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC) manages the process for accredited sites.

Applying for an internship is difficult, and not all applicants will be placed each year. In addition, not all placed applicants receive their top choice of organization or geographic location. While you can seek an internship from an unaccredited provider, this can be risky.

During your internship, you will both study and work with patients independently. This provides invaluable experience that is vital to becoming a counseling psychologist.

Frequently Asked Questions About Counselor Psychologists

What is the difference between a clinical psychologist and a counseling psychologist?

A counseling psychologist focuses on advising and helping patients understand and address issues affecting their psychological well-being. A clinical psychologist focuses on diagnosing and treating specific issues.

Is a counseling psychologist the same as a therapist?

No. A counseling psychologist is licensed to practice psychology. In most states, the licensing requirements for counseling psychology jobs are more rigorous than for general therapy.

Is counseling psychology easy?

While we think of giving advice as being easy, counseling psychology goes far beyond giving an opinion. It requires a broad understanding of psychological principles, how they apply, and how to enable the patient to use them.

What Does a Counseling Psychologist Do?

Counseling psychologists work in various settings, including private practice, healthcare organizations, colleges and universities, and large corporations.

Your work depends on your specialty area and preferred clientele, such as college students, working professionals, couples or families, stress management, or career counseling. Depending on the setting, you may work with organizational administrators and leadership, or you may practice independently or as part of a group practice.

In general, your work will involve:

  • Helping clients understand the nature of the issue causing them distress
  • Helping them develop insights into their situation
  • Guiding them to find ways to address problems in a healthy and productive manner
  • Tracking progress toward goals and helping clients develop additional coping skills for future occurrences of similar problems

At times, you may need to refer clients to additional or alternative sources of assistance, such as a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist.

Skills and Competencies

Besides understanding psychological principles and practices, counseling psychology jobs require excellent communication skills. Professionals must learn how to read between the lines when communicating with others and help them to elicit their own insights.

Counseling psychologists must be able to project empathy, even when they cannot identify with a client's situation, and must establish trust with the client at an early point in the professional relationship. In their work, counseling psychologists must help manage client expectations and confidence without over-promising easy solutions to complex issues.

A counseling psychology career may not be the right choice for people who:

  • Are impatient
  • Are inflexible in their thinking
  • Convey judgment when they face behaviors or beliefs they don't find reasonable

Counseling psychology careers are an excellent match for people who are patient, understanding, and enjoy helping others solve problems and develop healthy coping skills.

Counseling Psychology Resources and Professional Organizations

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