How to Become a Counseling Psychologist

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Updated April 11, 2024 · 5 Min Read

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What does it take to become a counseling psychologist? Explore this guide to learn about educational and licensure requirements.

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A counseling psychologist evaluates, diagnoses, and treats mental health conditions to help individuals improve their quality of life. These mental health professionals can find employment opportunities in various settings providing services to diverse client populations across the lifespan.

If you are considering becoming a counseling psychologist, check out our guide to learn more about education and licensing requirements and career prospects.

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What Is a Counseling Psychologist?

Counseling psychologists work with people who need help navigating emotional and mental health challenges in their lives. Their educational training prepares counseling psychologists to use multiple therapeutic approaches, develop treatment plans, and provide guidance and support to address clients' needs.

These professionals can find employment in hospitals, mental health centers, and community clinics or work independently in private practice. They may pursue teaching and research positions in higher education. Corporations and businesses hire counseling psychologists to address workplace issues and conduct employee training.

How to Become a Counseling Psychologist

After completing a four-year bachelor’s degree in psychology, you need at least a master’s in counseling psychology, which takes 2-3 years. Many states require a doctorate to qualify for licensure and independent practice, adding six or more years to your educational timeline.

  1. 1

    Earn a Bachelor's Degree

    A bachelor’s degree in general psychology, counseling psychology, or a related field such as sociology, social work, or human services provides aspiring counseling psychologists with a strong foundation for graduate study.
  2. 2

    Consider a Master's Degree

    A master’s degree in counseling provides opportunities to pursue specializations in marriage and family therapy, substance use counseling, and child and adolescent counseling. Students may earn their master’s before entering a doctoral program or choose a combined program to earn their master’s while completing doctoral requirements.
  3. 3

    Earn a Doctoral Degree

    Licensure in most states requires a Ph.D. in counseling psychology, emphasizing research and teaching, or a Psy.D. degree leading to clinical practice roles. Doctoral students typically finish either degree in less than six years.
  4. 4

    Satisfy Internship and Supervised Clinical Requirements

    An internship is a required component of a doctoral program, completed during your last year of study. Site placements must have approval from the American Psychological Association. Along with the internship hours completed during your doctoral training, most states require two additional years of supervised clinical experience for licensure.
  5. 5

    Pursue State Licensure

    State licensure requirements vary, but all licensing boards require a passing score on the Examination for the Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Candidates usually take the EPPP after completing all supervised clinical practice hours. Some states also require jurisprudence and oral exams.

Counseling Psychologist Licensure

All candidates seeking licensure as a counseling psychologist must complete a master’s or doctoral program from a regionally accredited university and a required amount of supervised experience. You can pursue state licensure as a psychologist after completing these requirements and any necessary exams.

Once you enter practice as a licensed counseling psychologist, you must complete a minimum number of continuing education hours and renew your license every two or three years as determined by your state licensing board. You should always check with the licensing board in the state where you intend to practice for current information about licensing requirements and procedures for transferring licenses acquired in another state.

Counseling Psychologist Outlook and Salaries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which combines data for counseling and clinical psychologists, the career outlook for these professionals is promising. How much you can make depends on several factors, including where you work, the employment setting, and years of experience. In 2022, clinical and counseling psychologists' salaries ranged from as low as $42,760 to a high of $168,790.

The BLS projects that the employment of clinical and counseling psychologists will increase by 11% between 2022 and 2033, much higher than the national average for all occupations.

The projected growth for these two specialized psychology roles is almost double that of psychologists during the same time frame. The increasing demand for more accessible psychological services in hospitals, schools, mental health centers, and social service agencies drives the promising career outlook.

Counseling Psychologist Salary Range
Annual Salary Percentile Annual Salary
10% $42,760
25% $62,070
Median (50%) $90,130
75% $126,240
90% $168,790
Source: BLS, 2022

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Counseling Psychologist

How long does it take to become a counseling psychologist?

It takes approximately 10-16 years to become a licensed counseling psychologist, including 10-14 years of schooling and two years of supervised postdoctoral experience. After earning a four-year bachelor's, you can save time by entering a dual doctoral program combining master's and doctoral studies, which you can complete in approximately 4-6 years.

What is the difference between a psychologist and a counselor?

Psychologists and counselors both use evidence-based methods to support individuals coping with mental health conditions, but their treatment approaches can differ. Psychologists conduct assessments and diagnostic testing, commonly treating and counseling clients with more severe cases and symptoms. Counselors use a holistic, wellness-focused approach to address a wide variety of mental health issues, such as substance use disorders, relationship issues, and depression.

Do counseling psychologists make good money?

According to February 2024 Payscale data, a counseling psychologist's average annual base salary is $71,640. A counseling psychologist with less than five years of experience makes just over $70,000 yearly in average salary, including bonuses and other supplemental compensation. An experienced counseling psychologist with 10-19 years of experience earns an average yearly salary of $80,000.

Which degree would allow someone to be called a counseling psychologist?

In the U.S., using the counseling psychologist title requires a doctoral degree and state licensure. Contact the state licensing board where you intend to practice to learn about the most recent requirements.

Page last reviewed on March 21, 2024

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