Counseling Psychology PhD Programs Guide

According to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for marriage and family therapists and substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors should increase by 23% by 2026 — a growth rate that far outstrips the national average. If you are interested in pursuing a career as a psychologist, administrator, or faculty member in any of these fields, you might consider a Ph.D. in counseling psychology. To learn more about the benefits of counseling psychology Ph.D. programs and how to become a counseling psychologist, read the following guide.

Earning a Ph.D. vs. a Psy.D.

When students choose between pursuing a Ph.D. in counseling psychology and a Psy.D. in counseling psychology, they should clarify their goals: Do they want to treat patients, work with individuals, and practice as a counselor? Or do they want to perform original research, teach students, and advance the academic conversation in the counseling psychology field?

Students more focused on practice should opt for the Psy.D. in counseling psychology, while students more interested in teaching, learning, research, and academia should pursue a Ph.D. in the field. Psy.D. programs focus more on clinical experience, while Ph.D. programs focus more on research. Nevertheless, both degrees can lead to the job title psychologist, and anyone interested in becoming a psychologist and practicing in the field should earn an advanced degree.

Ph.D. programs usually maintain slightly more rigorous admissions requirements than Psy.D. programs, and since Psy.D. programs involve less statistics and methods courses, they usually take less time to complete than their Ph.D. counterparts.

Degree Snapshot

Typical Admission Requirements:
GRE, letters of recommendation, 3.0 undergraduate GPA, relevant bachelor's or master's degree

Time to Completion:
5 years

Average Salary:
$75,956

Why Get a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology?

There are many personal and professional benefits to pursuing a Ph.D. in counseling psychology. Below, we spotlight five of the most important.

  • Counseling psychology is a helping profession that many people find meaningful.
  • Current times necessitate a high demand for counseling psychologists and instructors.
  • Graduates with a Ph.D. in counseling psychology can make a difference in practice and academia.
  • Counseling psychology provides a strong option to professionals who enjoy working one-on-one.
  • You can earn higher salaries if you hold an advanced degree.

Example Curriculum

While curriculum requirements for counseling psychology graduate programs can vary from school to school, most Ph.D. programs in the field will require that students complete the following elements.

Coursework

Though individual courses vary from program to program and from school to school, students can expect to complete research methods, ethics, surveys, and counseling psychology courses. Some programs also include a grant writing course to help Ph.D. graduates navigate academic funding.

Practicum

All students in counseling psychology Ph.D. programs must complete a practicum experience supervised by a certified counselor. This experience teaches practices within the field. In most cases, students complete this experience in their penultimate year of study before beginning their dissertations.

Dissertation

A Ph.D. in counseling psychology requires that students complete a dissertation based on original research. Completing this requirement proves that students can thrive as researchers and professors in that they can contribute meaningful work to the larger academic field of counseling psychology.

Internship

Some counseling psychology Ph.D. programs include both an internship and a practicum requirement to give students additional field experience. The internship usually takes place before the practicum and lasts for a semester at an approved counseling location. All internships must earn approval from the APA.

What Can You Do With a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology?

Students who complete a Ph.D. in counseling psychology can pursue several different career paths. Most graduates from counseling psychology Ph.D. programs seek to engage in the professional practice of psychology as professors/researchers or counseling psychologists. Read on for more information about professional avenues for counseling psychologists.

Salary: $79,010


Where Do Counseling Psychologists Work?

Schools, hospitals, private practice

Licensure

In all states, graduates from counseling psychology Ph.D. programs need to pursue licensure before they can practice professionally. In general, this certification takes the form of a licensed professional counselor (LPC) credential. Nevertheless, requirements for professional licensure differ from state to state. As such, students should make sure to review the licensure requirements for the state in which they wish to practice.

In order to become licensed, candidates generally need at least a master's degree in counseling from a regionally accredited university. Most states also require some amount of supervised hours, which Ph.D. students complete through internship and practicum experiences. Some states require candidates to complete standardized tests as well. Applicants generally have to pay an application fee and a licensure fee. Most counseling licenses last 2-5 years.

Professional Organizations

  • American Counseling Association The nationwide professional organization for all counseling fields, the American Counseling Association offers members professional development, advocacy, and access to a job board.
  • American Mental Health Counselors Association The AMHCA focuses on advancing the profession through an annual conference, continuing education, and access to different field-specific publications.
  • American School Counselor Association Focusing exclusively on school counseling, the ASCA operates local chapters in nearly every state. The national branch offers professional development and publishes the latest research in several periodicals.

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