Counseling Degree Overview
| Psychology.org Staff Modified on April 25, 2022
Are you ready to discover your college program?
Counseling is a rewarding career for those who enjoy helping others identify and solve problems to lead more fulfilling lives. As a counselor, you can help people struggling to reach personal or relationship goals, make decisions about their careers, recover from serious health conditions, or overcome substance abuse and behavioral issues.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), counseling jobs could grow by 23% between 2020 and 2030.
Degrees in Counseling
Most states require you to have at least a master's degree comprising 48 credit hours to become a counselor. While some schools offer counseling degrees at the bachelor's level, you can enter a counseling master's program with other related bachelor's degrees, such as psychology, education, or social work.
You can choose either an arts degree, such as a bachelor of arts, which takes a liberal arts or research approach, or a science degree, such as a master of science emphasizing practice. Similarly, some schools offer a general counseling degree, while others offer degrees in particular types of counseling, such as marriage and family counseling.
Associate Degrees in Counseling
While most students who earn a counseling degree at the associate level plan to earn a bachelor's or graduate degree, you can use a counseling associate degree to work as a counselor's assistant, caseworker, mental health technician, or other entry-level position. In some states, you can earn substance counseling certification with just an associate degree in substance abuse counseling.
As part of your counseling associate degree, you study:
- Mental health
- Addictions and substance abuse
- Different types of counseling, including family, couples, school, marriage/family, rehabilitation, mental health, and substance abuse counseling
- Ethical and legal issues in counseling
Associate-level counseling degrees include an associate of science (AS) or an associate of applied science (AAS) degree, but some schools offer an associate of art (AA) degree. Degrees may be offered online
Online Psychology Bachelor's Programs
Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.
Bachelor's Degrees in Counseling
The first two years of a bachelor's degree in counseling cover general coursework. Specializations take place during your junior and senior year. You can earn either a general counseling degree or a degree focused on a particular type of counseling.
Programs include courses in:
- Mental health and types of mental health conditions
- Social determinants of health
- Behavioral psychology and behavioral health (including substance abuse)
- Working with specific populations
- Cultural competence
- Counseling methods
- Research methods
- A fieldwork course or project
Many schools offer counseling bachelor's degrees online or in hybrid programs, though some online counseling degrees require occasional on-campus work.
Master's Degree in Counseling
Most counselors have at least a master's degree, as most states require this for licensing. Counseling master's degrees generally focus on a particular aspect of counseling, such as family, school, substance abuse, or mental health. Programs prepare you to earn a license in that type of counseling. At the master's level, counseling degrees include more extensive fieldwork, including supervised work with clients and more advanced research projects.
Your counseling master's coursework includes advanced and more specialized studies in different types of counseling, such as family, school, mental health, or substance abuse counseling, as well as counseling research methods. You explore the legal aspects of counseling, including state laws.
Many counseling master's programs offer online degrees but may include on-campus requirements. Make sure that during your online counseling master's, you can perform fieldwork in your community.
Doctorates in Counseling
Because in most states, the highest required counseling degree is a master's, the most common counseling doctorate is in counseling psychology rather than counseling. This prepares you to become a licensed clinical psychologist. The other main type of counseling doctorate is in counseling education (or counseling education and supervision), which prepares you to teach counseling or to head a counseling department or function in a larger organization.
Either counseling doctorate requires advanced courses in counseling methods, counseling research, and conducting original research to write and defend a doctoral thesis. They also require fieldwork, either a practicum or an internship. A counseling psychology degree, however, focuses on counseling practice, while a counseling education doctorate emphasizes teaching, leadership, supervision, evaluation, and performance improvement. Most counseling doctorate programs are only available on campus.
Frequently Asked Questions About Counseling
What's the difference between a counselor, a psychologist, and a therapist?
Counselors and psychologists can each diagnose and treat mental health conditions. A therapist is a general term used to describe both counselors and psychologists.
What are the different types of counseling?
The most common counseling specialties are mental health, substance abuse/addiction, rehabilitation (post injury), school, family, and marriage. Learners can tailor coursework to their preferred specialization.
Does counseling pay well?
The median counseling salary, according to the BLS, is $47,660. This includes all levels of counselors and all counseling degrees. Counseling psychologists, for example, have doctorates and can earn more, especially in private practice.
Can I be a counselor without a license?
You can use your counseling degree in different jobs, including those that don't require licensing, such as being a life coach. However, to call yourself a counselor, most states require a license that includes a counseling degree, such as a counseling master's, passing a licensing examination, and other requirements.
What Does a Counselor Do?
As a counselor, you work with clients to help them understand and address problems they face in their families and relationships, career or mental health, or with specific conditions, such as substance abuse. The goal is to help the client make better decisions and develop healthy coping strategies.
As you earn your counseling degree, you can focus on particular populations, issues, or groups, such as marriage and family counseling, career counseling, rehabilitation counseling, or school counseling.
What Else Can I Do With a Counseling Degree?
You can use a counseling degree in a variety of other fields. Other common careers include:
- Counseling assistant (with a counseling associate degree)
- School affairs, such as student life, dean of students, and student advising
- Mental health technician
- Crisis phone line or website worker
- Advice writer
- Guidance specialist
- Executive or career coach
- Patient financial counseling at a hospital
Many of these careers, such as caseworker, financial counseling, and mental health technician have specific certification programs. Certification is not legally required, but most employers require or strongly prefer it. A counseling bachelor's degree can also prepare you for a master's in social work, education, or psychology.
Rayelle Davis, M.Ed., LCPC, NCC
Rayelle Davis is a nationally board certified counselor and a licensed clinical professional counselor. As a nontraditional student, she earned her associate degree in psychology at Allegany College of Maryland.
Davis earned her bachelor's degree in psychology online at the University of Maryland Global Campus. She earned her master's degree in counseling education with a concentration in marriage, couples, and family therapy from Duquesne University. She also has taught several undergraduate psychology courses.
Currently, Davis is a doctoral student and teaching assistant at Duquesne University and practices psychotherapy in Maryland.
Rayelle Davis is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.
Page last reviewed December 17, 2021
Featured Image: Lucy Lambriex / DigitalVision / Getty Images