What Is a Counseling Psychologist and What Do They Do?
Counseling psychologists facilitate the well-being, development, problem-solving skills, and interpersonal wellness of their clients. By encouraging adaptive strategies to cope with adversity, the field focuses on challenges and life stressors experienced by client populations. Typically, counseling psychologists work with clients who possess milder symptoms, though they sometimes diagnose and treat severe psychopathology.
Counseling psychology takes a developmental perspective to address cultural diversity, interpersonal and family relations, vocational adjustment, and rehabilitation. Psychologists in this field assist with individual, couple, family, community, and workplace issues. Common specialties in counseling psychology include vocational guidance, substance abuse, rehabilitation, education, marital and family therapy, and community mental health.
Graduates of counseling psychology programs often work in higher education institutions, rehabilitation hospitals, employee assistance programs, crisis centers, and recovery centers. A typical workday might involve meeting clients for intake and assessment, consulting with social services agencies, and discussing treatment recommendations with clients.
How Do Clinical and Counseling Psychology Differ?
Clinical psychology shares much in common with counseling psychology, though some clinical programs focus on research and abnormal psychology. Counseling and clinical psychologists conduct assessment, interviewing, diagnosis, and treatment of psychopathology, but many clinical programs focus on preparing students for careers in scientific research.
Clinical psychologists often work as researchers, supervisors, educators, or consultants. Common employment settings include psychiatric hospitals, mental health facilities, and private practices. Coursework for clinical psychology programs closely resembles counseling psychology programs, and some schools offer joint clinical-counseling programs. Doctoral students in clinical psychology face tough competition, so interested students should ensure that they meet admission requirements.
Individuals with career goals in scientific research, psychopathology, and behavioral health should pursue clinical programs. Counseling programs suit students with career goals in holistic psychotherapy, human development, and vocational adjustment and training.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Counseling Psychology
Clinical psychology programs focus on psychotherapy training and practicum opportunities, while counseling psychology programs provide learners with a more holistic education and multicultural training. Clinical counseling and counseling psychology share many similarities, with both programs emphasizing research and dissertation work.
Counseling psychology focuses on helping people with emotional, physical, and mental health issues improve their sense of well-being and alleviate feelings of distress. Counseling psychologists also provide diagnosis, treatment, and assessment for more severe psychological symptoms. Counseling psychology focuses on how people function personally and within their relationships.
Counseling psychologists can find work in many different settings, providing services to an array of client populations. Professionals can work in independent practices, community mental health centers, colleges and universities, rehabilitation facilities, and other health maintenance organizations. The field offers diverse and lucrative work opportunities.
Counseling psychologists experience varying salary opportunities depending on their location, experience level, and education. These psychologists enjoy a median salary of $58,615. Entry-level roles take home an average salary of $53,000, while professionals late in their career earn an average salary of about $62,000.
To become a counseling psychologist, each individual must first earn a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related social science. Next, aspiring counseling psychologists must pursue master's and doctoral degrees in the field. Once they satisfy the educational criteria, professionals can obtain their licenses to practice.
Typically, counselors specialize in fields such as substance abuse, social work, behavioral disorders, or family therapy. Psychologists evaluate and treat different psychological problems through diagnostic assessments and interviews. Counselors conduct one-on-one therapy, and psychologists focus on evaluation and quantitative research.
Can You Get a Degree in Counseling Psychology Online?
Many students benefit from the scheduling flexibility and convenience of online study. Distance learners often complete foundational courses online at the undergraduate and master's level, and some programs offer doctoral-level coursework online.
Potential benefits of the online format include a greater selection of programs, savings, and additional opportunities for collaborative work. Some programs offering an online master's degree in counseling psychology also provide opportunities for distance learners to collaborate internationally, ideal for students planning to focus on multicultural issues.
Potential benefits of the online format include a greater selection of programs, savings, and additional opportunities for collaborative work.
Online counseling psychology students complete the same coursework and receive the same resources as their on-campus peers. Distance learners set their own study pace and must possess strong self-motivation skills. For campus-based programs, classes meet on a predetermined schedule, and students access resources, such as library materials and tutoring, in person.
In addition to online coursework, all graduate students in counseling psychology complete laboratory and practicum work in person. Like traditional programs, online graduate programs in counseling psychology require at least one year of consecutive experience in the field. Some hybrid programs require up to one year of on-campus residency.
Are Practicums and Internships Required in an Online Counseling Psychology Program?
Online counseling psychology programs follow state licensing rules, meaning that most programs require internships. Some students pursue clinical work experience at the undergraduate level either to make themselves more attractive candidates for graduate school admittance or to prepare for entry-level jobs.
Students interested in graduate study should note that the American Psychological Association (APA) accredits only doctoral programs in clinical, counseling, and school psychology, and does not accredit any programs offering a Ph.D. in counseling psychology online. Since some states require candidates for licensing to hold degrees from APA-accredited programs, degree-seekers intending to pursue licensure should factor this into their educational plans. All online and traditional counseling psychology programs must comply with state licensing board requirements to maintain their accreditation status.
While locating internships for counseling psychologists can prove more challenging for online students, resources such as the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers, along with platforms such as Handshake and LinkedIn, offer ways to streamline and refine your search. The APA also maintains a list of research opportunities for undergraduates.
What Do You Need to Be a Counseling Psychologist?
According to a 2016 APA survey, those with doctoral degrees in counseling psychology reported $78,000 of debt related to their graduate education, which is lower than the mean for all graduates of doctoral programs in psychology.
A learner who enters with a bachelor's degree takes about 5-6 years to complete the requirements for a Ph.D., which includes one year of internship work. Obtaining state licensure may add 1-2 years, depending on state requirements.
Online study offers benefits for counseling psychology students by saving travel time; offering the convenience of completing foundational coursework asynchronously; and lowering childcare, room and board, and commuting costs.
Online Bachelor's Degree in Counseling Psychology
All counseling psychologists must hold at least a bachelor's degree. While most counseling psychologists major in psychology, many graduate schools do not require applicants to hold an undergraduate in psychology. Other common undergraduate majors for professionals in the field include education, social work, sociology, human services, and general liberal arts or humanities. Some students pursue online bachelor's degrees with specialties in marriage and family counseling, school counseling, or mental health counseling.
At the bachelor's level, students find many 100% online programs. For graduate study, counseling psychology programs require on-site supervised fieldwork. Our page featuring online bachelor's degrees in psychology offers a more in-depth look at what to expect.
This course studies behavior, thought, and emotion in social contexts, examining the relationships between individuals and society. Students explore topics such as social influence, persuasion, conformity, and stereotyping. Enrollees also develop the skills and awareness necessary to integrate and critically evaluate research and theory in social psychology.
With an emphasis on contemporary research and theory, this course surveys mental processes and mechanisms of thinking. Topics include neurocognition, cognitive development, language processes, problem-solving, and memory. Students analyze research, complete lab work, and examine milestones in cognitive development.
Degree-seekers explore the history, principles, and functions of case management in counseling. Topics include interviewing, medical evaluations, effective communication skills, and developing and coordinating plans for services.
Enrollees examine clinical, theoretical, and experimental perspectives focused on the study of major psychological disorders. Enrollees learn to distinguish abnormal and normal patterns of behavior, along with providing appropriate treatments.
This course prepares students for research by emphasizing design, sampling, and data analysis. Topics include basic concepts of measurement, such as validity, reliability, and scoring; basic statistical concepts, including correlation, frequency distributions, and variability; research design and program evaluation; and ethical considerations, such as informed consent.
Online Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology
Most professional positions in counseling psychology require an advanced degree. Counseling psychologists also commonly possess education or social work degrees. Motivated distance learners can complete their coursework in an accelerated format, which allows them to finish their program quicker. Some programs also offer discounted tuition rates or other incentives to attract in-state students interested in completing their degree online. Read on for a list of common coursework at the master's level.
This course focuses on the clinical, therapeutic, and practical factors involved in counseling. Topics include confidentiality, therapist-patient privilege, scope of practice, trends in mental health professions, and professional misconduct.
Students prepare to counsel patients and learn to prescribe psychotropic medications. Enrollees explore classifications, side effects, indications, and contraindications. Topics covered include alternative medicine, psychoneurology, pharmacokinetics, and medication management strategies.
To prepare students for accurate diagnosis and treatment of clients in mental health counseling, this course examines the principles and methods of personality assessment, with an emphasis on ethics and diversity.
This course provides an in-depth survey of the major contemporary theoretical perspectives in counseling, such as humanistic, existential, cognitive-behavioral, psychoanalytic, and client-centered therapies.
Including both classroom and practical learning, this course offers an integrative and contemporary study of marital and family therapy. Students examine relationship dynamics, strategies of intervention, and the fundamentals of assessment with couples.
Online Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology
Each student interested in pursuing advanced postdoctoral research or in teaching at the postsecondary level needs to complete a doctoral program as a prerequisite for these career paths.
Since the majority of work for many doctoral programs takes place in person, you might choose to study online as an undergraduate and at the master's level to expedite your path toward a doctoral degree. Some doctoral programs offer online coursework toward the Ph.D., and some schools offer grants or other incentives to students who enroll in online doctoral programs. Since fully-online doctoral programs in counseling psychology do not receive accreditation by the APA, they do not meet all state requirements for professional licensure.
This course explores the influences of biological mechanisms on the mind and behavior. Students perform data analysis and research design for laboratory components. Topics include neuroanatomy; neurochemistry; and the roles of neurotransmitters in motivation, learning, memory, sensation, and perception.
Designed for students already familiar with undergraduate developmental psychology, this course focuses on the cross-cultural perspectives of human development. Students examine the interplay of social, environmental, biological, and cultural factors across the lifespan.
Taking a multicultural perspective, this course covers theories of career development, exploring applications for effective assessment practices. Students complete case studies and self-assessments, develop and implement career counseling interventions for selected populations, and discuss empirical studies on the psychology and history of work.
This course examines the major theoretical frameworks, techniques, and interventions of group therapy. Students design and apply group interventions by developing core skills in group facilitation and analyzing group therapeutic change processes.
To prepare students for cross-culturally responsive counseling, this course surveys the theory, concepts, research, and practices related to culturally and ethnically diverse clients. Topics addressed include discrimination, oppression, stereotypes, cultural heritage, and family systems.
Required Licenses and Internships to Become a Counseling Psychologist
Specific criteria for licensure vary by state, but most states share a similar process for licensure. In most states, licensure requires a doctoral degree, a supervised 1-2 year clinical internship, and a passing score on the examination for professional practice in psychology (EPPP). Some states also offer licensure at the master's level with proof of completion of specific coursework.
Licensing agencies in some states stipulate that only students with degrees from APA-accredited programs may apply for licensure. Others require state-specific exams or impose additional educational or field experience requirements for specialties, such as substance abuse counseling or school counseling. Check with the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards and the American Counseling Association for detailed information on licensing requirements.
Students interested in maximizing opportunities for licensure in other states should seek programs and internships that meet APA standards. Counseling psychologists at the doctoral level with at least two years of postdoctoral professional experience also qualify for certification in counseling psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology.
Careers for Counseling Psychology Degree-Holders
Career paths in counseling psychology often focus on vocational rehabilitation and guidance, mental health crisis counseling, improving relational functioning, and facilitating well being. The field typically attracts compassionate, ethical practitioners with strong emotional resilience and interpersonal skills.
Graduates with master's or doctoral degrees in counseling psychology often follow a scientist-practitioner model, combining advanced clinical training with in-depth research in the field. The list below outlines five well-known careers in counseling psychology.
These professionals specialize in assisting, counseling, and supporting clients and families who struggle with addiction. Job duties include evaluating patients with assessments and interviews, leading support groups, managing caseloads, and making referrals to community services. A substance abuse counselor typically holds a master's degree and a professional counselor license.
Rehabilitation counselors provide vocational guidance to individuals with mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. They conduct patient diagnostic evaluations; analyze and interpret pertinent vocational, social, educational, and medical information; and develop treatment plans. These counselors also help arrange job placements, along with assisting patients in locating community resources. A rehabilitation counselor usually possesses a master's degree and a state license.
Licensed mental health counselors assist clients with mental health challenges such as depression and substance abuse. They work in homes, shelters, courts, hospitals, and institutions. Responsibilities include conducting intake, outreach, assessment, and psychosocial intervention. This position requires a master's degree, two years of supervised clinical experience, and a state license.
School counselors help students to develop and achieve academic goals. They consult with teachers, parents, and guardians; identify problems and obstacles; and develop plans to address them. School counselors also intervene in difficult situations and serve as liaisons to connect students with support services. Each school counselor needs an advanced degree and must pass a strict background check.
Licensed marriage and family therapists provide counseling services to individuals, couples, and families to help improve their relationships. Often working from a family systems theory perspective, they conduct assessments; identify social, emotional, and relationship issues; and help clients improve communication. Responsibilities also include crisis intervention, assisting with conflict resolution, conducting outreach, and determining appropriate community referral sources. This position requires a master's degree and a state license.
What Does a Counseling Psychologist Make in a Year?
Psychologists earned a median annual salary of $79,010 in 2018. Psychologists can enjoy the highest salary opportunities in the government sector. Clinical, counseling, and school psychologists experience the highest concentration of employment and the highest salary opportunities in offices of other health practitioners. California offers the highest pay and the highest employment level for the occupation.
Counseling psychologists currently earn a median pay of $58,615, according to PayScale. Entry-level roles in the field offer an average annual salary of $53,000. Those with 5-9 years of experience enjoy average annual salaries of $65,000. State and local budgets often affect counseling psychologist's salaries. In the table below, readers can compare the counseling psychologist occupation to other positions in the field.
|Position||Average Annual Salary|
|Substance Abuse Counselor||$39,372|
|Licensed Mental Health Counselor||$50,000|
|Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist||$55,195|