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Counseling Psychology Degree and Career Guide

Counseling psychology has been recognized as a specialty in professional psychology by the American Psychological Association (APA) since 1998.1 Counseling psychology is considered a general practice in the field, focusing on how people function, personally and in their interpersonal relationships with others. It seeks to address a wide variety of emotional, social, work, and school issues that people may have at different times in their lives.

Counseling psychologists must complete graduate, doctoral-level programs, such as a PhD in Psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), which typically take around four to six years to complete. Those with master’s degrees in clinical psychology may be able to practice in the field in supervised roles. Beginning with an undergraduate degree in psychology is the most common path, followed by a master’s degree (if not included in the doctoral study) and a doctoral degree in the field. Once a doctoral degree is obtained, counseling psychologists will go on to seek licensure in their state, which typically involves completing related experience under the supervision of a licensed psychologist and taking one or more exams, depending on the state.

Quick Facts

  • There are 309 colleges and universities with counseling psychology programs.2
  • 8 schools offer a certificate in counseling psychology.2
  • 3 schools offer an associate’s degree in counseling psychology.2
  • 35 schools offer a bachelor’s degree in counseling psychology.2
  • 279 schools offer a master’s or advanced degree in counseling psychology.2

For not-for-profit colleges and universities.

Table of Contents
Counseling Psychology Degree Requirements and Coursework
Best Value Schools with On-Campus Counseling Psychology Programs
Select Counseling Psychology Degree Programs
Counseling Psychologist Career Information
Becoming a Counseling Psychologist
Job Description
Salary and Job Outlook
Additional Resources
Frequently Asked Questions

Counseling Psychology Degree Requirements and Coursework

At the graduate level, psychology students are expected to narrow their focus to one area of psychology in order to receive the most comprehensive education that will prepare them for their unique career choices. Counseling psychology is one specialization (also called concentration, specialty, or emphasis) within the broad field of clinical psychology that addresses the psychology of people within their everyday lives. This might include assisting clients with daily stress management, specific mental disorders, and coping with difficult or negative life events. Counseling psychology degree programs typically focus on core research design and statistics courses, as well as courses in human growth and development, cognitive behavior, and counseling theory and research, along with a practicum and clinical training. Requirements for advanced counseling psychology programs typically include a bachelor’s degree (sometimes in psychology or a related field), a GPA of at least 3.0, and acceptable GRE scores. Some programs might require professional experience and/or references. Sample coursework for students of counseling psychology programs may include:

  • Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse
  • Atypical Growth and Development
  • Career Counseling
  • Cognitive Assessment
  • Counseling in Community Settings
  • Ethical Issues in Counseling
  • Group Counseling
  • Multicultural Counseling
  • Psychopathology: Diagnosis and Intervention
  • Theories of Counseling

Best Value Schools with On-Campus Counseling Psychology Programs

The table below represents the best value colleges and universities offering an on-campus counseling psychology program at the graduate level. To compile this table, we researched not-for-profit schools with the highest graduation rates (70% or above) and the lowest net prices (below $20,000 per year). Keep in mind that the data available is based on undergraduate statistics for each school, as graduate statistics are not available from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES). We have also included other information to help you in your search, such as percentage of faculty with tenure, names of applicable degrees, and US News & World Report national rankings.

SchoolGraduate Degree(s)US News National Rank3Grad Rate2% Tenured Faculty4Net Price2
Appalachian State UniversityMA Clinical Mental Health Counseling;
MA Professional School Counseling
NR73%39%$10,473
University of IowaPhD Counseling Psychology#89 tie74%48%$14,845
University of OregonPhD Counseling Psychology#102 tie72%36%$15,100
University of FloridaPhD Counseling Psychology#35 tie88%52%$15,283
University of Wisconsin-MadisonMS Counseling Psychology;
PhD Counseling Psychology
#49 tie87%49%$15,910
University of GeorgiaPhD Counseling Psychology#46 tie85%54%$15,934
University at BuffaloPhD Counseling Psychology/
School Psychology
#89 tie75%35%$16,120
Texas A&M University-College StationPhD Counseling Psychology#66 tie82%49%$19,554

Select Counseling Psychology Degree Programs

Traditional Master’s Programs

Appalachian State University

The Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Appalachian State University (App State) offers concentrations in several areas: General Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Addictions Counseling, Marriage and Family Counseling, Expressive Arts Therapy, and Body Centered Therapy. Each of these concentrations, besides General Mental Health Counseling, requires a minimum of nine credit hours of study. The Master of Arts (MA) degree includes core courses such as Research Methods, Multicultural Counseling, Life and Career Planning, Helping Relationships, and Group Methods and Processes, in addition to specialty courses like Introduction to Clinical Mental Health Counseling as well as Developmental Assessment and Diagnosis in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. The total number of credit hours required for graduation in the MA program is 60, with 18 being concentration and elective hours. App State’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program prepares graduates to work as professional counselors and helping professionals in mental health centers, social service agencies, businesses, and more.

Towson University

Towson University in Towson, Maryland offers a Master of Arts (MA) in Psychology with a concentration in Counseling Psychology. The program trains its students to facilitate personal, educational, vocational, and group change for individuals of all ages. The MA degree offers two tracks: a practitioner track and a research track. The practitioner track focuses on training its students to be counselors and therapists at the master’s level. The research track specifically prepares students for successful entrance into a PhD program, with intensive training in research methodology, statistics, and a master’s-level thesis. Both tracks require the completion of 48 credit hours including supervised practicum and internship experiences. Admission requirements include a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0, official transcripts, acceptable GRE scores, a letter of intent, and three letters of recommendation. Successful candidates will be required to interview with the faculty of the counseling psychology program.

University of Wisconsin-Madison

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Counseling Psychology offers a Master of Science (MS) in Counseling Psychology. Its curriculum satisfies Wisconsin’s licensure requirement as a 60-credit program. The MS degree takes two years of full-time study including summers to complete, plus a third year dedicated to an internship or practicum with an approved on-site supervisor. Required for admission are three letters of recommendation, official transcripts, and GRE scores. Admission is competitive; of the 180 master’s applications the school receives each year, only 14 to 16 applicants are accepted. While the master’s is considered a terminal degree, many MS students go on to pursue a PhD in counseling psychology, also offered by UM-Madison, as the two programs are closely aligned in their preparation of counseling professionals.

Traditional PhD Programs

Indiana University-Bloomington

Indiana University in Bloomington (IU-Bloomington) currently offers a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program in Counseling Psychology that has been ranked in US News & World Report’s Best Grad Schools for Student Counseling and Personnel Services. Based on a scientist-practitioner model, the PhD program at IU-Bloomington places a strong emphasis on multicultural issues and specialized training. Graduates work as psychologists in college counseling centers, faculty members in higher education, and psychologists in a broad range of healthcare facilities. Accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA), the program is 90 credit hours in length and gives students real-world experience as counselors and counselor supervisors. A master’s degree or undergraduate degree in psychology is preferred. Coursework covers the areas of psychological measurement, statistics, cognitive behavior, intervention strategies, and an area of specialization. GRE scores, three letters of recommendation, official transcripts, and a personal goal statement are required for admission.

Western Michigan University

Western Michigan University’s (WMU) College of Education and the Department of Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology offers a doctoral program in counseling psychology. Admission is competitive; of 69 applications received in 2006-7, only nine new students were admitted. Most students (27%) complete the program in six years, but 24% complete it in five years. Required documents include a resume or curriculum vitae (CV), three letters of recommendation, acceptable GRE scores, and a written statement of intent. The counseling psychology PhD program, which is based on a scientist-practitioner model, began in 1978 and has been accredited by the APA since 1993. Coursework is focused on professional issues and ethics, consultation, vocational psychology, and multicultural counseling. A 2,000-hour pre-doctoral internship in an APA/APPIC setting is required for graduation, as well as a dissertation. The program is proud to be culturally diverse in its student population.

University of Kansas

The Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Kansas (KU) offers a PhD in Counseling Psychology that has been accredited by the APA since 1955. Following a scientist-practitioner model, the doctoral program trains its students in the areas of clinical treatment and academic research. Admission requirements include an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or a graduate GPA of 3.5 or higher, official transcripts, statement of intent, resume, GRE scores at or above the 50th percentile, and a degree (undergraduate or graduate) in psychology, education, counseling, or a related field. KU’s PhD program accepts only six to eight new students each year. The curriculum includes courses in diagnosis and psychopathology, diversity issues, human development, ethical and legal issues, and counseling theory and techniques. Students are also expected to complete a practicum or internship to gain real experience in the field.

Online and Hybrid Programs

Fisher College

Fisher College offers a Master of Arts (MA) in Counseling Psychology with a Trauma Track that can be completed in a hybrid format, with classes on campus in Boston and online. The MA program takes 60 credits to complete (20 three-credit courses), which can be completed in five terms or 24 months. Graduates are prepared for licensure as Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC) in Massachusetts as well as other states. With an emphasis on trauma, students in this degree program not only take core coursework in subjects like counseling techniques and psychopharmacology but they also learn about serving people who have experienced physical, emotional, and sexual trauma or chronic illness. Specific courses include Ethical and Legal Issues in Counseling; Crisis Intervention and Disaster Mental Health; Psychological Assessment and Techniques; and Psychological Trauma Across the Lifespan.

Seton Hall University

Seton Hall University offers a combined Master of Arts (MA) and Educational Specialist (EdS) degree in Professional Counseling that can be completed online. Both degrees can be obtained for a total of 60 credits, with the MA comprising 48 credits and the EdS comprising an additional 12 credits. The program does not accept transfer students or transfer credits. Admission to Seton Hall University’s professional counseling program requires official transcripts showing a minimum GPA of 3.0, GRE or Miller Analogies scores, a resume, three letters of recommendation from academic and professional colleagues, and a personal statement. Courses include Counseling Theory, Psychology of Human Development, Abnormal Psychology, Orientation to Professional Counseling, Etiology and Treatment of Addictions, and Couple and Family Dynamics. A four-day residency at the beginning of the program and again the following year is required, with expenses included in tuition, excluding transportation.

Counseling Psychologist Career Information

How to Become a Counseling Psychologist

In all states, becoming licensed as a counseling psychologist requires earning a doctoral degree in psychology (a PsyD or a PhD). In addition to pursuing an advanced degree, prospective psychologists must gain extensive supervised experience and take a required exam (or exams) before being eligible to practice as psychologists. The general steps for becoming a counseling psychologist are:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree and (optionally) a master’s degree in psychology or a related field.
  2. Earn an accredited PsyD or PhD in Psychology with a specialization in counseling psychology.
  3. Complete the postdoctoral supervised clinical experience required by your state.
  4. Pass the required exam(s), including the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).
  5. Apply for and receive a license from your state psychology board.
  6. Begin practicing as a counseling psychologist in your state.
  7. Complete continuing educational requirements to keep your license current.

Job Description

Counseling psychologists help people deal with emotional, physical, and mental health issues, attempting to resolve crises and minimize stressors. They may assess, diagnose, and treat mild-to-severe psychological symptoms and aid in crisis intervention, trauma management, and family or relationship issue resolution. Counseling psychologists may be employed by colleges and universities, independent practices, or community health centers. In an academic setting, they may be teachers or researchers. In independent settings, they may provide counseling, assessment, and consultation to individuals, families, or organizations, helping them to alleviate stresses, improve relationships, or cope with psychological issues. Other counseling psychologists may work with veterans, drug and alcohol addicts, or children. People with counseling psychology degrees may seek job titles including:

  • Behavioral health counselor
  • Case worker
  • Career counselor
  • Clinical psychologist*
  • Professional counselor
  • Psychologist*

*A doctoral degree is usually required for this job title.

Salary and Job Outlook

In May 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that clinical, counseling, and school psychologists earned an average annual salary of $87,450.5 California employed the highest number of clinical, counseling, and school psychologists in 2019 (16,960), while Oregon had the highest mean wage for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists ($112,010).5 Other states with high employment levels for these types of psychologists included New York, Texas, Florida, and Illinois while the other states with the highest average wages for psychologists included California, Washington DC, New York, and Louisiana.5

The employment outlook for counseling psychologists is positive, with predicted job growth of 15% for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists through the year 2028.6 That predicted growth is much faster than the national average for all jobs of 7% and slightly faster than the expected growth for all psychologists of 14%.6

Additional Resources

  • The Society of Counseling Psychology (SCP): The SCP is the APA’s Division of Counseling Psychology (Division 17) which seeks to promote personal, educational, vocational, and group adjustment through bringing together psychologists, students of psychology, and professional affiliates.
  • American Counseling Association (ACA): With 56,000 members, the ACA is the world’s largest association of professional counselors in a variety of settings. It offers members access to webinars, publications, and continuing education opportunities.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I do with a degree in counseling psychology?

Obtaining a counseling psychology degree can afford you many career opportunities, including jobs at universities, health centers, and independent practices. With a degree in counseling psychology, you can help people of all ages and walks of life deal with and overcome problems.

How long will it take me to get my degree in counseling psychology?

Typically, a doctoral program in counseling psychology will take four to six years and a master’s program will take an average of two years. Check with the individual college or university to look into the typical coursework and time required to complete the degree.

What major do you need to be a counseling psychologist?

To become a licensed counseling psychologist in all states, you will need a PhD in Psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). Some states have related psychology licenses available for those with a master’s in psychology. At the undergraduate level, the most relevant major you can choose is psychology. A related major, such as counseling, might also be a good choice for prospective psychologists. You can read more about psychology degrees on our psychology degrees page.

How much do counseling psychologists make?

According to the BLS, counseling psychologists, who are grouped together with clinical and school psychologists, earn an average salary of $87,450 per year.5 Factors that may affect counseling psychologists’ salaries include location, years of experience, and employer.

What does a counseling psychologist do?

Counseling psychologists help people work through problems from day-to-day stresses to family or work relationships to traumatic events and psychological disorders. Licensed counseling psychologists meet with clients and can assess, diagnose, and treat symptoms if necessary.

Can I become a mental health counselor with a counseling psychology degree?

In some states, a degree in counseling psychology can qualify you to become a licensed mental health counselor. It is best to check with your state’s board of professional counselors if that is your intent.

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

Both types of psychologists are able to practice independently and are qualified to provide psychotherapy and counseling services to their clients. While there is a lot of overlap between the two fields, on a basic level clinical psychology tends to be more concerned with mental health disturbances while counseling psychology tends to be more focused on advice and guidance. A counseling psychologist might be more likely to treat otherwise healthy individuals who are facing temporary problems and a clinical psychologist might be more likely to treat individuals with major psychological illnesses. However, this is certainly not always the case, and the lines between the two fields have become more blurred over time.7

References:
1. American Psychological Association, Counseling Psychology: https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/counseling
2. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
3. US News & World Report National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities
4. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193031.htm
6. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm#tab-6
7. Society of Counseling Psychology, American Psychological Association Division 17, “Counseling Psychology vs Clinical Psychology:” https://www.div17.org/about-cp/counseling-vs-clinical-psychology/