Counseling Psychology Degree 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 addresses emotional, social, work, and school issues that people may have at different times in their lives.

Most counseling psychologists complete graduate, doctoral-level programs, which typically take four to six years to complete. Beginning with an undergraduate degree in psychology is the most common path, followed by a master’s degree and finally a doctoral degree in the field. Once a doctoral degree is obtained, counseling psychologists will go on to seek licensure in their state.

Degree Requirements and Coursework

Counseling psychology degree programs typically focus on core research design and statistics courses, as well as focused courses in human growth and development, cognitive behavior, and counseling theory and research, along with a practicum or clinical training. Requirements into advanced counseling psychology programs typically include a bachelor’s degree (sometimes in psychology or a related field), a grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.0, and acceptable GRE scores. Some programs may require professional experience and 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

Profiles of Counseling Psychology Programs

Since the terminal degree for counseling psychology programs is a PhD or a PsyD, most programs offered in the field will be advanced. For the greatest number of career opportunities, you should select a doctoral program, but first research the type of job you are targeting so that you can select the right program level for you.

Master’s Programs

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 is currently under revision in order to satisfy Wisconsin’s licensure requirement changes that will take effect in 2018, and has recently changed from a 48-credit program to a 60-credit program. The program will take two full years 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. Of the 180 master’s applications the school receives each year, only 14 to 16 applicants are accepted. While the master’s degree is terminal, 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.

Towson University: Towson University in Towson, Maryland offers a Master of Arts 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 an MA-level thesis. Both tracks require the completion of 48 credit hours including supervised practicum and internship experience. 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.

Doctoral Programs

Indiana University-Bloomington: Indiana University in Bloomington currently offers a PhD program in counseling psychology that was recently ranked sixth in US News and World Report’s “Best Grad Schools for Student Counseling and Personnel Services” ranking.2 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, as faculty members in higher education, and as psychologists in a broad range of healthcare facilities. Accredited by the APA, the program is 90 credit hours, and gives students real-world experience as a counselor and counselor supervisor. 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 personal goal statement are required for applicants.

Western Michigan University: WMU’s 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 completed the program in six years, but many others completed it in five. Required documents include a resume or curriculum vitae (CV), three letters of recommendation, acceptable GRE scores, and a written statement of intent. WMU’s department mission is to “develop competent, ethical and culturally sensitive counselor education and counseling psychology professionals through graduate education and scholarship.” The counseling psychology PhD program, based on a scientist-practitioner model, began in 1978, but 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 and APA and 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: KU’s Department of Educational Psychology offers a PhD in counseling psychology that has been accredited by 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 Programs

Seton Hall University: Seton Hall University offers a Master of Art (MA) and an Educational Specialist (EdS) degree in professional counseling that can be completed online. Both degrees can be obtained for a total of 60 credits, the MA including 48 credits and the EdS including an additional 12 credits. The program does not accept transfer students or transfer credits. Admission to Seton Hall University’s professional counseling program includes 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 Psychology 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, aiding 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 the 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 deal with psychological issues. Other counseling psychologists may work with veterans, drug and alcohol addicts, or children.

What Jobs Can You Get with This Degree?

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.

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, or 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 coursework and time required to complete the degree.

Counseling Psychology Salary and Job Outlook

In May 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that clinical, counseling, and school psychologists earned an average salary of $74,030 or $35.59 per hour.3 California employed the highest number of clinical, counseling, and school psychologists in 2014 (18,710 in 2014), but Massachusetts had the highest concentration of clinical, counseling, and school psychologists.3 Those working in Rhode Island were the highest-paid ($94,590/ year), followed by those working in Hawaii ($87,620/ year) in 2014.3

The employment outlook for counseling psychologists is positive, with Projections Central predicting a growth of 11.3% (or 5,590 average annual job openings) for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists through the year 2022.4 That predicted growth is around the national average for all jobs of 11% and near the expected growth for all psychologists of around 12%.4

Additional Resources

The Society of Counseling Psychology (SCP) – The SCP is the APA’s Division of Counseling Psychology (Division 17), and, founded in 1946, it seeks to promote personal, educational, vocational, and group adjustment. It is dedicated to bringing together psychologists, students of psychology, and professional affiliates and strives to meet the interests of its members.

American Counseling Association – With 56,000 members, the ACA is the world’s largest association representing professional counselors in a variety of settings. It offers members access to webinars, publications, and continuing education opportunities.

1. American Psychological Associaiton, Counseling Psychology: https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/counseling.aspx
2. Indiana University-Bloomington, School of Education, Counseling Psychology: https://education.indiana.edu/programs/counseling-psychology.html
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193031.htm
4. Projections Central: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm