Masters in Counseling Programs center on a range of counseling modalities, working with different patient populations, and even new and established best therapy techniques. Courses may touch on giving career advice; coping with tragedy, trauma, or loss; addiction, abuse, mental illness, or physical disability.
Earning a masters degree in counseling is also an essential top step on the path to licensure as a licensed professional counselor (LPC) or licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) in the United States, meaning some programs are designed to support that goal.i With the different paths to choose in the field of Counseling and Therapy, it is important to evaluate each graduate program against your interests and ambitions.
Masters in Counseling and Therapy degrees help aspiring counselors and therapists develop the knowledge base and methodology they need to help their patients in individual or group counseling settings. This could include people with emotional or behavioral problems, people suffering from mental health disorders, or people coping with major life changes. In many cases, a masters of counseling curriculum might touch on the needs of a range of patient types. However, some counseling masters programs may instead allow students to focus on one specific area of need.
Prospective applicants to a Counseling Master’s Program typically include a Bachelor’s degree in a related field, GPA scores set by the university, personal essay, reference letters, MAT or GRE scores, and possibly, liability insurance. That being said, some colleges offer a dual degree program where students can earn a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in 5 years.ii Earning a Master’s degree in counseling is part of a longer process towards state licensure. Most Counseling Masters Programs take about 2 years of full-time study to complete.
While specific courses are likely to vary between universities and programs, the topics covered and the experiences offered may remain somewhat consistent. For example, in addition to in classroom learning, students may complete both lab work and clinical training through practicum and internship opportunities. This may especially be the case if the program is designed to prepare students for potential licensure.
Here are a few examples of the types of courses and topics you’re likely to find in various counseling masters programs.
DID YOU KNOW?
93% of School Counselor hold a Master’s degree, 4% a Post-master’s certificate. This group includes Career Counselors and College Counselors.iii
Counseling Masters Programs typically confer either a Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) in Counseling. The completion of either degree is typically a prerequisite for the licensing process. In many cases, the words counseling, therapy, and psychotherapy may be used interchangeably to professions with similar licensure requirements. As such, masters programs using these terms may also share a great deal. However, to practice as a licensed psychologist has different requirements, meaning psychology and counseling psychology masters programs are also likely to be different. iv
The Master of Arts in Counseling is often a more general counseling degree. It is typically chosen by students who prefer research and teaching, or as a stepping-stone to a Ph.D. in Counseling. To apply, students typically need to hold a bachelor’s degree in a related field, or in some cases sufficient related coursework. Often this track culminates in the completion of a thesis or research project.
Master of Science in Counseling Programs are often chosen by students aiming for clinical practice, meaning they might be seeking licensure. They may also want to work in a specialized counseling practice, focused on areas like substance abuse, family and relationships, trauma, or mental health. As a result, M.S. programs may tend to be more focused, and include more science and math courses.
Applicants typically need to hold a bachelors in a related field. MS Counseling programs may either culminate in either a thesis or internship experience, depending on the goals of the program.
Many students pursuing a masters degree in counseling enter their program specific goals in mind, for example working with certain types of patients. Students like this may prefer a program that helps them to prepare specific skill sets related to that goal. Counseling masters programs may facilitate this by offering a range of unique specializations or concentration areas. Some examples include:v
Because Counseling Masters Programs serve students from all different backgrounds, learning styles, and levels of experience, they may also offer a range of program formats to accommodate those needs. Several options you may consider are described below.
Apart from considering their preferred format and type masters in counseling program, students may also prioritize program accreditation, since this is a measure of quality against industry standards. In fact, some employers prefer to hire graduates of a CACREP accredited counseling program.vo The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs accredits masters and doctoral degree programs in counseling and these related specialties:viii
Students graduating with a masters of counseling often aspire provide counseling services to patients in private practice settings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook in this profession is favorable. For example, for mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists, projected growth from 2016 to 2026 at 20%.ix
To become a licensed counselor, you must be licensed in the United States. While the specifics may vary between states, listed below are some example licensure requirements for counselors across the country. i
[i] bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/mental-health-counselors-and-marriage-and-family-therapists.htm |[ii] bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/rehabilitation-counselors.htm[iii] onetonline.org/link/summary/21-1012.00 |[iv] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm |[v] en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master_of_Counselling |[vi] bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/mental-health-counselors-and-marriage-and-family-therapists.htm |[vii] cacrep.org/for-students/ |[viii] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm |[ix] bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/mental-health-counselors-and-marriage-and-family-therapists.htm | bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/substance-abuse-behavioral-disorder-and-mental-health-counselors.htm