Graduate Programs in Counseling and Therapy

Counseling Degrees can be earned at various different academic levels: You can earn a certificate degree, a masters degree, and a doctoral degree. A general graduate ...

degree in counseling might prepare students to help individuals, groups, and families through consultation and professional counseling. Most programs offer a blend of research, theory, and intervention strategies. Courses in lifespan development, abnormal psychology, diagnoses, and ethics are also common. In addition to their courses, internships, clinical practicum often prepare graduates to seek licensure in their state.

Counseling Graduate Programs Skills for Students

What Is Professional Counseling?

While you may be a good listener, professional counseling is a behavioral health service that requires a masters level counseling degree. Professional counselors also need a state-issued license, post-degree supervised clinical practice and a successful outcome on a state recognized exam.i If this is your goal, there are counseling graduate programs that may prepare you for different types of state licensure. Licensed professional counselors (LPC), licensed mental health counselors (LMHC), school counselors, and counseling psychologists are several possibilities.

Professional Counselor vs Psychologist

Psychologists often perform the same duties as professional counselors, but they also provide additional psychological services. For instance, they might administer diagnostic tests and consult with MDs about medication for their clients. Another protected title, “licensed psychologist,” is used by counseling psychology professionals who have earned an APA-accredited doctorate in psychology, completed an internship, supervised practice, and passed the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.ii

FAST FACT

Employment of mental health counselors is projected to grow 20 percent from 2014 to 2024.i

Find Your Fit: Which Counseling Degree Aligns with Your Goals?

You may notice that graduate programs in counseling may have some overlap in terms of their overall course of study. Counseling programs tend to focus more on lifespan issues (e.g., divorce, relationships, academic problems, etc.) and assessment of those problems. Clinical programs may address serious mental illness (e.g., depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, etc.), its assessment, and treatment. As a student, you should choose a degree in counseling that aligns with your professional goals.

  • Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) – A counselor with a masters degree in psychology, counseling, or counseling psychology. Trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling. Usually, counseling psychologists work with clients who struggle with everyday stresses. You might consider a Master of Arts or Master of Science in Counseling.
  • Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)– A counselor with a masters degree and several years of supervised clinical work experience. Trained to diagnose and provide individual and group counseling. You might consider a Master of Arts or Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling.
  • Counseling Psychologist – A psychologist with a doctoral degree in psychology from an accredited/designated program in psychology.  Psychologists are trained to make diagnoses and provide individual and group therapy and may work with severe mental illness such as bipolar disorders. You might consider a PhD or PsyD in Counseling Psychology.
  • Counselor Educator or Researcher – A licensed professional counselor with a doctoral degree from an accredited PhD Counselor Education program. Usually is professionally versed in counseling, supervision, teaching, research and scholarship, leadership, and advocacy. You might consider a Counselor Education Graduate Program.
  • School and Career Counselor – In most cases a licensed professional counselor with a Masters in School Counseling degree, and in some states, teaching experience.iii You might consider a Master of Science in Counseling with an emphasis in school counseling.

Masters in Counseling (MA, MS)

Most Counseling Masters programs entail 60 credits and may take a full-time student about two years to complete. To enroll in a Master of Arts or Master of Science in Counseling, you generally need to have earned a bachelors degree from an accredited university. Also, you might need to have some prerequisite courses under your belt. These could include statistics, biological and social bases of behavior, and cognitive psychology, although counseling schools set their own norms.

Some Master of Arts in Counseling programs prepare graduates to pursue state licensure at the master’s level as a therapist or Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC). Other Masters in Counseling programs may not lead to licensure, but may prepare students to pursue a doctoral degree.

Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Aside from the core counseling courses, Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling programs may dive into topics such as addictions, crisis, and clinical diagnosis. Students usually must complete an internship in counseling and may be able to choose electives.

Master of Science in Psychology

Masters in Psychology programs may provide another academic route for those who want to pursue a career as a licensed therapist. Some programs may place a great emphasis on cognition, motivation, and clinical research. Students in Psychology Masters programs might choose to focus their studies. Motivation and coaching is one example. 

PsyD in Counseling Psychology (Professional Degree)

The Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) in Counseling Psychology is a professional practice degree in the field of psychology. To apply, some schools require students to have a master's degree in counseling, psychology, or related field. Some PsyD counseling psychology programs may entail about 85 total semester hours, which might translate to about four years of full-time study. This includes coursework, practicum, and pre-doctoral internship. While courses vary between universities, they are likely to first cover topics such as cognitive bases of behavior, patient assessment, ethics, and psychopathology.

From there, students may take courses in personality theory, biopsychology, interventions, and other advanced topics. While in their program, students might develop high-level research skills. These are used in a dissertation that demonstrates an original contribution to the field of counseling psychology.

PhD in Counseling Psychology (Research Degree)

The PhD in Psychology is a research degree in psychology. This is the traditional degree of licensed practitioners as well as academic and research psychologists.ii Some PhD programs may fit the needs of post-masters licensed counselors who seek professional development. A PhD in General Psychology might entail a deep look at the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive issues that impact human behavior. Students usually choose an area of focus for their PhD. Health psychology, social psychology, and educational psychology are a few examples.

PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision

The PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision is another focus for a PhD counseling degree. Some of these programs are designed to prepare graduates to pursue paths such as counselor educators, supervisors, researchers, and practitioners in academic and clinical settings. In this type of program, students might take courses in evidence-based counseling practices, psychopathology, pedagogy, and ethics. At the same time, they may take courses that help them develop leadership and administrative skills. The emphasis of this degree is on research and theory, much more so than any other degree discussed here. A pre-internship experience (called a practicum) is usually a key aspect of the program. Some programs require multiple practicums in addition to a dissertation. While program lengths vary, a full-time student might complete their PhD in Psychology in three years (post-masters).

Graduate Certificate in Professional Counseling

A Graduate Certificate in Professional Counseling might consist of about 18 credits. Some programs are designed for students who are in or have completed a CACREP-accredited masters degree in counseling and need extra hours to complete the educational requirements of the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) licensure in their state. A counseling certificate program may allow students to choose their own free elective courses. These might help them to complete courses with a common theme. Several examples include addictions counseling, counseling children and adolescents, or couples and family counseling. 

Find CACREP Accredited Programs for Counseling

Many regionally-accredited graduate schools offer counseling degree programs. Some individual programs and schools may be professionally approved as well. CACREP accredits masters and doctoral degree counseling programs in the areas of emphases previously referred to. In terms of Counseling Psychology Doctoral programs, the American Psychological Association is the go-to standard for professional approval.

Do you prefer to look for counseling graduate programs by location or are you open to an online counseling degree? Refine your search by program format and degree level. Then easily scroll through sponsored programs. Click to contact the schools so that your inbox is filled with possibility and choice. Take the opportunity now!  


[i] bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/mental-health-counselors-and-marriage-and-family-therapists.htm | [ii] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm | [iii] bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/school-and-career-counselors.htm

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