Counseling Graduate Programs Online are offered at the certificate, masters, and doctoral levels. Masters in counseling online programs may help students with little or no experience prepare for state licensure.
Some programs may even offer concentrations in top areas like addiction, mental health, or school counseling. These make space for students to fine-tune their professional identity and goals. Meanwhile, best online counseling doctoral programs are often designed for experienced counselors interested in pursuing roles in education, leadership, and research. Whether you’re already active in professional counseling or want to get started, online counseling degree programs could support your goals in a convenient, flexible format.
written by Rana Waxman
While they may require little more independence online graduate counseling programs could provide flexibility and convenience. That could be an advantage if you are employed, a busy adult, or live too far from an accredited counseling program. Programs are typically designed to be flexible and portable. Many of them deliver courses, materials, and even library services through a course-management system.
However, just because you’re earning your counseling degree online doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll miss out on the collaborative experience of the physical classroom. In online programs, students and instructors may use threaded discussion boards, white boards, chat rooms, email, and multimedia presentations to create that community atmosphere.
That said, many counseling graduate programs online still have elements you’d need to complete in person. This would usually be field experience. Some programs may help you organize these experiences in your community or do so on your behalf. Others might give students a little more independence in setting it up.
Counseling graduate programs online may issue several different masters and doctorate degrees or certificates upon completion. Each type of program or degree may align with different career goals, skill sets, or areas of interest. As such, it may be useful to consider your own goals when deciding which programs to apply to.
Online Counseling Masters Programs may include a wide range of degree options and areas of concentration. Because many of these programs are designed to help people prepare for licensure, it’s possible that your selected program may include in-person requirements on campus or in internship or practicum settings. Specific prerequisites to apply may vary, but common requirements include a bachelors degree or coursework in psychology or another related field, and GRE scores.
Students in online Master of Arts in Counseling programs may explore human thought process, emotion, and motivation. Programs often require around 60 credits to complete the program in entirety. Also, it is not uncommon to have to take part in personal psychotherapy sessions, an internship, and practicum.
Some schools offer more concentrated areas of study where a student may acquire the skills to provide counseling services to a specific group. Below are a few common examples.
The online Master of Education (MEd) in Clinical Mental Health Counseling may help students develop tools and know-how to provide clinical counseling to a broad range of groups. Course content might cover multiple types of therapy, interpersonal relationships, symptom categories, and substance abuse. Also, a practicum and several for-credit internships are often required.
Online Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology Programs may cover topics such as lifespan development, human sexuality, and applied psychological research. Some programs may also explore neuroscience and pharmacology. Some programs may also prepare students to pursue licensure as Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT) or Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors (LPCC).
The Online PhD in Counseling is typically a research-oriented program. Coursework often dives into current theories and best practices, and may empower learners to mix their scholarly research with practical expertise. Some online counseling doctoral programs may allow students to earn their Master of Science in Psychology while they work toward their doctorate. In addition to earning a PhD in counseling online, some programs may offer a PsyD option.
Online graduate certificate in counseling programs are often relatively short, around 16 course credits. Different programs may be ideal for students seeking preliminary licensure, completing annual continuing education requirements, or professionals interested in learning more. Applicants tend to have a bachelor's degree in psychology, sociology, counseling, or a related field. In their coursework, students might explore basic theory, skills, and techniques. Also, course topics might cover motivation, leadership theory, communication, data analysis, and responses to psychology and sociology.
Some counseling graduate programs online may be designed to prepare students to pursue licensure as professional counselors (LPC). Professional Clinical Counseling is one of several behavioral health services that requires a state license for private practice. While the specific professional title conferred may vary from state to state, one usually needs a masters level education, and post-degree supervised practice to earn it.i
Online LPC Programs often follow set guidelines in their educational process.
Because the specific usage can change from state to state, some confusion exists around the titles of therapist, counselor, and psychologist. Understanding the general differences between each of them could be helpful in identifying what you want and the programs that could help you get there. Below, we’ve broken down the basics of each.
Licensed psychologists typically hold a PhD in Psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree, and may start out with a Masters in Counseling Psychology. Those who practice independently are usually state-licensed. This means they have fulfilled internship and supervised professional practice requirements, in addition to passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.i
As health professionals, their education is based on clinical psychological research into the human brain and behavior. This means, they may assess and make clinical evaluations of clients’ mental health and diagnose mental illness.
The use of the title “therapist” is a protected one, meaning it usually requires a state license and masters level education. That said, it’s fairly broad, and could include various types of Psychologists, Licensed Social Workers, Counselors, Art Therapists, as well as Marriage and Family Therapists.
Therapists often take a behavioral approach rather than a scientific one. Some of the degrees that may offer routes to the protected title of therapist might include: Master in Psychology, Master in Marriage and Family Therapy, Master of Social Work, Master in Counseling, or a Doctorate in any of those fields.
The title “counselor” is often used as an umbrella term for both licensed clinicians with advanced degrees and other forms of counseling, such as mental health and school counseling. It usually requires a state license and masters level education.
While counselors may lack the clinical research found in other psychology programs, licensed professional counselors (LPC) do use intervention skills. LPCs work to empower their patients to work through life challenges. This especially includes motional, stress, anxiety, career, school, and relationship issues. They may work with clients to find strategies that might improve their ability to cope with trauma, strengthen self-esteem, and promote positive changes.
Familiar with human development across the lifespan and consultation theories, they often provide individual, couples, family, or group counseling. Online counseling degree programs may help to instill these practical skills in learners.
DID YOU KNOW?
Professional counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.ii
Online counseling programs are typically offered through regionally-accredited universities. However, many students may be interested in programs that are programmatically accredited in addition to holding regional accreditation.
In counseling, CACREP accredited online programs are those that have been professionally approved by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). These programs tend to follow specific standards and guidelines for masters and doctoral counseling degree programs.
Compare online counseling degrees at the masters, doctorate, and certificate levels. Easily scroll through paid programs and contact the schools with the on-page form. Some online universities have rolling admissions which means, if you are accepted, you may not have to wait too long to get started. Check it out now!
[i] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm| [ii] counseling.org/aca-community/learn-about-counseling/what-is-counseling/overview