Master’s degree in counseling psychology
Recognized as a specialty by the American Psychological Association since 1998, counseling psychology comes under the clinical branch of psychology. Similar to the work of clinical psychologists, counseling psychologists work closely with their patients to help them understand their emotions, mental health issues, family issues, and to improve their overall well-being.
To become a counseling psychologist, you first complete a 4-year bachelor’s in psychology. After your undergraduate program, enroll in a master’s degree which offers counseling as a specialization. This is only step 2. According to the American Psychological Association, a doctoral degree is necessary to become a counseling psychologist. Yet, in some states it is possible to become a counseling psychologist without a Ph.D., with the stipulation that you practice under supervision.
What is required to study a master’s degree in counseling psychology?
There is not one answer to this question. Generally, a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field is preferred for entry to a master’s program, but not in all cases. You will need a GPA of at least 3.0, and a good Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score. Some programs also request proof of professional experience and letters of reference.
Before deciding where you will study, it is important to make sure that the college and program are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) or the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC). Accreditation ensures that your program is up-to-date with psychological research and methods and that your education can equip you with the essential tools to provide the best treatment and care for your patients.
What will you study?
To study clinical psychology at the master’s level, you need to first obtain a bachelor’s degree. While a bachelor’s degree in psychology is ideal, it is not essential as many programs accept students with other undergraduate degrees, especially in the health and social sciences. Generally, most colleges require a minimum GPA of 3.0.
The following list of undergraduate electives are considered as strong foundation subjects:
- 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
- Theories of personality
- Counseling techniques
- Human development
- Professional ethics and issues
- Research and evaluation
- Individual assessment
This is a general overview of what many colleges cover in their coursework. Some, however, offer alternate subjects like crisis and trauma counseling, or marriage and family therapy.
To earn a master’s degree in counseling psychology, you have the option of following either a Master of Arts (M.A.) program or a Master of Science (M.S.) program. If you completed your bachelor’s degree majoring in psychology or a similar field, then a bachelor’s degree would be a logical next step. Alternatively, if you majored in seemingly unrelated topics, like English literature and history, a B.A. could be a better academic fit. Both streams, taken as full-time programs, will take 2 years to complete. Online and hybrid (a mix of online and on-campus) courses are available at most schools. Check what your preferred school offers, including the number of hours of practical experience required to graduate. Remember, practicum hours have to be completed in person, regardless of the degree format.
How much does a master’s in counseling psychology cost?
Although full-time master’s in counseling psychology programs typically take 2-years to complete, some colleges offer an accelerated study program which allows you to complete the program within a year. The requirements to study these courses do differ and it may be that you need a 3.5 GPA in order to be accepted onto the accelerated program. Accelerated courses, due to their duration, are cheaper than regular full-time courses.
The full-time online course takes between 2-5 years to complete and costs between $18,000-$44,000 in total.
Aside from the up-front cost for your master’s degree, it is also necessary to consider the cost of the following:
- Course materials – books, computer programs, etc.
- Technology fees
- Background/criminal record check
- Student ID
These costs, again, will depend on the college and program you choose.
What can you do with a master’s degree in counseling psychology?
Let’s jump forward a couple of years. You have your master’s degree and are looking at your options. If you enjoy studying and don’t feel prepared to join the workforce, you could consider an application to a doctorate program. A doctoral program offers a unique opportunity to dive deep into specific areas of interest that may become the subject of your future dissertation. Alternatively, if you are excited about the prospect of meeting your first clients, there are career options available to you with a master’s degree. Let’s look at these 2 options in more detail.
If interested, check out our picks of the best master’s degrees in counseling psychology.
As mentioned above, to become a licensed and practicing counseling psychologist the general route includes taking your studies to the doctoral level. It is true that in some states you can practice with a master’s degree under supervision. However, many states will demand a doctoral level of education for practicing counseling psychologists. This should be taken into consideration when applying for your master’s program and, based on this information, you can consider whether a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. would be a better fit for your career plans.
A Ph.D. program takes between 5-8 years to complete. You will develop adept research skills, and gain in-depth knowledge about theories and techniques utilized in therapeutic interventions. Often, as part of your studies, you will also need to teach and tutor students.
The counseling psychology Psy.D. option can provide more opportunities to gain practical experience working with clients, under supervision. This study program focuses less on research and statistics and more on assessment and treatment of individuals. A Psy.D. generally takes between 4-6 years to complete.
In order to put your degree to use and become a practicing psychologist, you must obtain a license from the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards and complete the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Licenses differ from state to state so it is important to consider where you would like to practice before applying for licensure. In order to qualify for a license, you must have at least a master’s degree.
Should you choose to start working after obtaining your master’s degree, it is important to be aware that your study days are not over. To renew your license as a counseling psychologist, continuing education courses must be completed every 5 years to stay current with new theories, studies, and practices.
Some example of careers that are available to you with a master’s in psychology counseling are as follows: