Master’s degree in counseling psychology program guide

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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.


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  • New York University

    New York University

    New York University – Master of Arts in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness



    New York

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
  • Graduation
  • 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.

Further study

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.

Career options

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:

In this position you would work with families and people in relationships to understand and resolve problems. You would help them come up with techniques to increase communication and handle negative behaviors and situations. Issues that a marriage and family therapist may deal with are infidelity, grief and bereavement, domestic abuse, or infertility. A marriage and family therapist may be employed by or collaborate with staff from social service agencies, hospitals, community health centers, or in private practices.

2020 average salary: $57,701

As a mental health counselor, you would provide ongoing treatment to people with issues such as anxiety and depression. Depending on your area of specialization, you may find yourself working in a variety of environments that are attended by clients who have problems that match your expertise. For example, the clients you see in a drug rehabilitation facility would differ to the clients you may see in a trauma center.

2020 average salary: $43,225

In this field, you would work with people who have experienced, or who are living with, emotional, psychological, or physical disabilities, to help them become as independent as possible. In this career, you would work closely with your patients to understand their abilities and their limits. Rehabilitation counselors are usually employed by healthcare facilities.

2020 average salary: $45,695

School and career counselors work in educational settings, from elementary schools to colleges, helping students find the right study and career path for them. The daily responsibilities of school and career counselors differ depending on where they work and the developmental stage of the students they see. For example, in addition to helping a high school student find the course that meets their academic profile, they may mediate in disputes the student is having with teachers, family members, or other students. Another part of this profession is to help children, and their families, with additional needs. Some states may require higher education for this career option.

2020 average salary: $47,953

As a substance abuse counselor, you would work with individuals addicted to alcohol, drugs, legal and illegal medications, or problematic behaviors including gambling. Your work would often include support and guidance for family members and close friends. Due to the nature of addiction problems, substance abuse counselors provide long-term therapeutic interventions to the individual clients they work with to prevent relapse. Some counselor’s work in drug treatment and rehabilitation facilities, where others work in private practice, government services, or health facilities. Additional education in substance abuse will often be necessary for this career, as decided by the state.

2020 average salary: $54,760

The American Psychological Association has 121,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students as its members, making the APA the most prominent organization for psychologists in the United States. You can find more information about specializing in counseling on the website.

The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy represents more than 50,000 marriage and family therapists across the United States and internationally. The association believes in relationships and endeavors to share research and techniques to strengthen them.

The American Mental Health Counselors Association aims to advance the profession of counseling, simultaneously offering patients the highest possible care. Their interests lie in education and training, ethical practice, collaboration, advocacy, and research.

The American Rehabilitation Counselors Association’s aim is to advance and improve the lives of people with disabilities. They promote the best practices in this field with professional development, research, and counseling practice.

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