What Are the Requirements for a Career in Counseling and Psychology?

What Are the Requirements for a Career in Counseling and Psychology?

Are you ready to find your fit?

Counselors and psychologists study how people relate to each other and to their environments. They do this by examining the cognitive processes and emotional factors that contribute to human behavior. They help improve patients' well-being by conducting research, diagnosing common disorders, and offering treatment plans.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that occupations in psychology will increase 8% between 2020-2030. The BLS projects jobs in mental health and substance abuse counseling to grow 23% in the same time period. Both careers enjoy salary prospects above the national median wage.

To qualify for the above positions, learners must satisfy the proper counseling and psychology job requirements. These requirements may include earning a graduate degree in counseling or psychology and obtaining state licensure. Some careers require a doctorate.

This page highlights the requirements for a career in counseling and psychology. It covers information on counseling and psychology licensure, education requirements, and degree options. Readers can review common courses of study, differences between degrees, and coursework offerings.

Professional Licensure

People must earn counseling and psychology licensure before they can practice. Professional licensure requires graduate training in the discipline.

Most candidates must also gain a certain number of work hours and pass an exam. This process typically takes place at the state level. Although, national options are available for counselors. Specific requirements vary by location. Most states distinguish between psychology and counseling credentials.

In California, for example, the Board of Psychology licenses psychologists, while the Board of Behavioral Sciences credentials counselors. In each case, candidates must satisfy initial requirements and renew their licenses periodically. Most states feature continuing education or professional development requirements for licensure renewal. Many states also keep reciprocity agreements for actively licensed professionals considering moving to a new state.

Licensed professionals can pursue additional optional counseling and psychology certifications. For instance, people interested in educational development may earn a school counseling certification. Professionals focusing on mental health, addiction, or substance misuse can pursue other credentials.

Recommended Schools

High School Courses of Study

High school learners interested in a career in counseling and psychology can enroll in relevant college preparatory courses. A strong background in science and math helps prepare students for analytical problem-solving and focused research. Some high schools may offer advanced placement courses in psychology that may count for college credit.

Learners at this level can also prepare well for undergraduate studies. They can earn good grades, participate in extracurricular activities, and prepare for entrance tests.

College Courses of Study

College is the first major step toward fulfilling education requirements for a career in counseling and psychology. While employers may accept degrees in other fields, a degree in psychology or counseling builds the needed skills for a career in the field.

Many four-year institutions do not offer programs in counseling, but they do administer degrees in psychology. Earning a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field in the social sciences or liberal arts provides learners with a good background. This route also develops core skills in analytical reasoning and scholarly research.

Most employers do not list specific college course requirements for a career in counseling and psychology. However, learners may take the following courses to prepare for careers in the field.

  • Introduction to Psychology

    This course provides degree-seekers with an overview of the field, including its history. Learners study major figures and developments and popular methodologies. They also develop critical analysis and experimentation skills. Students must often complete this course before taking upper-level classes.
  • Statistics and Research Methods

    This course introduces students to the main research methods psychologists and social scientists use to organize and interpret information. Degree-seekers learn to apply statistical methods to research material and psychological experiments. They also gain a practical understanding of hypothesis testing, correlation, and standardization.
  • Theories of Personality

    Important for learners interested in counseling, this course provides an introduction to the main theories for understanding personality. Degree-seekers examine and evaluate key theorists and case studies, applying their findings to personal and social issues. Possible theories include psychoanalysis and humanistic psychology. Other theories involve biological and behaviorist approaches.
  • Abnormal Psychology

    This course surveys neurotic and psychotic behaviors. It examines their origins, classifications, and symptoms. Learners study diagnosis methods and look at techniques for therapy and behavioral prevention. The course also weighs social, cultural, religious, and familial factors that often contribute to abnormal behaviors. Degree-seekers assess current research and generate new findings.
  • Psychology and Physiology

    Degree-seekers in this class examine relationships between psychology and physiology. Coursework focuses on how the two interact and affect mental health and behavior. The course develops a working knowledge of the human nervous and sensory systems. Learners also study learning and memory development.

Graduate Degrees in Counseling and Psychology

Most learners at the graduate level begin by enrolling in a counseling or psychology master's program. Some careers also require licensure and/or a doctorate. Graduate programs typically offer concentrations in mental health counseling, child psychology, and substance misuse. Learners can also concentrate in rehabilitation counseling.

Most programs expect applicants to provide recent GRE scores. The GRE is a standardized test that evaluates prospective learners' aptitudes in verbal and quantitative reasoning, analytical writing, and critical thinking. Most schools require test scores no more than five years old.

Other requirements for a career in counseling and psychology may involve earning a doctorate. Some students earn a doctoral degree to satisfy professional requirements, while others enroll to refine their knowledge. Professional psychologists, for example, need either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. to practice. A Ph.D. prepares learners for academic pursuits such as teaching and research. A Psy.D. qualifies degree-seekers for work as clinicians and other leadership roles.

Counseling and psychology degree requirements at the doctoral level usually involve courses like those listed below.

Learners typically take this course in a master's program. Although, many Ph.D. or Psy.D. options offer this class. Course topics examine the psychological factors that contribute to human development across the lifespan. Learners study fetal development and childhood. They also study the progression from young adulthood to middle age and the end of life.

This course prepares degree-seekers for work as clinicians. Students explore the tools and techniques used to diagnose, assess, and treat common behavioral conditions. Topics include descriptive and functional analysis, interviewing tactics, and data collection. Most Psy.D. programs offer some version of this course.

This course is commonly designed for Ph.D. learners interested in research. The curriculum provides a high-level overview of the main procedures and analytical frameworks used by professional psychologists. Degree-seekers look at psychophysiology methods like impedance cardiography and skin conductance in a lab environment.

Learn More

Online College Resources

Helping you prepare and gain the most out of your educational experience.