What Kinds of Degrees Are Available in Counseling and Psychology?

A counseling and psychology degree provides students with the knowledge and skills to analyze cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behaviors. Counseling programs typically focus on the practice of providing guidance or assistance to individuals, families, and groups who are experiencing issues that affect their mental health or overall wellbeing.

The field of psychology informs counseling practices, but psychology programs emphasize the study of consciousness, behavior, and the mind. Psychologists typically need a doctorate and a license to practice, while counselors and therapists must hold a master’s degree and a license.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), psychologists earned a median salary of $79,010 in 2018, and marriage and family therapists earned a median of $50,090. The BLS projects employment for psychologists and marriage and family therapists to grow 14% and 22%, respectively, from 2018 to 2028.

Associate Degree in Counseling and Psychology

Students earning an associate degree in counseling and psychology receive an introduction to the field and prepare for further studies. Associate degrees typically require 60 credits, which most students complete in two years. Major courses in associate-level psychology programs often include behavioral psychology, interpersonal relationships, and psychology through the lifespan.

Learners can pursue a variety of associate degrees in psychology and counseling, including specialized degrees in areas such as substance abuse and addictions or child psychology. Applicants must typically hold a high school or GED diploma.

Most psychology and counseling positions require at least a bachelor’s degree, so psychology students usually transfer to a four-year program after earning their associate degree. However, individuals with an associate-level counseling and psychology degree can work in advocacy, case management, community relations, and non-licensed counseling.

Bachelor’s Degree in Counseling and Psychology

A bachelor’s degree in counseling and psychology typically requires 120 credits, which full-time learners complete in about four years. Students gain foundational knowledge on the relationship between cognitive development and social behavior. Coursework generally covers topics including cognitive neuroscience, social psychology, abnormal psychology, and research methods.

Many bachelor’s programs in the field offer concentrations in subjects such as addictions, mental health, child and adolescent development, forensic psychology, and applied psychology. Admission requirements generally include a high school or GED diploma, a competitive GPA, and satisfactory SAT or ACT scores. Some schools do not require standardized test scores. Application requirements vary by specific program.

A bachelor’s-level counseling and psychology degree can lead directly to a career in psychology or counseling. Graduates can also apply the degree to positions in other disciplines, such as market research, human resources, public relations, and administration.

Master’s Degree in Counseling and Psychology

A master’s-level counseling and psychology degree helps bachelor’s degree-holders develop specialized knowledge and skills. Master’s programs typically require 30-60 credits, which most students complete in 1-2 years. Core courses may include psychopathology, advanced social psychology, theories of counseling, addiction counseling, and crisis intervention.

Many psychology and counseling master’s programs require students to complete an internship or practicum that meets state licensure requirements. Applicants must generally hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, meet GPA requirements, and have competitive GRE scores.

Graduates of master’s programs in the field are eligible to sit for the licensure exam. After obtaining a license, graduates can qualify for employment in the field or open their own practice. A master’s degree also prepares students to pursue a doctorate.

Doctoral Degree in Counseling and Psychology

A doctoral degree in counseling and psychology prepares students to conduct research in the field. This level of education is not necessary to practice as a counselor or psychologist but is required for researchers and professors of psychology. A Ph.D. in psychology and counseling generally requires 90-110 credits and takes learners 4-6 years to complete.

Coursework typically explores theory and research in psychotherapy, experimental design, assessment of personality and psychopathology, mental health law, and advanced statistics. Students conduct research projects under the supervision and guidance of faculty members, culminating in a dissertation defense.

Some programs also include a clinical or practicum component. Professionals with a Ph.D. in psychology and counseling can work as clinical psychologists, forensic psychologists, applied researchers, and university professors.

Certificate in Counseling and Psychology

Certificate programs in counseling and psychology are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Students can earn certificates independently or in conjunction with a degree. Certificate programs generally require 12-15 credits and take less than one year to complete. Students can pursue certificate programs in specific areas of study, such as clinical mental health counseling, school counseling, and addictions counseling.

Certificate programs can help counselors and psychologists advance in their current focus area or transition to a new specialization. For example, a psychologist with a degree in addictions counseling who wants to transition to school counseling may pursue a certificate in the latter. A certificate does not usually satisfy employment requirements, but the additional credential can lead to career advancement and increased earning potential.

How does a certificate differ from a degree?

Certificate programs require fewer credits than degrees and therefore have shorter completion times. Students can earn a certificate in less than a year, while degrees typically require at least two years. In addition to major coursework, degrees require general education classes, while certificates only involve training specific to the area of study. However, a certificate cannot serve as a substitute for a degree.

Why would someone who has a degree choose a certificate program?

Individuals can supplement a degree by earning a certificate that aligns with their career goals. For example, a learner studying organizational leadership or behavior through a business program may pursue a certificate in psychology. Certificates can also help professionals transition into a new specialization area.

Who is qualified to participate in a certificate program?

Certificate programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Each institution and program sets unique admissions criteria. Most certificate programs do not require applicants to submit standardized test scores. Certificate programs may culminate in a required exam or prepare students to take a state licensing exam.

What kind of salary or career boost might a certificate provide?

A certificate can lead to a promotion, raise, or higher starting salary. Specialized positions typically offer higher salaries. According to PayScale, entry-level psychologists earn an average annual salary of $61,894, and psychologists with 1-4 years of experience earn an average of $70,338 per year. Certificates demonstrate to employers that candidates possess specialized knowledge, which can help professionals advance their career faster.

Additional Accreditation and Licensing to Consider in Counseling and Psychology

Beyond the school-wide accreditation offered, what other accrediting organizations may be available for a counseling and psychology program?

In addition to institutional accreditation, learners can look for accreditation from a specialized agency. Several accrediting agencies evaluate psychology and counseling programs, including the American Psychological Association (APA), the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), and the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC). CACREP and MPCAC accredit graduate programs, and each organization sets unique requirements in terms of clinical hours, curricular focus, and faculty qualifications. APA accredits doctoral, internship, and postdoctoral residency programs.

Once a counseling or psychology degree has been attained, what additional licensing may be available?

Most counseling and psychology positions require state licensure. Each state sets unique licensure requirements, but most states license counselors in two areas: mental health counseling and marriage and family counseling. Licensure requirements typically include a master’s degree, though some states license counselors with a bachelor’s degree. Candidates must pass a licensing exam and have sufficient supervised professional experience.

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