Ph.D. in Counseling 2021

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Counselors typically provide talk therapy and advice for clients navigating emotional, mental, and relational challenges. The counseling field contains many subfields, including marriage and family counseling, school and career counseling, substance abuse counseling, and rehabilitation counseling. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 25% job growth for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors during 2019-2029. These professionals earn a $47,660 median annual salary.

Professional counselors usually need a graduate degree to obtain state licensure. Aspiring counseling researchers, professors, and private-practice counselors typically need a doctoral degree in counseling. This guide explores Ph.D. in counseling programs and careers for graduates.

Frequently Asked Questions About Counseling


  • Q. What is the best degree for counseling?

    A Ph.D. in counseling meets or exceeds the degree requirement for most counseling careers. Many Ph.D. programs offer specialization options in subfields such as school counseling, family counseling, and substance abuse counseling.


  • Q. How long does it take to become a counselor?

    Most students need at least six years to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s in counseling degree online. However, learners in accelerated programs may graduate sooner. Aspiring counselors often need another year to complete postgraduate supervised internships and pass the licensure exam.


  • Q. What is the difference between a counselor and a therapist?

    Counselors and therapists must meet different education and licensure requirements. Therapy typically takes place over a longer term than counseling and may use more psychoanalytic approaches. Counseling generally focuses on specific issues.


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Why Get a Degree in Counseling?

Ph.D. in counseling programs involve intensive research in the student’s field of choice. Ph.D. students contribute original research to their field, develop advanced analytical skills, and satisfy their intellectual curiosity.

After earning a Ph.D. in counseling, graduates often qualify for prestigious careers as licensed counselors, professors, and researchers. According to April 2021 PayScale data, professionals with a Ph.D. in counseling earn an average salary of $85,000 per year.

Learners can pursue a counseling degree online to save time and money. Distance students often qualify for discounted tuition rates. They also typically save on commuting and residency costs. Online learners may also work full time while earning their degree.

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How Much Does a Counseling Degree Cost?

Higher education often requires a significant financial investment. However, learners can save money by applying to in-state public institutions. According to a 2020 report from College Board, the average annual cost of tuition for in-state learners at four-year public schools was $10,560 for the 2020-2021 academic year. For the same year, the average cost of tuition at private institutions was $37,650, while out-of-state learners at public schools paid an average of $27,020 in tuition.

Counseling Ph.D. programs typically take 4-6 years to complete. However, doctoral students usually pay full-time enrollment tuition rates only during their coursework phase. As they progress, degree-seekers focus on independent research work and typically pay for fewer credits. Furthermore, some Ph.D. programs offer tuition remission and a stipend for graduate students who conduct research or teach for the university.

Earning a counseling degree online often costs less than completing an on-campus program. Online learners often pay in-state tuition rates, regardless of residency. Many distance learners can also work full time while earning their Ph.D. in counseling. Online students often save on campus fees, housing, and commuting costs.

Additional Online Student Fees for Counseling

Online learners need sufficient internet and computer access to participate in online courses and use learning platforms. Students may need to buy a new laptop, pay tech support fees, and upgrade their internet bandwidth.

Some online graduate programs require intensive on-campus residencies, which may last a weekend, a week, or a month. Prospective students should budget for travel and housing costs necessary to attend these residencies. Like on-campus students, distance learners also need to buy books and pay graduation fees. Additionally, graduates of Ph.D. in counseling programs generally pursue licensure and must pay licensure exam fees and application fees.

How Much Do Counseling Majors Make?

A counseling Ph.D. can lead to various counseling careers, including roles as rehabilitation counselors, addictions counselors, school counselors, and marriage and family therapists. According to the BLS, rehabilitation counselors earn lower median salaries than other types of counselors. However, earning a doctoral degree can help professionals qualify for higher salaries.

Marriage and family therapists earn a median annual salary of $51,340, while school and career counselors earn a median of $58,120 per year. Counseling professionals may advance to positions as mental health services administrators, who earn a median salary of $104,280 per year.

Doctorate-holders can also qualify for advanced roles as researchers and postsecondary teachers. According to the BLS, psychology professors and postsecondary school administrators earn median salaries of $78,180 and $97,500 per year, respectively.

Courses in Counseling

Most counseling Ph.D. programs require at least 48 credits of core and specialized coursework. Core courses often cover research methods, counseling theory, counseling diversity, and counseling ethics. Students earning a Ph.D. in counseling complete supervised practicum and internship experiences, which help learners cultivate clinical skills. Degree-seekers also gain advanced research and writing skills while completing their dissertation.

Most counseling graduate programs feature electives in subfields such as addictions counseling, grief counseling, crisis and trauma counseling, and marriage and family counseling. Common specialization options include youth counseling, school counseling, and counseling research. Although available courses vary by school, the following sample courses appear in many Ph.D. in counseling programs.

This core course surveys the history of counseling theory. Learners explore topics such as family counseling, social constructivism, and integrative counseling. This foundational course prepares learners to compare counseling approaches and choose a Ph.D. concentration that aligns with their interests and values.

Counselors must be familiar with the American Mental Health Counseling Association Code of Ethics. Key ethical principles emphasize accessibility, confidentiality, and respect. In this class, degree-seekers learn how to avoid dual relationships and maintain appropriate client boundaries.

Programs may offer this class as part of core coursework or a specialization. Enrollees learn to provide clinical support for clients in crisis and to conduct relevant research. Common crises include violence, addiction, psychological abuse, and sudden death of a loved one. Clients who experience accidents, natural disasters, or warfare may also seek counseling for post-traumatic stress.

Certifications and Licensure for Counseling

Counseling degree-holders need a license to work in many settings, including private practices. A degree from an accredited counseling Ph.D. program meets or exceeds the education requirements for most counseling credentials. Graduates often pursue the licensed professional counselor, licensed professional clinical counselor, or licensed clinical supervisor credential. Depending on the individual’s concentration and coursework, doctorate-holders may also qualify for specialized credentials.

Licensed Professional Counselor


Known as the licensed professional clinical counselor or licensed mental health counselor credential in some states, this license qualifies holders to provide emotional support and counsel. LPCs need a master’s degree in counseling, supervised work experience, and a passing score on required licensure exams.

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Approved Clinical Supervisor


This credential can help experienced professionals advance to supervisory positions. Candidates need a master’s or doctoral degree, 2-5 years of counseling experience, and supervisory experience. Candidates must also hold certification as a mental health provider or counselor.

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Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist


Most marriage and family therapists must hold a state license. Licensure requirements include a counseling-related master’s degree, coursework related to marriage and family therapy, and supervised work experience. Candidates must also pass an exam.

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How to Become a Counselor

Substance abuse counselors may qualify for peer-counseling roles by accumulating personal and professional experience or completing certification programs. However, counselors usually need an advanced degree to obtain licensure. Aspiring counselors typically complete bachelor’s and master’s programs in the field.

Counseling programs typically include a supervised practicum or internship, which helps students gain the 2,000-4,000 experience hours required for state licensure. Counseling degree-holders must often complete a supervised postgraduate internship to complete the remainder of these hours. Licensure requirements vary by state, but all candidates must pass a licensure exam.

Ph.D. in Counseling 2021

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