How do I Earn a Counseling PhD?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

There are many places to earn a psychology counseling PhD, or to earn other degrees that help people become professional counselors or psychotherapists. It isn’t strictly necessary to earn a doctorate in order to be a counselor, but those interested in a more academic view of psychology may prefer it. A choice for many people most interested in being therapists is the related doctoral degree, Psy.D, which psychology departments are increasingly offering, sometimes alongside the PhD; it may reflect a more therapeutic and counseling focus in studies.

Those looking to earn a Psy.D or counseling PhD need a bachelor’s degree. Most doctorate programs prefer this degree to be in psychology, though a few programs may not have this requirement. Schools that don’t have a specific major requirement may still want students to have studied some subjects prior to being admitted, and these would likely include theory of personality, statistics, and abnormal psychology.

Each school varies on specific admission requirements other than the major. Most will require a grade point average that is at least a 3.0, and many programs will only take students with top grades because they receive numerous applications and can pick and choose. A few doctoral programs even require that students have earned a master’s degree first. These schools may accept master’s applications more readily and then count units earned in a master’s program toward counseling PhD studies. Other requirements could include high scores on standardized testing and demonstrable work in the field; things like letters of recommendation can be important too.

Students should also do some research when submitting applications to programs for a counseling PhD. This is especially the case when the doctorate is offered from an online school. It is important to verify accreditation and to especially make certain a regional board of behavioral sciences approves the program. When people complete studies with a school that doesn’t have accreditation or board or other agency approval, they may be unable to obtain a license to practice as a clinical psychologist.

Once accepted to a program offering a counseling PhD, it usually takes at least four years to earn the actual degree. Programs are split into continued classroom studying, research and/or practicum, and preparation for a dissertation. Some students are able to finish sooner, but this is very hard to accomplish. Many regions also require about 1500 hours worth of supervised training after the PhD is earned prior to granting a license. In all, this can mean many people spend five to seven years, or more, before they can legally work as counselors.

This length of time often drives those interested in becoming psychotherapists to seek other degrees instead. With a master’s in social work, or a master’s in psychology with a counseling focus, many can start a counseling career earlier. Degree studies for a master’s are shorter, but getting a license takes more time, requiring about 3000 hours of supervised training after gaining the master’s degree.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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