A counseling psychology PhD is a slight misnomer for anyone interested in a doctorate that focuses on the practice of psychotherapy. There are actually two doctoral degrees thought relatively equal if a person wants to specialize in counseling — the Psy.D and the PhD in counseling psychology. Moreover, any PhD in straight psychology with the requisite post-graduate supervised work — about 1500 hours — and completion of exams, licenses people to work as counselors or therapists. It is simply that the counseling psychology PhD and Psy.D may focus more on the practice of counseling, while other degrees, such as clinical psychology, have more traditional research elements to them.
Getting a counseling psychology PhD or Psy.D usually means first earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Some studies don’t require this major but will require that students take several prerequisite courses like introduction to psychology, abnormal psychology, personality theory, and statistics. A few programs don’t admit students unless they possess a master’s degree in the field, but they may offer students who successfully complete a master’s in their program automatic entry into the doctoral program. Schools that admit students with only a B.A. or B.S. might also request that students take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which can show intellectual fitness for graduate studies.
Others things schools require of students are strong grades, generally a minimum of a 3.0 grade point average and possibly higher at more competitive schools. Students are asked to write personal statements and/or to submit a recent example of scholarly writing. Schools also typically want two to three letters of recommendation, most often from former professors or employers if the applicant has worked in the counseling field.
The way that a counseling psychology PhD or Psy.D is constructed may vary as to program. Amount of coursework and time it takes to complete frequently depends on whether students are admitted at the B.A. or M.A. level. Generally, students have an average of two to three years of coursework, and this is combined with practicum, where students get many opportunities to begin training as psychotherapists. Many schools have counseling programs they offer to students or the public and most candidates for a doctorate are expected to devote time to working in these programs.
Some schools have comprehensive examinations students must take after year two or three, and most universities have some form of dissertation or project requirement. Flexibility in determining this final project or dissertation may vary, but students would be expected to write or create a work that is fully based on counseling. Due to the extent of this project, which must be approved by faculty, most people won’t complete a counseling psychology PhD or Psy.D in less than four years, and it can take longer, particularly if students attend on a part-time basis. In these cases, some people don’t finish their degree for six or seven years.