What Does a Doctoral Program in Counseling Prepare Me for?

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While psychologists find work in various settings, from research departments of academic institutions to mental health facilities, many people associate the career with counseling. Counselors are licensed mental health professionals who assist patients or clients in coping with emotional and social problems and life changes. If you are considering a career in counseling or already working in the field with your master’s degree, you might wonder what advantages there are in earning a doctoral degree. Whether earning a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in counseling psychology is a good choice for you depends on your ultimate career goals.

The Differences between a Master’s Degree and a Doctoral Degree

A master’s degree fulfills most state requirements for becoming a counselor and is an important part of the path to obtaining a license. Of course, master’s degree programs also educate students with the knowledge to become mental health counselors or work in counseling specialties such as marriage and family counseling. Graduates of master’s degree programs can become Licensed Professional Counselors, but they are not considered psychologists.

Since a master’s degree is all that is required to become a counselor, you might wonder why a doctoral program in counseling psychology is worth pursuing. Earning an advanced degree allows counselors to have more career opportunities open to them. If your career goal extends beyond simply having a private practice, a doctoral degree might be a requirement for acquiring a high-level job in a university, hospital, school system or community center. A doctoral degree is often required for academic positions, such as university professors, department heads and deans.

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What Should I Expect from a Doctoral Degree Program?

The American Psychological Association (APA) currently lists 69 accredited programs, offered by colleges and universities across the country, that culminate in a doctoral degree in counseling or counseling psychology. Doctoral degree programs in counseling psychology typically fall into one of two categories: the classic Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree and the professional Doctorate of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree. Both degrees qualify graduates to be licensed psychologists, but Ph.D. programs are generally more research-based while Psy.D. programs traditionally emphasize applied psychology in clinical practice.

Doctoral degree programs also require a larger time commitment than master’s degree programs, Psychology Today reported, so expect to spend a longer amount of time in school earning your doctoral degree than you did earning your master’s degree. These programs can take as long as four or even eight years to complete. If you enroll in a doctoral degree in counseling psychology program, you can anticipate spending time doing research, completing clinical practices and internships and writing a dissertation in addition to classroom studies.

While a doctoral degree program in counseling isn’t for everyone, it may make sense if you enjoy the opportunity to help clients through counseling and want to advance your career. By making the time and financial investment in a doctoral degree program, a counselor can increase employment opportunities and hold the title of psychologist.


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