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What Curriculum Should I Expect in a Counseling Degree Program?

Because counseling is a varied field, populated by professionals with different training backgrounds and levels of education, you may not know what to expect in pursuing a counseling degree. Regardless of which academic path you choose to explore, you will study certain curricula that are common to counseling programs at various levels. However, there are important differences between master's and doctoral degree programs in counseling. Before enrolling in a counseling degree program, learn more about the curriculum and how earning this degree will help you meet your ultimate career goals.

Counseling Degree Curricula

Counseling degree programs teach students the strategies to effectively counsel patients from a variety of backgrounds and the theoretical models behind these strategies. Other skills counseling programs will typically cover include how to use diagnostic tests and assessments to evaluate patients and devise an appropriate treatment plan. Students of counseling degree programs will learn how to counsel patients individually as well as facilitate small or large group counseling.

Aspiring counselors will learn the legal and ethical responsibilities they will be expected to follow throughout the course of their careers. Counseling students must understand empirical research and how to use the findings uncovered by new research studies to enhance their counseling abilities and further help their patients. A student who intends to specialize can use their graduate-level studies as an opportunity to complete a concentration in a branch such as marriage and family counseling, school counseling, and substance abuse counseling. Typically, students in both master's and doctoral degree programs will have to gain hands-on experience in the field.

Master's vs. Doctoral Degrees

Even among master's degrees, there are many possible degree titles an aspiring counselor could pursue, including:

  • Master of Science in Counseling
  • Master of Arts in Counseling
  • Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling
  • Master of Science in Clinical Counseling
  • Master of Education in Counseling
  • Master in Counseling Psychology
  • Master of Social Work (MSW)

Master's degree programs often take two to three years of full-time study to complete. Besides fulfilling credit requirements and possibly internship requirements, master's degree students must typically write a thesis, which is a capstone research paper, or take an examination, depending on the program.

Doctoral degree programs that prepare students for counseling careers usually fall into one of fewer categories:

  • Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology
  • Ed.D. in Counseling Psychology
  • Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology
  • Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology

Doctoral degree programs take longer to complete than master's degree programs. They often place a higher priority on research rather than simply training students for counseling careers, though this varies from program to program.

Though curricula vary program to program and from one school to another, counseling degree programs help students understand how to interact successfully with patients of all kinds. Psychology Today urges students to base their decision of what kind of program to attend on their long-term goals and willingness to invest time and money into their education rather than superficial factors such as prestige.

Counseling Degree Rankings:

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