Today's professional and academic fields offer a wide range of degrees, certificates, and other highly accredited programs to choose from. Sometimes, the question of which degree to pursue, in terms of a particular career path, can become very confusing. A Master's in Counseling may be one such program for many prospective students. It represents a slightly unusual career path, as it is a sub-doctoral terminal degree; currently, within the United States, there are no widely-accredited PhD programs in existence which focus specifically on becoming a counselor. This is not meant to discredit the profession; further education is necessary for research and development within the field, but not for rendering assistance to the general public.
What is a Terminal Degree?
A terminal degree is the highest level of education recognized within a particular academic or professional focus. Most frequently, it is a term used with regard to academic and research degrees, but it can just as easily refer to a specific occupational field or profession. In a given, broadly-defined field, there many be many different terminal degrees, reflecting different areas of specialized knowledge and training. For example, the highest counseling degree recognized by the most reputable accrediting authorities within the United States is a Master's degree, but doctoral programs relating to different academic disciplines within the field of psychology are also terminal.
Why is a Master's Degree in Counseling Considered Terminal?
Counseling represents a specific profession within the greater field of psychology. It focuses on the offering of professional services to assist with the development of life skills, the overcoming of emotional disorders, and the ability to develop constructive coping mechanisms, along with many other inherent functions. A Master's degree is the highest widely-accredited program available within the United States to focus specifically on the unique skill sets and abilities involved in offering these services.
Are There Different Terminal Master's Degrees?
Broadly speaking, a Master's degree in counseling is a singular program, albeit one available at most major colleges and universities throughout the country. However, there are a wide range of variations in this program, which can lead to specialized functions within the counseling profession. A student can choose to focus specifically on coursework which will enable them to assist people who are struggling with social dysfunction, or behavioral disorders, or problems such as substance abuse and addiction. Counselors may also be specialized in terms of who they work with: a given counselor might work with seniors, small children, white-collar professionals, or college students. Some even specialize in particular occupations, such as the concerns particular to legal professionals, business executives, or self-employed freelance contractors.
By pursuing a Master's in Counseling degree, potentially augmented through further focusing on a particular counseling specialty, you are participating in what is considered a terminal degree program in the United States. This particular graduate program is considered to be the highest level of education particular to the specific occupation of providing counseling services. While PhD programs exist throughout the psychiatric field, they do not focus specifically on this profession, being typically more academic in nature.