Counseling Psychology Programs Programs, curriculum and resources for counseling students

Counseling psychologists are invaluable resources for people dealing with any sort of stress throughout their lives, from lashing out at school to substance abuse to marital struggles. Counseling psychologists use their understanding of human behavior, cognitive functions, interactions and communication to help people navigate through life’s challenges. Unlike general psychology programs, counseling psychology programs combine research and theory with practical application to prepare students for careers in counseling psychology and its specializations. This guide can help prospective students find counseling psychology programs, discover specializations and learn about transitioning from student to professional.

Top Counseling Psychology Programs: 2016-2017

Choosing a high-quality counseling psychology program is particularly important for students who want to become practicing, licensed professionals. However, good counseling psychology programs go beyond preparing students for licensure. The programs in this list are considered top notch based on a combination of factors, including tuition student-teacher ratio, number of available programs and positive financial aid stats.

Rank School Name Score Tuition & Fees Financial Aid % Total Programs Student-teacher Ratio Grad Rate Placement Services Counseling Services Credit for Experience Program Breadth Online Programs Acceptance Rate
University of Florida
99.80 $$$$$ 89% 7 21:1 88% Yes Yes No 3 N/A 46% Read More Read Less
Florida State University
97.86 $$$$$ 83% 4 26:1 79% Yes Yes No 2 N/A 55% Read More Read Less
Hobe Sound Bible College
97.61 $$$$$ 77% 2 11:1 60% No No No 1 N/A N/A Read More Read Less
Clarks Summit University
97.19 $$$$$ 97% 3 9:1 54% Yes Yes Yes 1 1 86% Read More Read Less
William Jessup University
96.80 $$$$$ 92% 3 13:1 65% Yes Yes Yes 2 N/A 76% Read More Read Less
Grace University
96.40 $$$$$ 99% 2 14:1 55% Yes Yes Yes 2 N/A 45% Read More Read Less
Johnson University
96.37 $$$$$ 94% 2 17:1 67% Yes Yes No 1 N/A 56% Read More Read Less
Brigham Young University-Provo
96.20 $$$$$ 71% 2 18:1 79% Yes Yes No 1 N/A 47% Read More Read Less
Converse College
96.19 $$$$$ 93% 1 11:1 60% Yes Yes No 1 N/A 53% Read More Read Less
Lincoln Christian University
96.18 $$$$$ 93% 2 14:1 55% Yes Yes Yes 2 N/A 48% Read More Read Less
Mississippi College
96.13 $$$$$ 92% 3 15:1 54% Yes Yes No 3 N/A 63% Read More Read Less
Eastern Mennonite University
96.03 $$$$$ 100% 3 10:1 62% No Yes No 2 N/A 60% Read More Read Less
Marywood University
96.02 $$$$$ 97% 2 11:1 69% No Yes Yes 2 N/A 74% Read More Read Less
Whitworth University
95.95 $$$$$ 94% 3 11:1 75% Yes Yes Yes 3 N/A 75% Read More Read Less
Bethel College-North Newton
95.77 $$$$$ 98% 1 10:1 58% No Yes Yes 1 N/A 49% Read More Read Less
University of Kentucky
95.74 $$$$$ 84% 4 18:1 61% Yes Yes Yes 2 1 72% Read More Read Less
Carson-Newman University
95.69 $$$$$ 96% 2 11:1 48% Yes Yes No 2 N/A 62% Read More Read Less
Saint Vincent College
95.69 $$$$$ 100% 1 12:1 74% Yes Yes Yes 1 N/A 72% Read More Read Less
Mid-Atlantic Christian University
95.64 $$$$$ 97% 1 12:1 43% Yes Yes Yes 1 N/A 38% Read More Read Less
Trinity Baptist College
95.58 $$$$$ 90% 1 12:1 45% Yes Yes No 1 N/A 64% Read More Read Less
Geneva College
95.54 $$$$$ 100% 1 13:1 65% Yes Yes Yes 1 N/A 71% Read More Read Less
North Carolina Central University
95.43 $$$$$ 80% 1 15:1 47% Yes Yes Yes 1 N/A 43% Read More Read Less
St Mary's University
95.43 $$$$$ 92% 3 12:1 63% No Yes No 2 N/A 59% Read More Read Less
Amridge University
95.38 $$$$$ 86% 1 10:1 22% No Yes Yes 1 1 N/A Read More Read Less
University of Central Arkansas
95.31 $$$$$ 79% 3 17:1 45% Yes Yes No 3 N/A 94% Read More Read Less
Northwestern Oklahoma State University
95.23 $$$$$ 81% 1 14:1 34% Yes Yes Yes 1 1 66% Read More Read Less
Nyack College
95.21 $$$$$ 94% 2 12:1 42% Yes Yes Yes 2 N/A 99% Read More Read Less
Columbia International University
95.20 $$$$$ 91% 1 14:1 68% Yes Yes No 1 N/A 33% Read More Read Less
Southeastern Oklahoma State University
95.18 $$$$$ 86% 1 17:1 29% Yes Yes No 1 N/A 79% Read More Read Less
Southern University at New Orleans
95.12 $$$$$ 82% 2 15:1 12% Yes Yes Yes 1 N/A 21% Read More Read Less
Freed-Hardeman University
95.03 $$$$$ 94% 2 14:1 51% Yes Yes Yes 1 N/A 93% Read More Read Less
Huntington University
94.95 $$$$$ 93% 1 12:1 59% Yes Yes No 1 N/A 97% Read More Read Less
Lesley University
94.91 $$$$$ 80% 8 10:1 58% Yes Yes Yes 3 N/A 71% Read More Read Less
Saint John Fisher College
94.89 $$$$$ 94% 1 12:1 72% Yes Yes Yes 1 N/A 68% Read More Read Less
University of Iowa
94.87 $$$$$ 57% 4 16:1 70% Yes Yes No 3 N/A 81% Read More Read Less
University of South Florida-Main Campus
94.83 $$$$$ 74% 1 25:1 67% Yes Yes No 1 N/A 53% Read More Read Less
Southern Nazarene University
94.80 $$$$$ 100% 2 15:1 46% Yes Yes Yes 2 N/A N/A Read More Read Less
University of Central Florida
94.78 $$$$$ 72% 1 31:1 70% Yes Yes Yes 1 N/A 50% Read More Read Less
Marquette University
94.74 $$$$$ 95% 2 14:1 79% Yes Yes No 2 N/A 67% Read More Read Less
University of Mary
94.74 $$$$$ 85% 4 15:1 46% Yes Yes Yes 3 N/A 79% Read More Read Less
Abilene Christian University
94.73 $$$$$ 94% 2 14:1 62% Yes Yes No 2 N/A 50% Read More Read Less
University of Scranton
94.73 $$$$$ 88% 4 11:1 80% Yes Yes Yes 2 N/A 77% Read More Read Less

Find the Right Counseling Psychology Program for You

Finding the right counseling psychology program doesn’t have to be a frustrating process of sorting through programs that, while related, aren’t an exact match. Prospective students can use this search tool to find a counseling psychology program that meets their needs. Use the filters to create a tailored list of programs, and compare them side-by-side to find the best fit.

Degree Level
School Type

Degree Options in Counseling Psychology

Since counseling psychology is recognized as a specialization within the psychology field, counseling psychology programs are only available at the graduate level. However, students can prepare for master’s and doctoral degrees in counseling psychology by enrolling in general psychology associate and bachelor’s degree programs. After earning an undergraduate degree, students can apply for graduate-level programs, where they can get training and education specific to the counseling psychology field. Learn more about counseling psychology degree types and what they entail.

Associate Degree in Psychology
Program Length

2 years full-time

Who earns this degree?

An associate degree in psychology can give students a foundational education and introduce them to major concepts in psychology. Psychology associate degrees are good for students who think they might want to enter a counseling psychology program in the future but want to see if the field is right for them first.

Program overview

Students enrolled in psychology associate degree programs can expect to get an overview of the psychology field and its specializations along with a well-rounded general education. Those who earn a psychology associate degree will likely not be prepared to take on careers in the field, but they will be well-equipped to continue their studies at the bachelor’s level.

Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology
Program Length

4 years full-time

Who earns this degree?

Students who want to pursue counseling psychology careers can begin with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. A bachelor’s degree in psychology will prepare students for future coursework and can open up field-specific internship and research opportunities.

Program overview

Bachelor’s students will have the opportunity to explore psychology concepts in more depth and may begin focusing their studies around certain topics, like counseling psychology, or approaches to the field, like behaviorism. Psychology bachelor’s degree programs tend to focus on research and theory over practice, but these skills and knowledge should prepare bachelor’s students to pursue counseling psychology master’s degrees.

Master’s in Counseling Psychology
Program Length

2-3 years; 60 credit hours, plus thesis and/or practicum

Who earns this degree?

Master’s degrees are required by all states for those looking to practice counseling psychology professionally. Students who earn a master’s degree in counseling psychology will be prepared to sit for state licensure exams or continue their educations at the doctorate level.

Application requirements

Master’s degree students must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Most counseling psychology master’s programs accept bachelor’s degrees from all academic backgrounds, but some programs may only accept or give preference to those with degrees in related fields. Minimum GPA and GRE scores and recommendation letters may be required as well.

Program overview

Master’s students will be exposed to counseling psychology theory, practices and research methods and often have the opportunity to focus their study around a particular license they can pursue, like marriage and family therapy. While counseling psychology master’s programs typically address both research and practice, some programs may favor one over the other, so students should look at program curricula to find a program that suits their career and educational goals. Master’s programs generally require students to complete a thesis or a practicum. Graduates of counseling psychology master’s programs should be prepared to sit for licensing exams. However, students should check to make sure their program prepares students for licensure before enrolling.

PhD/PsyD in Counseling Psychology
Program Length

4+ years, depending on dissertation and/or internship; 85 credit hours

Who earns this degree?

PhDs and PsyDs in counseling psychology are good for those who want to become licensed professionals, further their current counseling psychology careers or contribute to counseling psychology research and education.

Application requirements

Applying for doctoral degree programs can be a rigorous process. Applicants often need a master’s degree, school transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, a resume and GRE scores. Applicants may also need to meet for an interview.

Program overview

Doctoral students have the opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge and practice in specific areas of counseling psychology. Students can hone their counseling techniques and learn how to apply their skills in different settings. Doctorate programs may approach counseling psychology through a particular lens, like social justice or the science-practitioner model. Those pursuing counseling psychology doctorates can expect to conduct a lot of research, particularly for their dissertations. Most programs also require students to complete an internship or practicum before graduating.

Explore Specializations in Counseling Psychology

During their master’s and doctoral degree programs, counseling psychology students may choose to focus on a specific area of counseling psychology. Programs often offer specializations through tracks, where the entire curriculum is built around the specialization, or through additional coursework, similar to earning a minor. These specializations allow students to gain focused knowledge and skill in certain types of counseling, which can lead to more licensure and career opportunities.

  • Individual Counseling

    In individual counseling, counselors work one-on-one with clients to help them address concerns and sort through any issues they may have.

  • Couples Counseling

    Couples counseling and marital counseling focuses on helping couples deal with relationship issues and other problems that may be affecting their lives and interactions.

  • Family Counseling

    Family counseling involves helping individuals and families work through issues by approaching them from a family-focused perspective. Family counselors may address roles, relationships, dresses and other variables that affect family dynamics.

  • Group Counseling

    Group counseling required knowledge of group dynamics and the different theories and techniques needed to best assist people in a variety of group settings.

  • Substance Abuse Counseling

    Substance abuse and addictions counseling focuses on treating and preventing substance abuse in clients. Counselors take into account factors like family dynamic, socioeconomic circumstances and other psychological variables to aid in treatment and recovery.

  • School Counseling

    School counseling typically involves helping students succeed socially and academically. Depending on student age group, school counselors will address behavior problems, provide academic and career advising or help students cope with issues at home.

  • Career Counseling

    Career counselors help clients determine career paths that suit their interests, set realistic goals and work toward attaining those goals. They may work with college students, displaced workers or people looking to improve their careers.

Key Coursework in Counseling Psychology Programs

Coursework for counseling psychology students can vary widely between degree levels and institutions, allowing students to choose classes that suit their interests and goals. Counseling psychology programs often divide their curricula into topic clusters, like cognitive or social psychology, and students can choose courses within these categories. This gives students the freedom to customize their educations while ensuring their coursework is well-rounded. The table below lists some common courses counseling psychology students can choose at different points in their educations.

Degree Level
Associate Introduction to Social Psychology An overview of people and their interpersonal relationships and behaviors is social settings. Attitudes, ideologies, conformity, competition and influence will be discussed.
Introduction to Abnormal Psychology An introduction to abnormal behavior, symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention.
Introduction to Research Methods Methods and techniques used in psychological research.
Bachelor’s Analysis of Behavior A survey of the research, applications and philosophy of reinforcement theory in behavior analysis.
Physiological Psychology A look at the relationships between physiological functions and behavior. Effects of drugs, internal secretions and neural lesions will be addressed.
Personality Theory and Research An introduction to major theories of personality, including development, dynamics and structure.
Master’s Psychology of Interpersonal Communications A lab in which students develop and hone fundamental skills for effective communication, advanced counseling and therapy.
Substance Abuse Counseling Students dive into the theories and practical methods for counseling individuals with struggling with substance abuse.
Multicultural Counseling Issues Introduction to multicultural issues, like gender, race, class, sexual orientation and ability, and their implications in counseling practices.
PhD/PsyD Contemporary Practice of Professional Psychology An examination of trends, opinions and opportunities in the professional psychology field.
Ethics and Professional Responsibilities Theoretical and practical roles of ethics in the psychology field, including how counselors make ethical decisions, identify dilemmas and choose the best course of action.
Practicum/Clinical Practice A hands-on, practical experience in the counseling psychology field. Students will gain experience in diagnosis, counseling procedures, consultation and ethics in individual and group settings.

Licenses & Certifications for Counseling Psychologists

Certification and licensure are two separate components of professional counseling psychology. Prospective counseling psychologists must get licensed by the state in which they want to practice after completing their counseling psychology program. Certifications are optional and serve to validate a psychologist’s expertise in specialized areas within the field. Earning certifications can help counseling psychologists stand out to potential clients and employers, and unlike licensure, certifications carry over between states.

Earning Your Counseling Psychology License

While licensure requirements for counseling psychologists vary between states, there are a few steps that professionals typically must complete before gaining licensure. After completing their counseling psychology programs, graduates should check their state boards for specific information on licensure requirements.

Earn master’s degree

Prospective counseling psychologists must start with a master’s degree from an accredited institution. Students should look for counseling psychology programs accredited by the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC).

Complete internship or practicum

All states require a combination of supervised and unsupervised work experience for counseling psychologists. The best way to get this is through an internship or practicum, which can often be arranged through a master’s degree program.

Register and study for the National Counselor Examination for Licensure (NCE) or
National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE)

Counseling psychologists pursuing licensure must first apply to take the NCE or NCMHCE and must be approved to take the exam. Approved applicants are given a test date and should make sure they are prepared for the exam by that date.

Take the NCE or the NCMHCE

Applicants must take their test in person on their designated test date. The NCE is a 200-question multiple choice exam. The NCMHCE consists of 10 simulations designed to test broad clinical competencies. Scores are automatically sent to the applicant’s state licensing board.

Steps to a Counseling Psychology Certification

The American Board of Professional Psychology counseling psychology certification validates seasoned counseling psychologists’ experience and expertise in the field. Applicants undergo an examination that involves a videotaped psychotherapy, supervision or consultation session. Before taking the exam, certification candidates must complete the application process and be approved to move forward. These steps must be completed before applicants can be approved to take the certification exam:

Earn a doctoral degree

Applicants must have a doctoral degree from a professional psychology program approved by the American Psychological Association (APA), Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) or the ABPP.

Gain licensure

Counseling psychology certification also requires that applicants be licensed as psychologists for independent practice within the U.S. or Canada.

Complete internship

Either a one-year, full-time internship or a two-year, part-time internship must be completed before earning the counseling psychology certification. Internships must be approved.

Gain postdoctoral experience

Applicants need at least two years of working experience after earning their doctorate in order to qualify. This experience indicates an extra level of expertise beyond doctoral education.

Submit certification applications

Both the counseling psychology specialty application form and the generic ABPP online application form must be completed and submitted for approval.

Spotlight On: Program Accreditation

In general, accreditation verifies that an institution or program meets specified standards of quality. For prospective counseling psychologists, the importance of finding an accredited program goes beyond quality education; most license- and certification-granting bodies require applicants to hold degrees from accredited programs. Those who want to pursue doctorates in counseling psychology also need to hold master’s degrees from accredited programs. The APA, CACREP and the MPCAC are the three main accrediting bodies for counseling psychology programs.

American Psychological Association (APA)

The APA is the national authority on accreditation of psychology education and professional training programs. The APA accredits doctoral, internship and postdoctoral residency programs.

Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP)

CACREP accredits programs in counseling and its specialties, including counseling psychology. The body’s scope includes master’s and doctoral degree programs.

Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC)

MPCAC accredits psychology and counseling programs within the U.S. MPCAC only accredits master’s degree programs.

Featured Career: Counseling Psychologist

Counseling Psychologist

What do they do?: Counseling psychologists help clients deal with personal and interpersonal concerns at various points in life. While they may address psychotherapy and treatment, historically, counseling psychologists focus more on advisement and guidance through emotional, social, developmental and educational or vocational issues. Counseling psychologists help clients manage problems and function better in their lives by helping them identify strengths and resolve crises.

Specialties available: Mental health; marriage and family; vocation and career; substance abuse; child and development; school

Annual Salary (2015): $70,580

Projected Job Growth (2014-2024): 20 percent

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015)

Related Degree Programs in Psychology & Counseling

The psychology field is huge and not limited to counseling psychology. Many psychology degrees provide opportunities to specialize in specific areas, conduct research or become well-versed in psychology as a whole. Prospective students can check out different degree levels and programs of study to get an idea of the field’s breadth.

  • Master’s in Counseling

    A master’s in counseling can give students experience in the counseling field as a whole as well as counseling specializations.

    Read More
  • Clinical Psychology Programs

    Clinical psychology programs expose students to practical and research opportunities and can prepare graduates to practice psychology in clinical healthcare facilities, private practices and other settings.

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  • School Psychology Programs

    Those interested in providing academic and social support to K-12 students and their families might want to look into school psychology programs.

    Read More
  • Master’s in Psychology (General)

    Master’s in psychology degrees provide a deeper understanding of human behavior. They are ideal for those preparing for PhDs or careers in a variety of fields related to mental health.

    Read More

Additional Resources for Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychology students can learn more about the field and their prospective specializations by visiting professional association websites. These associations often offer benefits to members and have information about education, certification and careers.

  • American Academy of Counseling Psychology

    The AAoCP is a branch of the American Board of Professional Psychology. Learn about the field, certification and stay on top of counseling psychology news.

  • American Counseling Association

    This professional organization is the largest in the country representing counselors in multiple settings. Access podcasts, webinars, continuing education and licensure information, publications and other materials, and connect with fellow counselors.

  • American Psychological Association – Students

    This APA page is dedicated to providing education planning tools, writing guides, advice and other resources to students in various psychology fields.

  • Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards

    Get information about professional licensure, exams, transferring test scores and state board requirements, and access additional professional resources.

  • National Board for Certified Counselors

    Learn about national counselor certification and state licensure, access study materials for exams and check out the job board for career and internship opportunities.

  • Society of Counseling Psychology

    This branch of the APA provides research, publications, student information and other resources related to professional counseling psychology.

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