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How to Become a Counseling Psychologist

Increasingly, there is need for psychologists in our changing societies. With growth and development come great benefits, and urbanization likewise offers opportunity to city-dwellers and major environmental perks. However, human density and the stresses of modern life also make it more likely than ever that the average citizen will suffer some form of relationship distress or emotional disorder.

Counseling psychologists, among others, are tasked with helping people work through these issues and traumas in a healthy way that leads to the most successful long-term life. If you’d like to contribute to the well being of others, you might want to consider this profession.

First, though, it helps to understand more about it and what it takes to get there. Most counseling psychologists need a master’s degree or doctorate, which you can read more about below.

You should also familiarize yourself with what the profession is and what it entails, as well as the other steps you need to take to begin practicing. Here’s a quick overview, so get started now!

What Is Counseling Psychology?

When you think of a psychologist, you are most likely thinking of a counseling psychologist. These are your standing psychology professionals, who often see patients in their own offices or else work for clinics that specialize in psychological services.

According to the American Psychological Association, “Counseling psychology … focuses on how people function both personally and in their relationships at all ages. Counseling psychology addresses the emotional, social, work, school and physical health concerns people may have at different stages in their lives, focusing on typical life stresses and more severe issues with which people may struggle as individuals and as a part of families, groups and organizations.”

The ultimate goal is that “Counseling psychologists help people with physical, emotional and mental health issues improve their sense of well‐being, alleviate feelings of distress and resolve crises. They also provide assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of more severe psychological symptoms.”

What Does a Counseling Psychologist Do?

Exactly what role a counseling psychologist plays depends on whom they decide to work with and what issues, if any, they decide to focus on. For instance, a psychologist might work with:

  • Certain populations, such as the elderly, adults or children
  • Groups of people, like troubled youth; couples who come in for marriage counseling; or children who are struggling with trauma, abuse or school
  • Niche populations, such as military personnel who come home from warzones and experience PTSD or other issues

SEE ALSO: Clinical vs. Counseling Psychology Degree Differences

Depending on where they focus, they will complete different tasks and responsibilities throughout the day. These could include:

  • Assessing people and their needs
  • Diagnosing specific issues
  • Designing treatment plans using the above information
  • Providing information to other stakeholders, such as family members, school officials, case managers or the judicial system
  • Consulting with organizations or corporations on workplace psychology
  • Supervising the clinical hours of others
  • Researching and publishing their findings

Most counseling psychologists, however, work on-on-one or in groups with patients as their main focus, rather than working in an academic setting.

What Is the Job Outlook?

Psychologists overall have a great job outlook. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychologists make on average $79,010 per year or $37.99 per hour. Jobs are projected to grow at a rate of 14 percent between 2018 and 2028, which is must faster than average. The takeaway is that you should have no trouble finding a job upon graduating with your master’s degree.

More specific data on counseling psychologists indicates that they can expect to make an even higher average salary: $41.03 an hour or $85,340 per year. The discrepancy likely arises from the specialization inherent in this role. Also, note that the longer you stay in the field, the likelier you are to see a higher salary. Those who work for decades can easily make six figures.

What Degree Do You Need?

In order to become a counseling psychologist, you need either a master’s degree or a doctoral degree, either a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) or a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology).

SEE ALSO: 5+ Online PhD in Counseling Psychology Programs

Which degree works best for you will depend on:

  1. The state in which you intend to work, which will have its own requirements about certification and licensing
  2. The organization with which you intend to work, some of which may require the terminal doctorate degree, and others of which will accept a masters
  3. Whether you intend to work in an academic setting, in which case you typically need the doctorate to run your own studies while working with patients

To get the master’s degree, you need a four-year degree first. Once you have it, you can apply to a master’s program, which is usually 1-2 years. For the doctorate, you must first get the master’s, and then spend another 3-5 years (depending on whether you’re working at the same time) to get the PhD or PsyD.

Note that if you are planning to get a terminal degree, you’ll want to choose carefully depending on your interest. If what you want is to work daily with patients, the PsyD is a better choice. It trains you in the latest “hands on” methods, whereas the PhD is geared more toward academia.

What Does Coursework Include?

When getting a degree of any kind in counseling psychology, you can expect to cover some or all the following topics:

  • Various therapy and counseling techniques
  • Fundamentals of psychology
  • Research methods
  • Child psychology and advocacy
  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Marriage counseling

Most likely you will not focus on all of these. Instead, you will choose one or several focus areas that will help you build the career you envision. For instance, those who like working with families would probably choose to focus on marriage counseling and child advocacy, both of which will suit you for treating anyone from a young child to an older married couple. Speak to admissions officers at your potential schools to learn more about whether their programs will fit you.

How Do You Get a License?

Following graduation from your chosen program, you must then obtain a license. This also varies by state, but typically requires taking the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology and accruing a certain number of clinical supervised hours, usually during the program itself, but sometimes afterward as well. Once you have the license in hand, you can begin practicing, though again, it will usually be with supervision for the first several years.

Do you think counseling psychology might be for you? Please feel free to get in touch with us to ask further questions today!

References

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Ann Steele, Ph.D.

Ann Steele, Ph.D.

Editor-In-Chief

Ann Steele, Ph.D., is Editor-In-Chief of PsydPrograms.org. Ann has training as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who has worked with adults, couples, adolescents, and preteens throughout San Diego county.