During School & Obtaining Licensure

During SchoolCounseling Psychology Courses to Expect

Students enrolled in a graduate counseling psychology program should expect to take a variety of courses designed for the development of professional counseling knowledge and skills. The majority of courses are considered to be generalist, and focus on behavioral modification, counseling techniques, assessments and research methods. Individuals may also choose additional coursework depending on a particular area of specialization. A few of the common areas of specialization within the field of counseling psychology include: vocational assessment, career development, substance abuse counseling, health psychology, multicultural counseling and child development. Finally, students should be prepared to complete clinical courses. These types of courses are intended to allow students the chance to actually apply their assessment, research and counseling skills under professional supervision.

General Psychology Courses

Typically, graduate students are required to take several general courses related to the counseling psychology profession.  The knowledge gain from these courses should prepare students for the program’s clinical component. A few examples of the courses students can expect are individual and group counseling techniques, professional ethics, assessment and diagnosis, developmental psychology, multi-cultural counseling, career development, statics and research. Doctoral programs typically require students to complete similar types of coursework, but also call for additional research courses.

Clinical Courses

Clinical course allow students to apply a variety of techniques used in the counseling psychology profession. The fieldwork requirements of graduate programs also expose students to working in different settings. Students are usually required to complete at least one practicum. Practicum courses allow students to be introduced to practicing their professional skills with a limited number of hours working in a field placement. The students also receive supervision and guidance by attending the practicum’s classroom component.  After successful completion of the practicum, students advance to internship experiences. Internships require students to complete more hours actually working in the field placement with less intensive supervision. Individuals enrolled in a doctoral degree program are required to complete 1 year or 3,000 hours of internship experience. Counseling psychology internships are available at university counseling centers, governmental agencies, hospitals, and non-private organizations. Additional information about internship requirements and approved placements may be obtain from the American Psychological Association by visiting http://www.apa.org/ed/accreditation/programs/internships-state.aspx

Average Length of Programs

The average master’s degree takes approximately 2 years of full-time study to complete. Doctoral degree students should anticipate spending around 5 to 6 years of full-time study, which includes a 1 year internship. Please note that the time required to complete a counseling psychology degree may vary depending on the program, the number of credit hours enrolled, and each student’s individual educational background.

Part-Time and Flexible Programs

There are a number of Master’s and Doctoral degree programs with flexible program formats.  Programs can be found on campus, online, or at satellite locations. However, the American Psychology Association has not accredited any PhD programs offered solely online. Graduate counseling psychology programs also exist with part-time options to meet the needs of busy individuals. Finally, degree can be earned with programs offering nights and weekends classes.  A list of accredited doctoral programs including those offering flexible formats can be obtained here. A listing of flexible master’s degree programs can be found here.

Graduation Requirements

Graduation requirements vary based upon each program’s standards. However, those seeking a master’s degree can expect to successfully complete all coursework and clinical field experiences. Master’s degree programs requirements usually include approximately 1,000 hours of clinical fieldwork. Doctoral students should expect to complete a minimum of 3,000 hours of internship experience. Additionally, a number of graduate schools also require students to maintain a 3.0 GPA and to produce a research based thesis paper. Additionally, Ph.D. programs include more intensive research requirements used in the development of students’ dissertations.

Working While in Graduate School

Working StudentStudents are advised to discuss the possibility of working during attending graduate school with their instructors. It is common for students in master’s degree programs to be able to maintain part-time employment while enrolled in the general course requirements. However, students completing internships are usually discouraged from maintaining outside employment. Those enrolled in doctoral programs are rarely able to maintain jobs, due to the demands of these programs. The good news is that paid internships and financial assistance are available for counseling psychology students. A great place to start your exploration of potential sources of financial assistance is The U.S. Department of Education’s pamphlet for funding graduate education by visiting the following link:  https://studentaid.ed.gov/sites/default/files/graduate-professional-funding-info.pdf.

Counseling Psychologist Licensure Requirements

Individuals with accredited master’s degrees in counseling psychology are eligible to seek licensure to practice as professional counselors.  Individuals holding accredited doctoral degree may also apply for licensure as professional counselors, yet the majority of doctoral students will seek licensure to practice as  psychologists. Interested in the many careers a counseling psychology graduate has potential with? See our breakdown of career licensure requirements.

State by State Requirements

Each state sets requirements for individuals seeking licensure to practice as a professional counselor. State requirements for counselor certification typically require a master’s degree in counseling, supervised internship hours, and passing an approved examination. The National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification provides the most widely recognized examination used to qualify for licensure to practice as a counselor in most states. To read more about this exam visit www.nbcc.org/nce. The American Association of Counseling has also compiled a list of state certification boards contact information and licensure requirements, which can be found at www.counseling.org/docs/licensure/72903_excerpt_for_web.pdf?sfvrsn=2.

The requirements for licensure to practice as a psychologist may vary depending on individual state’s licensing board policies. However, applicants are usually required to have an accredited doctoral degree in psychology. Applicants should also be prepared to show proof of supervised clinical hours. This may vary from 3,000 to 6,000 hours of fieldwork. Lastly, those seeking licensure should be prepared to present a passing score on the Examination of Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Please note candidate must also pass an oral exam in certain states.

Retention of Documents for Licensure

Students should always retain a copy of all course syllabi, instructions’ names and credentials, and records of all internship experiences. This is essential, because same state’s licensing boards may scrutinize candidates’ educational background. However, applicants who received degrees accredited by CRCRAP, APA or ASPPB will usually not be required to provide additional course information. All candidate seeking licensure are encouraged to keep track of records concerning postdoc, internships and degree information utilizing the databanks of professional organizations, such as the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Board  (www. asppb.org) or the National Psychologist Trainee Register (www.nationalregister.org).

Gaining Work & Professional Experience

There are numerous ways that can be used to gain experience in the area of counseling psychology. Individuals interested in pursuing this career should keep in mind that field experience can be very beneficial. First, it may assist students with the development of professional skills and gain hands on knowledge. It can also give applicants an advantage in obtaining future employment.

Counseling Psychology Internships

One common method is by utilizing both practicum and internship hours. This fieldwork often serves as an excellent opportunity for students to network with other professionals and potential employers.  The following websites provide a listing of potential internship opportunities for graduate students studying psychology counseling at both the master’s and doctoral degree levels.


Individual can gain pertinent experience without an advanced degree. A few examples of entry level positions include: case manager, children protection worker, group home supervisor, graduate assistant, and mental health technician. These types of jobs can supply valuable experience and may lead to career advancement within the employer’s organization. Read more about working as a counseling psychologist.


Those consider a career in counseling psychology should consider the various volunteer options available to explore the professional and different work environments. The Volunteer Match website provides a wealth listing for both onsite and virtual opportunities at http://www.volunteermatch.org/. Also, check out the following websites to explore potential volunteer opportunities for individuals interested in the field of counseling psychology.

Other Sources for Experience

Counseling psychology related experience can also be gain by utilizes the resources and materials provided by professional organizations. A couple of outstanding examples can be found by visiting The Society of Counseling Psychology online at www.div17.org, or The Association for Counselor Education and Supervision at www.acesonline.net. Professional organization also can help individuals gain experience with providing workshop and continuing education opportunities.

Required Licensing Exams

The National Board for Certified Counselors administers three exams which are commonly required for both national and state counselor certification for applicants possessing a master’s degree. The examinations offered include: National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE), Examination for Master Addictions Counselors (EMAC) and National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). Each exam consists of 200 multiple choice questions given over a 4 hour time period.  Please be aware it is every candidate’s responsibility to contact their states licensing board to determine if the exam meets licensure requirements for their chosen are of specialization. The National Board for Certified Counselors website contains additional resources, which can be found at http://www.nbcc.org/exams.

Doctoral level applicants seeking certification as psychologists are required to earn a passing score on a state approved examination. The Association of Psychology Licensing Boards or ASPPB serves as the provider of the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). The EPPP is a computerized test containing 225 questions. This standardized exam is used by state licensing boards to determine applicant’s eligibility to be licensed as a psychologist. However, some states may require additional testing requirements.  The Association of Psychology Licensing Boards provides detailed information located at http://www.asppb.net/

Study Tips

It is important that candidates are prepared for their professional licensure examination. Students can find a number of study guides and sample questions located online. Official study guides can be obtain from The National Board for Certified Counselors at http://www.nbcc.org/study and The Association of Psychology Licensing Boards at http://www.asppb.net/?page=Practiceexinfo. Test takers should get a full night of sleep and eat a healthy breakfast before their exams. It is also important to arrive at your testing location early with all required documents. Finally, test takers should carefully watch the time and pace themselves. This will help to ensure sufficient time is available for test completion.