How to Become a Counseling Psychologist
Counseling psychologists help people with hard decisions, problems in their lives, and general emotional well-being. It requires understanding different personalities, communication, and how people think and make decisions. This can be a very demanding field, but those who enjoy it find it mentally rewarding as well as financially worthwhile.
Most states require you to have a doctorate degree in order to be licensed as a counseling psychologist. You can get either a Ph.D. or a PsyD, but it is important to note that each of these has a different focus. The Ph.D. is focused on preparing graduates for careers in academia, while the PsyD’s emphasis is on being a practicing psychologist.
To get a doctorate, you’ll typically need to go through the usual three-degree pathway in counseling psychology: bachelor’s, master’s, and finally, the doctorate. You can do this by starting out at a university, or you can first get an associate’s degree at a community college and then transfer to the university to continue your studies.
- Associate's Degree – A two-year degree providing an entryway into your career as a counseling psychologist.
- Bachelor's Degree in Applied Psychology – A four-year degree providing basic education in psychology.
- Master's Degree in Applied Psychology – A master’s degree requires that you first achieve a bachelor’s degree, followed by an additional two years of study.
- Graduate Certificate in Applied Psychology – A non-degree that can provide a closer look at your specialty of counseling psychology.
- Doctorate Degree in Applied Psychology – The highest level of education, and typically required of a counseling psychologist. It will require a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree and an additional three to six years of study, an internship, or related work in your field.
Requirements for becoming licensed as a counseling psychologist usually vary by state. Most demand a doctorate degree. In order to apply for a license to practice as a counseling psychologist, you must go through your state’s department of psychology.
Internship / Practicum Experience
Before you can become licensed as a counseling psychologist, you will be required to fulfill a certain amount of hours in an internship, or related work. This is typically done while working towards your doctorate, but in some cases, you can perform these work hours during your master’s study. The number of hours required of you will vary from state to state.
Along with the educational requirement, you can expect to have to pass the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Board’s (ASPPB) Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) as well as a test on the jurisprudence, or laws, governing the practice of psychology in the licensing state.
There is always a fee associated with becoming licensed. Typically, it is a few hundred dollars.
Each state’s requirements vary at least a bit, and licenses are only good in the state that granted them. Therefore, it is essential to get licensed where you intend to practice.
Renewal requirements also vary by state. In some, all it takes to renew your license is to pay a fee. Other states require continuing education or other efforts, along with the fee, in order to qualify for renewal.
Most new counseling psychologists start out working for someone else. They can be hired by organizations, professional psychology groups, clinics, and other such establishments. If you choose to take this route, your next step is to apply for a job.
Some decide to open their own practices from the start. This is a gutsy move and great if it works out. In this case, it’s important to learn the nuts and bolts of running a business as well as how to practice psychology.
What Careers Can I Pursue With a Counseling Psychology Degree?
There are many careers available if you have a counseling psychology degree. In some states, you might not even have to be a certified psychologist to get started! Of course, the higher your credential, the more likely you are to be hired. You’re also more likely to land higher on the income curve.
- School Counselor – These counselors don’t just help with academic issues. Assisting students in navigating their social lives is just as important. You can work in schools ranging from elementary school all the way to college.
- Geriatric Counselor – Assess the mental needs and psychological health of senior citizens, offer solutions for troubles in their lives, and help them deal with problems associated with aging as well as ongoing social challenges.
- Health Psychologist – Help people deal with chronic conditions, guide them through recovery, and keep them motivated to stay as healthy as possible.
Where Can I Work With a Counseling Psychology Degree?
The options available to you, and that you’ll be interested in, will depend on the type of people you want to help as well as in which organizations in your area are currently hiring. Some examples of potential employers include:
- Local School Districts – You might not be assigned to the school closest to you, but there are typically openings somewhere within a district.
- Sports Teams – Teams don’t have to be big-league in order to want their members to perform better. College teams, top high school teams, and feeder teams are all possibilities if you want to be a sports counselor.
- Psychological Counseling Practices – Many such practices are professional groups, and in some areas, they often have slots for more doctors. These groups provide general psychological counseling services to a wide range of people.
- Medical Centers – Health-focused counseling psychologists can be found here. If you enjoy motivating people to recover from injury and illness, apply at one or more of these locations.
- Drug Rehab Facilities – Plenty of counselors work in these facilities. Here, they not only try to motivate patients to remain sober but work with them to deconstruct and overcome the factors that contributed to their addictions.
It’s best to know what salaries to expect before applying for jobs, so you can tell if you’re getting good offers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median income for a counseling psychologist was $82,510 in 2021. Some sub-specialties make slightly different wages. For example, a school counselor’s median income was $78,780, while one working for a hospital made a median income of $99,330.