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Doctorate of Counseling Psychology (PsyD)
Counseling psychologists work face-to-face with individuals, couples, families, and groups to help them identify and address their challenges. These might include concerns such as mental health disorders, behavioral issues, relationship problems, and just about any other challenge that can affect our daily lives. With a PsyD in counseling psychology, you’ll gain the knowledge and experience you need to assess patients, provide therapies, and help a wide range of populations thrive.
Are you interested in using your expertise to make a positive impact on people’s everyday lives? Read on to find out what you can expect regarding the education, employment, and professional opportunities associated with a PsyD in counseling psychology.
What Is Counseling Psychology?
Counseling psychology concentrates on emotional, social, physical, vocational, and educational concerns among patients of all ages. It emphasizes helping people improve their well-being, alleviate daily stresses, and resolve personal and interpersonal crises. Counseling psychology also includes interventions associated with mental, emotional, behavioral, and physical disorders.
In practice, counseling psychologists use established theory and research to serve people in many types of settings. With a diverse patient population, interventions are determined by individual circumstances. Depending on a patient’s needs, therapies can be short- or long-term. They can be used to address problems or establish goals. Therapies often are delivered in 1-to-1 or small group settings.
Counseling Psychology PsyD Programs
Counseling psychology PsyD programs emphasize clinical training and the application of research to practice. A PsyD in counseling psychology prepares you to conduct assessments and provide interventions to individuals and groups in independent practice or other unsupervised positions. This degree, as well as other doctoral-level programs, can be used to satisfy the educational requirement for state licensure.
There are many areas of specialization within counseling psychology. Opportunities vary by program, but some common concentrations include:
- Aging and senior issues
- Children and adolescents
- Industrial/organizational issues
- Marriage and family
- Sports psychology
- Substance abuse and addictions
- Trauma and abuse
PhD vs. PsyD – What’s the difference?
A PhD in counseling psychology is another degree that can qualify you for licensing. Both a PhD and PsyD in counseling psychology can lead to state licensure and similar roles, but the programs differ in the focus of their curriculum.
A PhD emphasizes scientific research and teaching as a way to generate new knowledge in the field. The curriculum includes the advanced study of statistics and research methods and requires you to complete and defend a dissertation. A PhD is more appropriate if you want to pursue a career in academia or research.
A PsyD program, on the other hand, emphasizes the application of existing knowledge to clinical services in private, group, or organizational settings. Coursework emphasizes techniques for interacting with individuals, families, or groups. You may prefer a PsyD if you’re interested in working with patients 1-on-1, without spending as much time on studies that emphasize statistics and research.
Admission requirements for PsyD counseling psychology degrees vary by institution. Students typically enter with a master’s degree in psychology, counseling, or a closely related field. If your degree is in an unrelated field, you’ll likely have to take prerequisites in human development, psychology, or statistics before beginning your PsyD degree coursework.
Gaining acceptance to a top PsyD counseling program can be competitive. Most programs require the following:
- Academic letters of recommendation
- Academic writing samples
- In-person interview
- Official academic transcripts
- Professional letters of recommendation
- Proof of professional experience
- School-specific essays
Is there a GPA requirement?
Many PsyD counseling psychology programs require a GPA of 3.0 or higher, though it’s not uncommon for highly competitive schools to require a 3.5 or above. In addition, some programs have a GPA requirement of at least a 3.2 for psychology courses specifically.
Do you need to take the GRE?
Many, though not all, PsyD programs require that you take the GRE and achieve specific scores for admission. These requirements vary, so it’s best to check with each program for specific criteria. Top psychology grad schools report average scores of around 160 out of 170 on both the Verbal and Quantitative sections, and around a 5 out of 6 on Analytical Writing. In addition to the general GRE, some PsyD programs also require that applicants take the GRE Psychology subject test.
It’s important to note that programs that do require the GRE often only accept scores from within 5 years before the date of your application.
Can you get in without a master’s degree?
Some counseling psychology PsyD programs allow you to enroll without a master’s degree, though an undergraduate degree is required. These programs, known as joint or dual degree programs, allow you to earn your master’s after earning a specific number of credits in the doctoral program.
How Long Does It Take to Get a PsyD in Counseling Psychology?
Most counseling psychology PsyD programs require between 90 and 120 semester hours, or the quarter equivalent, though this varies widely by institution. APA-accredited programs must include at least 3 full-time academic years and a 1-year internship, so 4 years is the minimum time to completion. Most PsyD degrees typically require between 4 and 6 years of full-time study on a year-round basis.
In addition, some programs have a limit on the number of years you’re allowed to complete the degree. If you can’t meet the requirements within the limit—often 5 or 6 years—you’ll need to petition the school for an extension.
To take advantage of accelerated programs, you typically have to attend full-time and apply transfer credits from a previous master’s degree toward your PsyD. However, you’ll still have to attend an accredited program for a minimum of 4 years.
Some programs allow you to transfer up to 24 credits from related graduate coursework, though there are often limitations on how far in the past these courses were completed.
Education requirements for a PsyD in counseling psychology include coursework in psychological science and theory, along with opportunities for applied clinical practice. Programs help students develop advanced skills in assessment, diagnosis, and treatment for application across a wide range of patients and settings. Some programs allow students to concentrate on specific populations or issues in their elective coursework.
All PsyD programs require an internship, with criteria varying by program. In addition, some PsyD programs require a dissertation or equivalent capstone project, though this is more common with PhDs.
Common core classes for a PsyD in counseling psychology can include:
- Cognitive assessment
- Diagnosis and intervention
- Diversity issues
- Ethics and professional issues
- Personality assessment
- Qualitative research
- Quantitative research and statistical analysis
- Social and organizational psychology
- Vocational assessment and career counseling
Is an Internship or Other Fieldwork Required?
To earn your degree, you’ll need to complete an APA-accredited internship that includes at least 1 year of full-time counseling psychology experience before graduation. This is often preceded by various types of fieldwork designed to prepare you for the experience. Beginning in your first year, you can expect to begin participating in practicums where you’ll observe professionals in the field and make limited contributions to apply what you learned in the classroom.
Depending on your state’s requirements, you may also need to complete between 1,000 and 2,000 supervised hours of postdoctoral experience to qualify for licensure.
Are There any Online Programs?
Programs that offer a PsyD degree online allow you to complete some of your coursework outside the classroom at your convenience. However, earning a PsyD requires an internship as well as supervised practicums, so an online program will still require that you spend time at approved locations to fulfill these criteria.
How to Choose a Counseling Psychology PsyD Program
When choosing a counseling psychology PsyD program, make sure that the program is accredited by the APA, CPA, or a national accrediting agency approved by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). You can access a searchable database of APA-accredited programs on the organization’s website.
Accreditation ensures that your program meets quality standards, qualifies you for state licensing applications, and meets the requirements for professional certification from the ABPP.
Choosing a counseling psychology PsyD program involves exploring an individual program’s structure, curriculum, and cost to determine whether it matches your resources and goals. Consider:
- Does this program offer the areas of concentration I want to study?
- Is there a part-time and/or online option for working students?
- Is a dissertation or capstone project required?
- What’s the average class size?
- How often do students match with their first choice internship?
- What are the graduation and employment rates?
- How successful are graduates in licensure and certification exams?
- Can I speak to recent graduates about their experiences?
- What types of financial aid are offered?
Clinical vs. Counseling Psychology
Distinguishing between clinical and counseling psychology can be confusing since professionals in both subfields can work as researchers and provide psychotherapy in the same types of settings. In addition, both clinical and counseling psychologists qualify for licensure as independent practitioners in all 50 states.
While the competencies required for clinical and counseling psychologists are generally the same, there are nuances that distinguish these specialties. Generally, clinical psychologists are more likely to address issues related to serious mental illness and treat patients with long-term psychopathologies. Their patients are likely to struggle with conditions such as PTSD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and severe depression.
In contrast, counseling psychologists are more likely to emphasize wellness and prevention, working with healthy patients who have fewer serious psychological issues. They often treat patients who need assistance in addressing social, emotional, and physical problems related to family, school, or work issues. Counseling psychologists may specialize in areas such as relationship issues, career management, substance abuse, or significant life changes.
Where do counseling psychologists work?
Counseling psychologists can work as teachers or researchers, though most are employed as clinical practitioners in independent practice. Counseling psychologists also provide services in:
- Business and industrial organizations
- Family services agencies
- Healthcare facilities
- Mental health centers
- Rehabilitation agencies
- University counseling centers
- Veterans Administration medical centers
Licensing and Credentials
To work as a counseling psychologist, you’ll need to meet the requirements for licensure in the state where you work. Holding a license is necessary if you want to work in private practice or in another position without supervision. Most states require that you hold a doctoral degree and meet specific requirements involving hours of experience and exams to qualify for licensure.
In most states, your doctoral program must be accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) or the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA). A program designated by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) is often acceptable.
After earning your doctorate in psychology, all aspiring psychologists must take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) administered by the ASPPB. This is the national exam required of all psychologists in the country. It consists of 225 multiple-choice questions and, in general, must be passed with a score of at least 500 out of 800, though your state might use different criteria.
Many states also require applicants to pass an additional jurisprudence exam that covers the specific laws and regulations related to psychology practice in that state.
Financial Aid for Counseling Psychologist
The cost of earning a PsyD in counseling psychology varies depending on the type of school you attend. A 2016 study by the APA reported that the median annual tuition for doctorate programs totaled:
- Public, in-state: $11,000
- Public, out-of-state: $24,000
- Private: $34,000
Typically, PsyD students in counseling psychology don’t qualify for tuition remission for teaching or research assistantships since those opportunities are usually reserved for PhD students. However, you may be able to offset your education costs with fellowships or scholarships. These awards can be short- or long-term and, in the case of fellowships, may include additional stipends and benefits.
You can also apply for other types of financial aid. The first step is to determine your eligibility for need-based assistance by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you qualify for aid, you also may be eligible to work part-time in positions funded by the Federal Work-Study program.
If your financial resources are limited, it’s important to exhaust all potential sources of funding. Find out whether you qualify for financial awards based on academic merit or other criteria. Some potential sources include:
- Financial awards from your school or program
- State incentive programs
- Private businesses
- National and local chapters of psychology associations
- Professional or community organizations
- Nontraditional student scholarships
- Employer tuition reimbursement
- Military or other government service scholarships
- Student loans
Student loan forgiveness
With a doctorate in counseling psychology, you may qualify for student loan forgiveness if you meet specific requirements. These requirements include having direct student loans, making at least 120 repayments, and working full-time in a government agency or nonprofit organization. Other criteria can include that you work in an area where there’s a shortage of counseling psychologists.
Loan forgiveness programs funded by the U.S. government include:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program
- Federal Perkins Loan Cancellation Program
- National Health Services Corps Loan Repayment Program
- National Institutes of Health (NIH) Student Loan Repayment Program
You might also be eligible for state-sponsored loan forgiveness programs, which typically have similar repayment and employment criteria. Contact your state’s Department of Health to find out about the programs that are available.
Joining a professional organization can help you remain current on industry news, scientific findings, and practice trends. These groups often provide opportunities for networking, professional development, and job hunting. Some prominent organizations include:
- American Counseling Association (ACA): The ACA includes counseling professionals from various practice settings in the U.S. The organization promotes professional development, advocates for the profession, and works to establish standards to protect those who use counseling services.
- American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA): The AMHCA includes licensed clinical mental health counselors across the U.S. It offers opportunities for education, leadership, advocacy, and collaboration.
- Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI): The ABAI supports the science and practice of behavioral analysis. Members share best practices, research findings, educational strategies, and opportunities for professional growth.
- International Association for Cognitive Psychotherapy (IACP): The IACP is an interdisciplinary organization that works to facilitate the growth and utilization of psychotherapy as a scientific discipline and professional endeavor. The organization promotes education, journal publication, and membership credentialing.
- Society of Counseling Psychology (APA Division 17) (SCP): The SCP is 1 of over 54 APA divisions dedicated to subfields and other topical areas in the field of psychology. The SCP promotes the field of counseling psychology through shared research, networking, and other professional development opportunities consistent with the APA mission.
- Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP): The SPSP works to advance the science, teaching, and application of personality and social psychology. The organization promotes education, research publication, and member support.