Completion of a master’s degree in counseling is often a prerequisite for many counseling jobs, especially those requiring state licensure. Graduate programs in counseling are available in all 50 states. These programs build on the foundation laid by a bachelor’s degree in counseling, focusing on different counseling settings and other specializations. The degree prepares graduates for careers as drug abuse counselors, school counselors or private psychiatrists. A field-based service or practicum component is usually incorporated into online counseling master’s degree requirements. Some graduates go on to obtain an online PhD in counseling to practice psychology or teach in higher education.
Students can pursue one of several different degrees. The following is a list of some of the types of master’s degrees in counseling that students typically choose:
- Mental Health: Students seeking a mental health concentration in their program learn more about the therapeutic application of counseling practices. Much of the coursework focuses on topics such as psychopathology, human development, grief counseling and abuse counseling.
- Educational Counseling: Students specializing in educational counseling can be licensed for elementary, secondary or postsecondary counseling. The educational counseling specialty requires students to explore issues in child psychology, behavioral development and family counseling.
- Marriage and Family: This concentration within counseling promotes healthy, holistic relationships among groups or couples. Community counseling, family therapy, family origins and marital systems are studied in this graduate program.
- Addictions Counseling: Another therapy-based concentration is addictions counseling. Students in this specialty explore gambling addiction, drug addiction, addictive behavior and eating disorders.
- Community Counseling: Graduate degrees with a concentration in community counseling generally lead to work as personal coaches or aides. Coursework includes subjects such as multicultural counseling, career counseling and group counseling.
Length of Study
Completing an online master’s degree in counseling usually takes about 2 years or 37 quarter-credit hours.
The theories and practices prepare students to provide state-licensed services at hospitals, schools, churches or a number of other settings. Regardless of location, counseling students learn about behavioral therapies, emotional development and the effect of culture on psychology.
Some key areas that an online master’s degree in counseling may include:
- Counseling Theories and Techniques explore varying theories of psychology and counseling, including group, drug abuse and educational counseling.Counselor-client relationships, counseling practices and history of counseling theory are also part of theory and technique.
- Group Dynamics classes teach students about group counseling and leading groups through effective therapy sessions.
- Professional and Ethical Issues classes prepare students for the legal and ethical ramifications of their work. Risk management, legal standards and professional licensing are also often covered.
A bachelor’s degree in counseling in a related field is generally required. Related fields include psychology, sociology, behavioral science, social work and education.
Most graduate programs in counseling require the following:
- Application form
- Undergraduate transcripts
- Revised Graduate Records Exam scores (Revised GRE)
- Personal statement or essay
- Letters of recommendation
Professionals looking to make a career out of helping people in need can find a spot for themselves in the field of counseling. Counselors with a master’s degree will have a much easier time getting hired and working in positions that offer higher salaries. Because counseling is a career which deals with mental state and health, six years of education is necessary to be hired by many organizations, schools, corporations or to go into private business. Salaries for counseling professionals range from $44,000 to $140,000 for different positions. While salary is mainly dependent on job title and location, going to the right school can also be helpful.
Counseling professionals will benefit their career by specializing in a niche track. These specialties include clinical mental health, trauma, counseling psychology, professional counseling, school counseling, substance abuse, rehabilitation and more. Many programs will offer in-field experience for students in their specialty of interest to further skills and help students get a leg up when it comes time to apply for jobs. Some job possibilities students can consider:
- School and Career Counselor: These people help students or professionals work through social, personal and career growth issues. School and career counselors earn an average annual salary of $56,540 in the United States. Expected increases in public school and university enrollment are expected to create a 19 percent increase in this type of employment between now and 2020.
- Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists: These professions are typically combined statistically because of similarities in practice and subject matter. Counselors specializing in either mental health or marriage and family address emotional problems that prohibit healthy relationships between patients and their loved ones. In May 2011, the average wage for these professionals was $48,710 per year. Employment is expected to increase rapidly, by 39 percent before 2020, as the population grows and people continue to seek help for mental health issues.
- Rehabilitation Counselors: This career path also requires a master’s degree as the minimum educational requirement for licensure. Rehabilitation counselors work with patients who live independently and are confronting emotional or physical problems in order to work and contribute to society. A student pursuing this career path can expect to earn an average salary of $37,070 per year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment in this career will grow by 28 percent between now and 2020, due largely to increased numbers of populations like the elderly and people with disabilities.
Certification is required for many counseling positions as well as better pay. For example, a mental health counselor makes $30,325-$53,872/year, but a licensed professional counselor makes up to $62,848, and a marriage/family therapist (certified) can make up to $140,000/year. Most graduate programs offer a certification track where students graduate ready to take their certification exams or with the qualifications and in-field hours required to be certified on the spot.