What Does a Career in Psychology or Counseling Entail?
Psychologists/Counselors provide counseling services, treatments, and advice to individuals who are emotionally distressed, have mental issues, or suffer from addiction, learning disorders, and other behavioral disorders.
While there are a vast variety of areas to specialize in, some may choose to be experts in clinical health; treating people with chronic illnesses such as diabetes or obesity, where others may specialize in mental health, which includes schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression.Read More
Some of the best qualities of psychologists are that they are great listeners and big thinkers with a calm, relaxed demeanor, which are all essential traits for this profession.
These professionals take theoretical approaches while utilizing a range of techniques to assist patients to cope with or overcome mental, physical, and emotional challenges; enabling them to live a better lifestyle.
Both psychologists and counselors may work in hospitals, clinics, schools, counseling centers, and private healthcare practices that may even be their own. Some of the fields a psychologist or counselor may work in are education and training, clinical research, and healthcare.
Psychology Counseling Degrees & Career Paths
Components of A Successful Career in Psychology/Counseling
Vital components of a career in Psychology consists of the following:
- Earning an Associate’s degree, a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and possibly even a Doctorate
- Getting certified and licensed
- Earning a Master’s in Business (MBA) (1 to 2 years) - If you are considering starting your own practice
- Joining a professional association in your field
- Owning your craft by continuing your education and staying up-to-date on the latest trends and technology; taking extra courses, attending conferences and webinars, and reading newly published papers.
- Networking and creating your online social presence (According to the U.S. Department of Labor, over 80% of job openings are filled through networking)
- Most importantly, never forget your original goal to help people
How to Earn a Degree in Psychology or Counseling
Although there may be only a few career options for someone holding an associate’s degree in psychology, this degree is a good stepping stone to move up to a bachelor’s degree just the same as a bachelor’s degree can lead into a master’s, and a master’s to a doctorate.
The path to earning a degree in Psychology/counseling is as follows:
- Earn an associate’s degree (2 years)
- Bachelor’s degree (2 to 5 years) - Specialize in a specific area
- Master’s degree (2 to 3 years) with a focus on business
- Doctorate either in “psychology” or “Philosophy in psychology” (4 to 7 years)
- Post-doctorate training (1 year)
Typical Degree Requirements
The basic requirements for earning an associate’s degree in psychology/counseling include getting 50 to 60 credits while completing core requirements and 3 to 4 psychology electives. The full program typically takes 2 years to complete and will prepare you for the following employment opportunities:
- Addiction Rehabilitation Assistant
- Youth Counselor
- Home Care Aide
- Psychiatric Nursing Assistant
The basic requirements for earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology/counseling include getting 120 to 130 college credits. Of those 30 to 36 must be courses in psychology. This can take anywhere from 2 to 5 years to complete.
A bachelor’s degree can lead to many entry-level positions such as:
- Mental Health Technicians
- Human Resource Workers
- Case Managers
- Social Services Agents
The basic requirements for earning a Master’s degree in psychology/counseling include getting 35 to 45 credit hours, completing all of the curricular requirements, a practicum or an internship, and a master’s thesis. This program can be completed in 2 to 3 years.
Earning a master’s degree allows practitioners to get licensed and work at a private practice in certain states as well as landing a job in the following fields:
- Forensic Psychology
- Mental Health
- Business Psychology
The basic requirements for earning a Doctoral degree in psychology/counseling include getting 70 to 80 college credits, a project defense before a board, doctoral dissertation paper and project, and you must engage in a certain amount of hours of supervised therapy under a professional, experienced psychologist. This course may take 4 to 7 years to complete.
The Doctoral Degree in Psychology is the highest obtainable degree in this area. With this degree, you can do just about anything. Some common occupations include:
- Patient Diagnosis and Treatment
Typical Certifications Needed
To practice psychology or counseling you must be state-licensed. Those who work at a federal or state institution, a research lab, a college or university, or certain corporations may be exempt from being licensed in some states.
After earning a doctoral, and completing a clinical post-doctoral internship, and dissertation, you are required to take and pass the ‘Professional Practice of Psychology’ exam and an ethics exam may also be required in some states.
Because each state has different licensure requirements, it is important that you check with the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) as they provide licensure information for all states.
It is mandatory in every state that school counselors receive school counselor state certification, some states may even require a teaching certificate and 2 – 5 years teaching experience as well.
The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) offers a ‘National Certified Counselor’ (NCC) certification to graduate degree holders who complete at least 2 years of field work (CACREP-accredited programs graduates who are educated in counseling are exempt), as well as those who pass the ‘NBCC's National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification’ (NCE). This certification is voluntary, but if passed, you may be exempt from the state's required certification exam.
Other national organizations in general mental health counseling certifications include..:
- Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor (NACCMHC)
- Certified Mental Health Counselor (CMHC)
- Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
- Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
The NBCC and other organizations, like the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC), also offer specialized certifications in fields like school counseling, addictions counseling, clinical mental health counseling, marriage and family counseling, and rehabilitation counseling.
To maintain their certification, NCCs must complete at least 100 hours of acceptable continuing education credit every five years (or retake and pass the NCE). State certifications also require continuing education, but the required amounts may differ by state.
- National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC)
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
- Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC)
The American Psychological Association (APA) sets guidelines for psychology training at both the undergraduate and graduate levels that include fairly standard curriculum, which must be adhered to in order to be recognized or accredited. Many states require licensed psychologists to continue their education which may include updating their subject matter, and knowledge of professional ethics, where most require at least 20 hours per year or 40 hours every two years.
Hence, other professional associations including the British Association for Counselling (BACP) sets training standards for psychotherapy and counseling in the U.K.
Exams and Experience Needed
All U.S. states and most Canadian provinces require that you pass the EPPP, created by the ASPPB, which consists of 225 multiple-choice questions. Passing scores are different in each state. However, most require at least 500, or 70%, on the computer-based exam. In addition, some states may also require that candidates also pass an oral exam, where others only require candidates to take a jurisprudence exam.
The licensure fees (including application, initial licensing costs, and exam fees) can range anywhere from $500 to over $1,000. For more information, check ASPPB's ‘Handbook of Licensure and Certification Requirements’. There are also study materials and prep courses available to help you out for a fee.
To obtain licensure, all states require that counselors in any field have experience. However, the amount of experience needed varies from state to state.
Important Questions to Ask
How long does it take to earn a Psychology or Counseling degree?
What you need to understand about online learning is that the amount of time it takes to complete courses entirely depends on your commitment to studying.
A typical bachelor’s degree requires 120 to 129 credits to complete the course, which can take around 2 years for full-time students with associate’s degrees who attend college on campus, where online training usually takes 4 years but can take up to 7 years since most students only study part-time. In fact, most online schools have a time limit to complete programs that include psychology, where they give you 7 years to complete the program and if you don’t finish in that time you will lose credits earned toward your degree.
Another example is studying for a master’s degree full-time on campus can take 2 years to complete, where studying online for the same course can take 3 to 4 years depending on how many courses you complete each semester. However, you should also be aware that, if you devote more time to studying than most on-campus students; if you complete courses during the summer and maintain a full course load each year, you will be able to finish your degree in less than 4 years.
How much does a degree in Psychology or Counseling cost?
It can cost $8,000 to $60,000 a year for a bachelor’s in psychology. This includes tuition, room and board, books, and supplies.
For a doctoral degree, the cost ranges from $7,000 to $40,000 per year.
Then there are license fees that range anywhere from $500 to over $1,000, which includes application and exam fees as well as the cost for the initial license.
If you attend a brick-and-mortar college in-state, it will cost you much less than it would for out-of-state attendees, while it usually doesn’t matter what state you reside in when studying online.
Moreover, when attending a brick-and-mortar school you will have to pay for room-and-board or transportation, books, and other supplies, while online students don’t require such things. However, they do have to pay technology fees usually on a per-credit-hour basis, but some may offer tiered rates. Technology fees include tech support, technology improvements, and online training management systems.
Typical technology fees include:
5 or less credits = $86
5-8 credits = $189
9 or more credits = $252
Does the school have the psychology major(s) you’re considering?
Before choosing a major there are some important facts you should know about.
In general, you can begin your career as a school counselor, a psychologist, or other by earning a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) or a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree in counseling, social work, psychology, education, or sociology but you will still need a master’s degree to qualify as a licensed counselor in most states.
Many bachelor’s degree courses include a combination of liberal arts and science, as well as classes for the concentration you choose to focus on. You can select from counseling, psychology, human services, and more.
Furthermore, there are numerous specializations and subfields associated with a major in psychology such as industrial/organization, statistics, behavioral, educational, social, development, cognitive, neuroscience, and clinical.
How many students graduate “on time,” in four years?
Only 5% of students enrolled in a 2-year degree program, actually graduate from community colleges in two years, 36% of students enrolled in four-year flagship public and private colleges earn a bachelor’s degree in 4 years, and 19% of students enrolled in 4-year non-flagship public university, graduate on time.
The problem lies in not earning enough credits during a semester. Most bachelor’s degrees require around 120 credits to complete. If you earn 15 credits each semester, you will have 30 credits a year and in four years you will have accumulated enough college credits to earn your bachelor’s degree. However, numerous students only take enough courses to earn 12 credits each semester, which adds one year to the program length. Talk to your school advisor to find out how to ensure you graduate on time.
What kind of accreditation does the program hold? How is it regarded in the field?
Accreditation is a very important facet of your career since, if the college you attend is accredited by a reputable association, the degree you earn from that college will have more value and some employers include this information when evaluating you for employment.
The reason why accreditation is so important is that, without it, it’s hard to determine what kind of standards the training programs hold and if they are up to date with technology and innovation.
A college gets accredited voluntarily by an association of their choice. The association will interview and inspect the college thoroughly to see if they meet their standards of everything from cleanliness to academics and, if the college passes the inspection, the association puts their stamp on them as an assurance that they meet all their requirements.
Software, Technology and Skills Needed
Almost all occupations use some sort of technology in their jobs and with technology being improved rapidly and continuously in today’s world, we have to be actively staying updated. The following are some of the tools and skills used by psychologists and counselors today:
- Scientific or analytical software The Observer, by Noldus Information Technology; Comprehensive Affect Testing System CATS; Statistical software
- Electromyography EMG units and accessories Biofeedback equipment
- Medical software Trinity Software Solutions BEACON; Athena Software Penelope Case Management; UNI/CARE Pro-Filer; ICANotes;
- Word processing software Microsoft Word; Google Docs
- Accounting software MPMsoft billing
- Scheduling and calendar software Thrive works Therapy Buddy; Spectra-Soft Appointments PRO
- Query and database software O*NET OnLine
- Office suite software Microsoft Office
Earning an associate’s degree in psychology opens many opportunities for graduates. One of the most common options is to transfer your credits to earn a bachelor’s degree. You may not be able to actually be a psychologist with an associate’s degree, but there are other job options for you such as:
- Health Educator
- Administrative Service Manager
- Social Worker Assistant
- Community Service Manager
- Psychiatric Technician
After earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology, 25% of graduates move on to earn a graduate degree in psychology, 57% join the workforce, and 18% continue their education in a field other than psychology. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 117,557 psychology bachelor degrees were awarded in 2014 to 2015. Some of the most common occupations for individuals holding.
- Career Counselors
- Social Services Agents
- Rehabilitation Specialists
- Human Resource workers
- Case Managers
Every year 23,000 student’s graduate with a master’s degree in psychology opposed to the 5,500 students who earn a doctorate in psychology. Some graduates move on to get their doctorate in psychology and others decide to immediately enter the workforce. The following are some of the employment opportunities available to those holding.
- Human Resources Analyst
- Behavioral Counselor
- Social Service Manager
- Child Protection Worker
- Psychology Program Manager
Psychology/Counseling Fields of Study
Behavioral psychology is learning based on the theory that conditioning acquires behaviors. At the beginning of the twentieth century, this type of psychology was very popular, but in the 1950’s it gradually faded out. Today, however, behavioral techniques continue to exist in education, therapy, and numerous related areas.
One of the biggest individual subfields of psychology is Counseling psychology. It is focused on the treatment of psychological symptoms and mental distress. According to the Society of Counseling, Psychology addresses concerns about family, work, marriage, health, and more.
Clinical psychology is the psychology branch that is concerned with the assessment and treatment of abnormal behavior, mental illness, and other psychiatric disorders. Clinicians typically work in mental health clinics, colleges, universities, hospitals, or community centers as well as private practices. They may collaborate with a team of psychiatrists, physicians, and other health professionals.
Degree Level Example Courses
- Critical Thinking
- Psychological Theory
- Qualitative and Quantitative Research Methods
- Developmental Psychology
- History of Psychology
- Physiological Psychology
- Counseling Theory and Techniques
- Diagnosis and Psychopathology
- Ethical and Legal Issues in Professional Psychology
Earning Potential and Career Salaries for Psychology and Counseling Major Graduates
As of May 2011, the nation had 100,850 psychologists earning a median annual income of $67,880, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS also projects fast growth in the field, with jobs expected to expand by 22% from 2010 to 2020.
The degrees you can earn in the field of psychology are an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s and finally, doctoral. As you climb the ladder of degrees your earnings potential will also rise. However, there are some occupations that you can qualify for with an associate’s that may offer higher wages than some positions that require a master’s.
Another way to increase your salary is through experience. Basically, every recent graduate starts out with an entry-level salary, which is the rate for inexperienced individuals. After gaining some experience you will eventually get paid at the mid-career rate and then your pay will also increase in your late career, which will be the most you will make in your lifetime.
Annual Salary by Occupation
|Occupation||Entry-Level Salary Range||Mid-Career Salary Range||Late-Career Salary Range|
|Psychology Program Manager||$67,600||$78,000||$100,000|
Psychology and Counseling Scholarships
Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Fellowship
Deadline: November 15
The Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Fellowship award, is provided by the American Psychological Foundation (APF). It offers an annual award of $25,000 to graduate students in counseling and psychology who aim their careers at working with child-clinical schools, youth in pediatrics, educational, or developmental specialties.
Candidates must be enrolled in a doctoral program that is devoted to youth mental health and exhibits research competence, and accredited and based in the U.S.
Must provide with an application:
- Two recommendations
- Proof of IRB approval
- Current CV
- Budgeting plan
- A research project proposal
AAMFT Minority Fellowship Program
Amount: Up to $20,000
The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) hosts an annual minority fellowship program to grant the award of up to $20,000 to graduate students who are outstanding, and currently enrolled in an accredited doctoral or master’s program, full-time, for counseling, or family and marriage therapy.
To qualify you must have permanent residency or be a U.S. citizen, be enrolled in courses that are approved by your academic advisor, be a member of AAMFT, exhibit financial need, and demonstrate your commitment to helping serve populations of underserved minority’s.
National Institute of Health Undergraduate Scholarship Program
Amount: Up to $20,000 (can be renewed)
Deadline: Varies (March)
This scholarship award is provided by the National Institute of Health (NIH) to students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and are committed to behavioral, social science, and biomedical health-related research.
Not only does this program offer a scholarship award, but it also provides training for paid research in the summer at NIH, and after graduating, paid employment and training is also provided. This is a one-year reward of up to $20,000 that can be renewed for up to four years. The grant can be used for tuition, living and educational expenses.
To be eligible, you must be a permanent resident of the U.S. or U.S. citizen with financial needs that are verified by your school’s financial aid department, with a GPA on a 4.0-point scale, of 3.3 or above, or be in the top 5% of your class, accepted or enrolled full-time in an accredited college or institution in the U.S. as a 4-year undergraduate.
American Counseling Association
Professionals annual fee = $171
Students annual fee = $96
Mission Statement: “to enhance the quality of life in society by promoting and using the profession and practice of counseling to promote respect for human dignity and diversity”.
Membership Benefits: Professional networking, liability insurance, development and progression of counseling skills, and discounts on car rentals and hotel stays.
American School Counselor Association
Professionals annual fee = $129
Students annual fee = $69
Mission Statement: “to represent school counselors and to promote professionalism and ethical practice”.
Membership Benefits: Exposure to techniques and research, liability insurance, innovative theories, and online networking community access.
American Mental Health Counselors Association
Professionals annual fee = $183
Students annual fee = $84
Mission Statement: “...to enhance the profession of clinical mental health counseling through advocacy, education, and collaboration”.
Membership Benefits: Numerous discounts, liability insurance, and professional networking opportunities.
American College Counseling Association
Professionals annual fee = $40
Students annual fee = $35
Mission Statement: “...to be the interdisciplinary and inclusive professional home that supports emerging and state of the art knowledge and resources for counseling professionals in higher education”.
Membership Benefits: Leadership skills development, professional networking opportunities, subscription for the ‘Journal of College Counseling’, grant opportunities, access to tools for continuing education, college counseling data, and advocacy materials.
Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development
Professionals annual fee = $207
Students annual fee = $125
Mission Statement: “...providing global leadership, research, training, and development for multicultural counseling professionals with a focus on racial and ethnic issues”.
Membership Benefits: Networking support, opportunities for professional development, research publishing options, development and advocacy of multicultural competencies, and multicultural issues consultations.
Choosing an Accredited College
Accreditation means that a program or institution meets quality standards set by an accrediting association. For example, the American Psychological Association fully accredits a large number of degree programs in mental health counseling. Whether the school you're enrolled in is online or on campus, as long as it is accredited, you’ll have the opportunity to apply for financial aid.
Educational accreditation can be either specialized or institutional. Institutional accreditation is provided by national and regional associations. However, if your school has regional accreditation you will have the best chance for financial aid, transferrable credits, and easy access to master’s programs. National accreditation does not hold the same weight as regional.
Online vs On-Campus vs Hybrid
There are many different ways to earn a degree in psychology and many different psychology degree subfields to choose from. Not only does each state have their own program requirements, but colleges, universities, and vocational schools do too. Therefore, it is hard to determine which is best fitted for you, which is why researching numerous schools is so important.
However, the programs offered are similar and have basically the same fundamentals. Typically, there are three ways to earn your degree in psychology; you can enroll in traditional courses, where you will attend college on campus, learn at your own pace by studying online, or both; on campus and online (hybrid). Keep in mind that if you plan on taking online courses part-time, it will take much longer to complete than a full-time roster of classes would.
Both online and on-campus training programs offer basically the same study courses that may include cognitive development, cognitive psychology, child psychology, and self-identity with concentrations in social psychology, and developmental psychology. However, in order to complete counseling practicals, hands-on training, or internships and seminar material, you will likely have to either attend those courses on campus or work out a special dispensation with your school.
Does the College Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Help & Assistance?
Every college should have Post-Graduate Job Placement assistance services to help students plan their careers from the beginning to the end of college so that they will graduate and be able to move right into the occupation they choose. Some of the services these programs should provide are:
- Interview, resume, and job application training
- Connect students with potential employers
- Networking and social media training
- Help you choose a career and the path to take to pursue it
- Internship programs to gain some hands-on experience while working with a professional in your chosen field, and more.
Why You Need to Consider How Rating/Accreditation Can Affect Your Salary
Employers today want only the best of the best working for them. Some businesses are even willing to pay for the education of potential candidates. So, when it comes to degrees, most employers look at the accreditor of the school you earned your degree from, since this says a lot about the kind of education you acquired. If an employer is willing to go so far as to pay for a student’s education, imagine what kind of salary they will offer to those holding a degree from a highly reputable association.