Earning a Ph.D. in Counseling Online

Should I Pursue a Ph.D. in Counseling Online?

Counselors pursue doctoral degrees for a variety of reasons. As the number of online counseling programs increase, more counselors elect to pursue an online counseling doctoral degrees. Online programs present the same rigor and academic challenge as on-campus programs, but they usually offer more flexibility and affordability. Many online counseling doctorates feature asynchronous classes, benefitting students who also juggle full-time jobs and personal responsibilities.

Earning a doctorate in counseling online opens up several professional options. In most states, counselors who plan to go into private practice need a doctoral degree to do so. Leadership roles in large healthcare facilities often require candidates to hold doctoral degrees, as well. Doctorates also serve counselors who prefer to engage in research or teach at a college or university rather than engage in direct client practice. Online counseling doctoral degrees typically qualify graduates for these opportunities, as well.

Employment Outlook for Ph.D. in Counseling Graduates

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an overall positive growth rate for counselors, and specifically for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors (a 23% growth rate). The BLS also projects above average growth rates for other types of counselors, such as rehabilitation and school counselors (13%).

Counselors work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, schools, and mental health facilities. This makes it easier for counselors to find meaningful employment that ties directly to their professional training. Overall, graduates can expect to enter a dynamic employment market, especially after earning their doctoral degrees.

Licensed Mental Health Counselor

Average Annual Salary: $47,777

Licensed mental health counselors routinely work with patients with debilitating psychological issues such as depression, substance abuse, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder. These professionals often make referrals for their patients to see other professionals (e.g., social workers or career counselors) who can help them with other aspects of their recovery.

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

Average Annual Salary: $48,149

Licensed clinical counselors' professional responsibilities depend on the size and type of their employer. They typically prepare personalized treatment plans for each client; facilitate individual, family, or group counseling sessions; conduct psychological assessments; and maintain accurate, detailed patient records.

Counseling Director

Average Annual Salary: $63,569

Counseling directors often fulfill both management duties and direct counseling responsibilities, which may include individual, family, and group therapy sessions. Those working in large hospitals or healthcare facilities often hire, retain, and train counseling professionals and support personnel.

Clinical Psychologist

Average Annual Salary: $77,250

In addition to providing direct counseling services, clinical psychologists also conduct psychological assessments for hiring purposes. They conduct a battery of tests to determine whether a candidate's training, skills, and mental aptitude qualify them for the position at hand. They can also onboard fresh hires.

Postsecondary Professor

Average Annual Salary: $86,480

Postsecondary instructors prepare and deliver lectures in their field of expertise. They also supervise graduate students' teaching and research activities and keep up with developments in their field, often by conducting their own research, attending conferences, and completing professional development programs.

Source: PayScale

What Can I Expect From an Online Ph.D. in Counseling Program?

Colleges and universities offering online counseling doctorates often give program participants the option to focus their studies on a specific population, which can include children and teens, the elderly, or patients with substance abuse issues or mental health disorders. Coursework varies between specializations and schools, but most institutions offer fundamental doctoral counseling courses, five of which you can explore below.

Curriculum for an Online Doctorate Degree in Counseling

Advanced Counseling and Career Theories

This course gives students the chance to develop an in-depth understanding of the major theories in career and personality development as they relate to clinical counseling practice. Students explore the philosophical and psychological underpinnings of these theories and use knowledge from their studies in individual and group therapy sessions.

Business Issues in Professional Practice

A foundational course focusing on non-counseling aspects of professional practice, this class provides students with the basic skills necessary to set up, operate, and grow a counseling-based business. The course usually covers topics such as bookkeeping, appointment management, electronic file organization, client follow-up, and regulatory compliance and reporting.

Family Dynamics of Addictions

Counselors in private practice can use the insights from this course in family counseling settings. The course also provides practical insights for counseling directors in community healthcare or addiction center settings. By understanding the role of family dynamics in addiction, these professionals can design and implement comprehensive treatment modalities for their clients.

Multicultural Issues in Counseling

Students learn about current and emerging multicultural issues impacting counseling practice, such as educational level, cultural traditions, religious beliefs, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation.

Program Evaluation

This course helps students develop critical and analytical thinking skills to guide them in evaluating different types of counseling and psychological assessment programs. Students explore the concepts and procedures related to program evaluation and learn to apply them in various workplace settings.

Certifications and Licenses a Ph.D. in Counseling Prepares For

  • Licensed Mental Health Counselor
    Requirements may differ between states, but most require LMHC candidates to hold at least a master's degree and complete sufficient supervised clinical hours. Doctoral-trained LMHCs qualify for positions in postsecondary counseling education and clinical management. Most states require LMHC candidates to complete a program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE), administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC).
  • Licensed Marital and Family Therapist
    In addition to completing a CACREP-accredited master's program, LMFT candidates must undergo at least two years of supervised clinical experience prior to licensure. Moreover, most states require LMFT candidates to pass a state-administered licensure exam or the examination in marital and family therapy. Doctoral-trained LMFTs qualify to supervise the clinical practice experience of master's-trained marriage and family counselors.
  • Licensed Child Counselor
    All 50 states require child counselors to hold licensure. Requirements include a CACREP-accredited master's degree, a state licensure exam, and at least two years of supervised clinical experience. Some states use the NCMHCE or the national counselor examination, also administered by the NBCC, as their state licensure exam. Licensed child counsellors often earn a Ph.D. to deepen their knowledge in the field and qualify for leadership and/or supervisory positions.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Many counseling practitioners find their work both rewarding and challenging. Professional counseling organizations connect different types of counselors with peers within their specialization area so they can support, mentor, and inspire one another. Other professional counseling resources also keep members abreast of the latest news and developments in the counseling field. Explore some of these professional associations and resources below.

Professional Organizations


American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy

Counting more than 25,000 members throughout the country and around the world, AAMFT offers benefits such as free legal consultation, discount on professional liability insurance, online continuing education options, and digital newsletters and journals.


American Counseling Association

ACA maintains an online learning center with information on licensure requirements, mental health resources, and school counseling connections. The association also offers continuing education units and publishes several electronic journals containing the latest developments and news about counseling.


American Mental Health Counselors Association

AMCHA welcomes students, new practitioners, long-time professionals, and educators in the mental health counseling field. The association publishes the Journal of Mental Health Counseling, along with white papers and clinical practice briefs.


American School Counselors Association

Members can access ASCA's extensive podcast library, which features experts in the field expounding on relevant issues in school counseling including childhood trauma, school-based mentor programs, and behavior intervention plans.


Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs

The CACREP website features up-to-date information on counseling education, including the results of its annual survey of graduate counseling schools and programs, research opportunities, and its latest policy initiatives.

Resources


National Institute of Mental Health

The federal agency tasked with leading and coordinating research efforts in mental disorders, NIMH offers several funding opportunities for mental health researchers and practitioners. NIMH also supports a NeuroBioBank, a post-mortem brain tissue donation project.


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Established by Congress in 1992, SAMHSA heads public health efforts to mitigate the impacts of mental illness and substance abuse in the country. SAMSHA gathers, evaluates, and disseminates information on substance abuse and mental illness, effective treatment options, and rehabilitation programs.


The Professional Counselor

An electronic journal published by the NBCC, the Professional Counselor is a peer-reviewed, open-access publication which provides readers with research-based commentaries and informative articles written by experts practicing in different counseling fields.


Therapistaid.com

Counselors can find free customizable worksheets, treatment guides, videos, articles, and other products that enhance their practice and improve their professional skills at the same time.


Therapypartner.com

This website offers several products and services for counselors in private practice. These include practice management software designed specifically for behavior health practitioners, cloud storage for therapy notes and treatment plans, and a customized patient portal.