Clinical counselors have helped millions of people adapt, adjust, and develop in our increasingly complicated world. Counselors use applied psychological methods to help people overcome a wide range of emotional and psychological challenges. In the clinical setting, counselors assess, diagnose, plan, and treat everything from disability to serious addiction. Working with individuals, families, and groups, clinical counselors help people build productive and fulfilling lives by improving mental health.
In order to practice independently, most states require at least a master’s degree. Although clinical counseling master’s programs vary, most online clinical counseling programs take two years to complete. In the typical program, students take a number of classes on counseling theory and practice, as well courses on assessment and diagnosis. Most programs also require completion of a rigorous internship assignment.
Why a Master’s Degree?
Employers in today’s tough job market are demanding a workforce with advanced degrees, and those who obtain them are rewarded with nearly full employment. According to a 2012 survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), only 3.5% of master’s degree earners are unemployed; this number is relatively low when compared to the national unemployment rate of 6.8%. Furthermore, counselors at the master’s degree level are in high demand. The BLS projects positions in the field will grow at twice the national average through 2020.
Getting Into a Master’s Program
Expectations vary by institution. However, as with other master’s degrees, clinical counseling programs generally require the following from candidates:
- Bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field
- Sufficiently high grade point average (GPA) in the previous program – typically 3.0 or higher
- scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
- Letters of recommendation
- Letter of intent or a statement of interest
Inside a Clinical Counseling Master’s Degree Program
As expected, master’s level students in clinical counseling take a wide variety of counseling courses focused on theory and practice. Classes on techniques for group, family, and individual assessment and therapy are usually required, as are courses on pharmacology, addiction, and ethics. Most programs also require at least one course in human sexuality or couple’s therapy.
Like an associate degree program, the typical clinical master’s program lasts two years and includes either a clinical practicum or an extensive internship. Although research methods and statistical techniques are taught, most programs focus more on practice than research and publishing; students who would like a preview of what this social science research entails may consult a free online knowledge base. Depending on the program, a master’s thesis may be required, although some accept other work (i.e. a project).
What’s Next for Clinical Counseling Master’s Degree Holders?
Most graduates with a clinical counseling master’s degree will go on to open their own practice. The BLS reports that these professionals earn a median salary of nearly $40,000. In 2010, over 150,000 people worked in this field; as noted above, this sector is expected to grow significantly by 2020. Other graduates move into managerial positions within practices, and at this level, the average annual salary is nearly $58,000; this field is expected to grow approximately 25% by 2020.
Others seek to continue their education. A recent report by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that health professionals with a doctoral degree earn roughly $1,000,000 more than counterparts with a master’s degree over the course of their careers. Moreover, Ph.D. holders have significantly less unemployment when compared with master’s degree holders. Finally, a wider array of opportunities are available to those with a doctorate, including teaching at colleges and universities and publishing original research in scholarly journals.