An online counseling doctoral program, or a Ph.D., fine-tunes the experiences gained in a master’s degree program. Course work, field study, and residencies prepare graduates for high-level clinical counseling, teaching, and research. Counseling psychologists with a Ph.D. can be licensed to practice in any state. They may also supervise master’s degree candidates, hold academic positions, and perform individual research in subspecialties such as sport psychology, anger and aggression psychology, developmental disabilities, or neuropsychology.

Why a Doctoral Degree in Counseling?

The primary advantage to a Ph.D. in General Counseling is that it is the highest degree program available in the field; graduates of this type of program can essentially take their pick of available jobs. Online counseling degrees require far more clinical experience and research than does a master’s program; practitioners can charge higher hourly rates for counseling than their less-educated peers. Counseling psychology is also more rarified than its alternative doctoral option: Psy.D. programs, which focus much less on research, are more numerous and graduate more candidates than Ph.D. programs.

Getting into a Counseling Doctoral Program

Online counseling doctoral programs have fairly strict admissions guidelines. A standard PhD in General Counseling program will require the following:

  • A master’s degree from an accredited program. (Some programs will accept a bachelors degree as a prerequisite, but these are rarely found online.)
  • A GPA of at least 3.0, often as high as 3.5
  • A GRE composite score of at least 600
  • Several years of professional experience (may include research done as a master’s candidate)
  • Two to three letters of reference
  • An interview with department supervisors

Once admitted, there are several options available that can convert prior knowledge into class credits. Some schools grant credit hours for membership in professional organizations, high scores on certain proficiency examinations and on-the-job experience.

Inside a Counseling Doctoral Degree Program

An online counseling doctorate generally takes between three and six years to earn, including time spent writing a dissertation. This doctoral program is based on the idea that professional counseling practice is best paired with scholarship and research. To that end, students are encouraged to constantly evaluate how classwork and research affect counseling practice and patient relationships. The rigorous requirements of this program allow students to clearly identify individual preferences, strengths, and weaknesses; this information helps develop a professional identity in postdoctoral careers.

A doctoral dissertation is required for program completion. An original research project in counseling psychology, approved and supervised by faculty advisors, is conducted over the course of a year. Statistical analysis or qualitative analysis is used to interpret research findings; the dissertation should be acceptable for publication in a scholarly journal.

The residency element in a doctoral program in counseling will be somewhat dictated by location, as each state requires a designated number of hours of postdoctoral training. All training is supervised and usually lasts a year. Postdoctoral students spend this time preparing for independent practice as licensed counselors in both individual and group settings by building a caseload of clients whom they see regularly. Staff meetings and postdoctoral seminars are often added to the student’s schedule.

What’s Next for Counseling Doctoral Degree Holders?

BLS data indicates that the job market for general counselors with a Ph.D. is even better than for those with a master’s degree. Degrees with an applied psychological specialty offer the best job prospects. The selectivity of Ph.D. programs in counseling produces highly trained graduates with skill sets that are applicable in academia, private practice, schools, medical facilities, and social service agencies.

The median wage for counseling psychologists in 2011 was $67,880, or $33.64 per hour. There are 82,300 projected new jobs between now and 2020, representing a 36% increase in employment. Most of these new jobs will be in either private practice or in educational services. Growing subspecialties such as counseling autistic patients and war veterans also continue to open the job market for these professionals.