How to Become a Counseling Psychologist

Out of all the people who have mental problems (and there are many), no two individuals are exactly alike. But one thing they usually have in common is this: they need wholesome, constructive advice. Counseling attracts many psychologists exactly for that reason. One of the great benefits of the job is that it’s very hands-on. This allows for personal exchanges, and the ability to touch people’s lives directly.

Feeling enticed? Here are some things that are good to know before embark on a career in counseling psychology.

Counseling Psychology is not Just Psychology

Although it may sound as strange, venturing into counseling is not all about psychology. The acquisition of profound theoretical and practical psychology skills is certainly necessary. But the harsh truth is they aren’t of great worth unless communicated effectively with patients, not to mention fellow staff members. Plenty of capable psychologists are excellent theorists, but not as great at verbalizing the knowledge they have. This is okay in many circumstances. In job responsibilities composed mainly of research, it may not be of great loss. But in counseling, it will.

Counseling psychology prioritizes communication skills perhaps more so than any other area in the field. Few days of the calendar year will be designated to tasks not involving direct back-and-forth discourse with patients, or with colleagues. Hence, evaluating your own potential to become an excellent communicator is a good starting point. Do you have the ability to translate complex concepts into layman’s terms? If not, could you develop it?

What Does a Counseling Psychologist Do?

The job duties of counseling psychologists are mostly therapeutic in nature. They may involve administering personality assessment or tests to clients, and carrying out verbal conversations to resolve a particular problem.

Depending on where they are employed, counseling psychologists may assist patients with a wide range of problems, be they drug-related, marital, or having to do with teamwork and cooperation. They may concern both a client’s private life, and their career. Counseling psychologists also assist individuals who suffer from emotional, behavioral, or social disorders.

Often, a counseling psychologist will work individually with someone to help them gain better control of their emotions and feelings. However, some counseling psychologists will also work with small groups of people, often with similar issues. Typically, practicing counseling psychologists will not work with individuals who have severe psychotherapy issues. Rather, counseling psychologists work with individuals and groups who face developmental issues and are struggling to transition or function in their day to day lives. It is extremely rare that a counseling psychologist will deal with highly complex mental disorders or issues.

Instead, counseling psychologists are focused on providing solutions to a number of issues that individuals can face across their lifespan such as vocational issues, social issues, and even health-related issues. A counseling psychologist will strive to help their patients overcome these negative behaviors and thought patterns. A counseling psychologist will work with individuals to identify what issues or stresses plague them, and then develop solutions to overcome those behaviors or thought patterns.

What are the Careers in Counseling Psychology?

When it comes to selecting a specific position, or career path within the field of counseling psychology, aspiring counselors will find the options to be quite vast. It is clear to see that counseling psychologists are certainly not limited in their career paths. In fact, there are far more areas of specialty within the field of counseling psychology than many people initially realize. Individuals considering a career in counseling psychology can look forward to one of these many career paths.

  • Career Counseling
  • Child Abuse Counseling
  • Geriatric Counseling
  • Army & Mental Health Counseling
  • Marriage & Family Relationships Counseling
  • Rehabilitation Counseling
  • Suicide Intervention Counseling
  • Substance Abuse Counseling
  • Grief Counseling
  • Community Health Counseling
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) Counseling
  • Domestic Violence Counseling
  • Pediatric Counseling

However, these are just some of the areas that a career in counseling psychology can offer. A career as a counseling psychologist can be highly rewarding. With such a high degree of flexibility and options within the career path, it is easy to see why the number of people deciding to enter this field is growing.

What are the Requirements to Become a Counseling Psychologist?


Generally speaking, counseling psychologists need a doctoral degree in order to practice. There are two ways to get there: with a Ph.D. in counseling psychology, or with a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree.

The Ph.D. is a degree based on research. It has two main goals: the completion of an extensive, thorough final exam, and the completion of dissertation (a complex research paper). It is also standard that students take part in an internship which spans one year.

The Psy.D. is distinctly different in that it’s a clinical degree. It is aimed a lot more at the practical application of psychology in the physical world than is the Ph.D. Therefore, it substitutes the dissertation with a series of examinations. Final licensing can only be obtained by passing a comprehensive test called the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).

Doctoral level programs in counseling psychology typically consist of training in vocational psychology, developmental psychology, social psychology, multicultural psychology, counseling, , psychological measurement, human life span development, psychotherapy, research design, and ethics.

College students aspiring to become counseling psychologists may not find a lot of courses available at the undergraduate level. If you are in this position, your can enroll in classes having to do with clinical and health psychology, communication, and education. Upon graduating, you may enter into one of many Master’s programs. However, job opportunities might be limited with a master’s degree. A doctoral degree is highly recommended for counseling psychologists.


Prior to choosing a counseling degree, you need to make sure that your program satisfies the counseling license requirements in your state and find out whether or not your field of counseling needs to hold state-level licensure. For example, mental health counselors are normally required to have a state-level counseling license, while vocational counselors may not.

What is the Career Outlook for Counseling Psychologists?

An impressive job growth projection of 22% puts counseling psychologists in a good position for the future. The numbers may vary depending on what type of employer it is. Their job growth rate is the same as for psychologists across all specializations. This is 8% above the projected growth rate of all US occupations.

Many counseling psychologists run their own practices. Those who do not may find work in settings such as clinics, hospitals, and rehabilitation facilities, as well as community and mental health centers. This means you may end up in any sector: government, private, or nonprofit (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Related: What Can You Do With a Counseling Psychology Degree?

What is the Salary of a Counseling Psychologist?

Counseling psychologists should not worry about pay. As of May 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they make an average of $74,030. Although this leaves them trailing slightly behind psychology occupations at large, it also means they make a two-fold salary of the average US worker.

Because counselors are often independent practitioners who set their own work hours, there is much opportunity to make even more. But geographic location is an equally important factor. Both economic affluence and the demand for counseling is greater in urban areas, and that is especially true for metropolises (

Where Does a Counseling Psychologist Work?

Counseling psychologists generally work in following environments:

  • Mental health clinics
  • Psychiatric hospitals
  • Counseling centers in colleges and universities
  • Counseling in medical centers, veterans hospitals
  • Counseling at state and federal agencies
  • Family counseling services
  • Consulting services
  • Corporate consulting
  • University faculty
  • Independent practices

Can a Counseling Psychologist Work in a School?

Counseling psychologists have a lot to offer a school environment. They can help young people address issues such as social difficulties, troubled home lives and family troubles. In addition, they can provide support for young people suffering from mental health issues or conditions such as eating disorders, helping them to change the thoughts and subsequent behaviors associated with their conditions.

Counseling psychologists can work with a broad range of patients to deal with a broad range of issues – to work in schools they will often have chosen to work with young people as an area of specialty and be interested in the issues specific to that patient population. Psychologists in this specialty have the opportunity to work with young people having difficulties, identify areas of concern early and provide intervention before these issues become too troubling or begin to impact upon the social development or education of the young person. Working in a school environment is an ideal place for these psychologists.

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