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Choosing the right doctorate-level degree in counseling can require a fair bit of counseling in its own right. Consulting peers and mentors before choosing a PhD or other doctorate degree program in counseling can provide wisdom for this decision. Certainly extensive research is necessary.

The decision-making process of which doctorate degree to pursue is complicated by the notable variety of doctorate-level degrees in counseling offered, as well as the various specializations and sub-specializations available in each degree. You can also choose between pursuing an online doctoral degree or an on-campus doctorate, with both of those options offering additional matters for consideration.

How to Apply for a Doctorate Degree in Counseling

Step 1: Choose an Area of Specialization

While it is true that doctorate-level knowledge of counseling is applicable to a huge array of life situations, from selling homes as a real estate agent to maintaining a healthy marriage, doctorate degrees in counseling are by nature specialized.

By the time you are applying for a PhD in Counseling, you are assumed to have a broad understanding of counseling as a discipline. The doctorate degree is your decision to go deeper--much deeper, in fact--into one area of this complex field. In order to make the decision of what area to specialize in during your doctorate degree program in counseling, you must weigh two criteria: career path and subject interest.

Doctorate Degree in Counseling Career Paths

Different doctorate degrees are conducive to different career paths. Options for counseling career paths include:

  • School counselor
  • College professor
  • Author
  • Academic researcher
  • Family counselor
  • Youth counselor
  • Pastor
  • Career counselor
  • Mental health counselor
  • Marriage counselor
  • Substance abuse counselor
  • Coach

And that is just a partial list of counseling-related careers. The abundance of counseling career paths makes career planning essential.

Often, applicants for doctorate degree programs in counseling are already working in their chosen career, and are seeking to gain greater knowledge and opportunity by pursuing a doctorate degree. If you are already a youth counselor, for example, an online PsyD in Counseling Psychology may qualify you to supervise a youth counseling center.

In this case, the first step of the degree-choosing process is simplified: choose an on-campus or online doctorate degree in counseling suitable to your current career, and your advancement in it.

Doctorate Degree in Counseling Subject Interest

Pursuing any doctorate degree in counseling entails three years or more of hard study. You need to be deeply interested in the specialization you choose. Many programs require a dissertation, for instance, which is not a feat to attempt casually.

The importance of original research--and lots of it--makes it a good idea to go into a doctorate degree program in counseling with an established area of interest. Over the course of your doctorate program in counseling, you'll continually address this same subject, until eventually you attain doctorate-level expertise.

Counseling doctorates are often project-based. If, for example, you are interested in the mental health counseling specialization, your doctoral classes might each contribute to your overall end goal of developing a comprehensive treatment program to create, for example, a group housing arrangement for anorexics.

Be sure to avoid doctorate degree burn-out by weighing subject interest before beginning.

Step 2: Identify a Counseling Doctorate Degree That Fits

Most colleges, both on campus doctorate programs and online doctorate programs, run their counseling doctorate degree programs out of either the psychology or the education department. This dual framework mirrors career paths, as most counselors either help patients or teach counseling to others. (Some counselors, of course, do both, but most counselors do one or the other primarily.)

As you look at the choices listed below, measure each according to the career path and subject interest criteria that apply to you. It's nice to have those extra letters appended to your name, but a doctorate degree is much more than a mere credential.

Doctor of Psychology Degree in Counseling Psychology (PsyD)

If you choose the PsyD in Counseling Psychology, you will be challenged to understand the science behind human behavior while still keeping sight of the patient as a person.

An online PsyD in Counseling Psychology can be a strong choice if you are already working in the field as a full-time counselor, and need a flexible schedule to study. Distance learning is gaining credibility as evidence of its quality seeps out. However, be prepared for four hard years of study, and make sure, if you choose the online PsyD degree option, that you can work well independently.

A PsyD in Counseling Psychology is frequently used as a basis for teaching counseling at the college level or working as an academic researcher.

Doctor of Education in Counseling Psychology (EdD)

An EdD in Counseling Psychology can be considered a professional teaching degree. It's professional in that programs focus more on applying knowledge than progressing it, and its focus on education and training make it a popular choice for those looking to teach or work in educational administration. It also may be a good option if you aspire to be a top-level administrator in one particular area of specialization, such as the director of a substance abuse counseling center. Your doctorate, then, would focus on that specialization, pushing you to gain authoritative expertise, which you could then pass on to your colleagues.

You can pursue an online EdD in Counseling Psychology. If you do choose the online doctorate degree option, your studies may be augmented by internship work, especially if you plan on working at the clinical level rather than in academia.

Doctor of Marriage and Family Therapy (DMFT)

If you want to work directly with families, either in private practice or as part of a government agency, obtaining a Doctor of Marriage and Family Therapy (DMFT) degree may be the best option for you.

Less research-heavy than other PhD programs in counseling, the DMFT provides students with the tools to actually deliver counseling services to patients on a day-to-day basis. A DMFT forces you to view patients as individuals and as part of a group that can be analyzed scientifically to arrive at scientifically valid treatment methods.

The DMFT degree is best-suited for practitioners; as opposed, for instance, to the more academic bent of the PsyD in Counseling Psychology.

PhD in Counselor Education/Supervision

The PhD in Counselor Education/Supervision is based upon the reality that the best counseling organizations are built with strong infrastructures and support systems. As the holder of a PhD in Counselor Education/Supervision, you will be taught to create those systems.

Typical coursework for a PhD in Counselor Education/Supervision may include the study of:

  • Group work dynamics
  • Social change theory
  • Data assessment strategies
  • Research application
  • Management techniques

PhD degree programs in counselor education/supervision are designed to turn out expert counselors who are not only good at what they do, but can be true leaders in their organizations, making the counselors around them better. Most counselors capable of reaching that level are currently working full-time, so it's good that online PhD degrees in counselor education/supervision are available.

PhD in Pastoral Counseling

Faith communities, in the history of humankind, have been an unparalleled counseling resource for millions of people looking for answers and help. A PhD in Pastoral Counseling is intended for counselors who may work with faith groups directly or otherwise know that they want to include faith concepts in their counseling.

A PhD degree in pastoral counseling demands the integration of three things that many people see as not related, but the pastoral counselor views as inextricably joined:

  • Spirituality
  • Empirical research
  • Practice

Most PhD in Pastoral Counseling programs are operated by a faith-based college or university. Catholic and Christian PhD programs in pastoral counseling are at the forefront of these unique educational opportunities.

Step 3: The School-by-School Comparison

Hopefully at this point you have an idea of what career path, subject of interest, and doctorate degree program in counseling most interests you. If more than one of any of those appeals to you or you're just not sure which one is right for you, that's not a problem; you don't have to rush this decision. Instead, spend time further researching PsyD, PhD, EdD, or DMFT programs to find your niche.

When choosing between doctorate-level counseling programs, there are certain criteria that are applicable to all degrees and all schools. Here are three such criteria:

1. Accreditation

Unlike some other disciplines that do not have fully developed doctorate-level degree programs, counseling has been taught at the doctorate level for decades. This fact makes accreditation of great importance when choosing a doctorate degree in counseling.

Accreditation of schools and programs may come from a national or regional accrediting organization, such as the North Central Association (NCA), or from an industry-specific accrediting body such as the American Psychological Association (APA). For some doctorate degree programs in counseling, industry-specific accreditation is highly desirable, especially if you want to become a college professor. The American Psychological Association (APA) is the foremost accrediting organization for PhD and EdD degrees in counseling psychology.

Some online PhD degree programs in pastoral counseling, meanwhile, are not yet accredited, but this may not be an indication that they are not quality schools. In the case of a PhD program in pastoral counseling, the stamp of approval that's perhaps most important comes from the faith community that supports the school. If your program is respected by those folks, that may be the only accreditation you need.

Read up on accreditation to learn about the different types of accreditation and what they mean. Investigate what accreditation your specialization requires.

2. Quality Faculty

Many doctorate degree programs in counseling have outstanding professors. However, some schools are blessed with more than others. Scholars tend to flock together, so look for schools that employ faculty who have:

  • Experience teaching
  • Published in trade journals
  • Done original research
  • Membership with professional organizations
  • Mentored successful students

Contact schools to discover more about their faculty members. You may also consider asking for references from past students.

3. Facts and Figures

    The third major pillar of your school-by-school comparison entails the collecting of certain key facts and figures about each school you are considering:

    • Graduation rate
    • Average test scores
    • Prerequisites for admission (both education and experience)
    • Program history
    • Student-to-teacher ratio
    • Location of campuses (if applicable)
    • Typical class size

    Contact schools directly to obtain those details and more. Do not make a decision until you have all the facts and figures necessary to make that decision--that's the attitude you'll take when you have your doctorate, so you might as well start now.

    Doctorate Degree in Counseling: Additional Resources

    As a possible candidate for a doctorate degree in counseling, you have some wonderful resources at your disposal that can help you make a positive choice.

    Internet Resources

    The care and dedication of counselors really comes through when you look around the Internet at the resources other counselors have built. From giant, well-funded professional organizations like the APA to smaller Web sites that bring personality and fun to the application process, Internet surfing is in this case highly productive.

    Consider using WorldWideLearn.com as your Web headquarters for comparing programs head-to-head, learning about accreditation, and finding financial aid. You can search for online doctorate degrees or find an campus-based school near you.

    Professional Associations

    The other main resource for additional resource is the professional association for your area of specialization. There is a thriving professional association for every type of counseling specializations. Find one and join one, such as:

    • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
    • American Counseling Association
    • National Association for College Admissions Counseling
    • American Counseling Association
    • Association for Creativity in Counseling

    Many of these professional associations offer the opportunity to directly interact with peers in your field as you choose the right doctorate degree in counseling for your goals. Who better to counsel you on this decision than a legion of counselors?



    • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, The Making of the MFT Profession: Standards, Regulations, and the AAMFT
    • American Counseling Association, Publications
    • Association for Counselor Education and Supervision
    • Association for Creativity in Counseling
    • American Psychological Association
    • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Counselors
    • Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs
    • ConsellingResource.com, Welcome to Our Online Supervision and Training & Development Resources, by Dr. Greg Mulhauser
    • National Association for College Admissions Counseling
    • National Board for Certified Counselors, About Us
    • PsychCentral.com

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