2024 Best Online PhD in Counseling [Doctorate Guide]

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To pursue your goal of being an effective counselor who makes a lifelong difference for others, you might consider getting a PhD in Counseling.

Best Online PhD in Counseling

Online counseling doctoral programs offer a flexible approach to earning an advanced education. Through online courses, you can be equipped with the latest counseling techniques, explore cutting-edge social science research, and prepare for a leadership role as a licensed counseling professional.

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To take the next step toward your career goals, let’s take a look at what’s involved in earning a counseling PhD.

Online PhD in Counseling Programs

Counseling Psychologist getting her PhD degree online

Perhaps you are already a licensed counselor. In many states, licensure requires a master’s-level education. Even still, you may have a PhD education in mind. Earning a doctoral degree in this field could equip you to accomplish even more as a counseling professional.

Also, there are some counseling roles that require a doctoral-level education. Counseling psychologists, for example, typically need doctorates. Taking the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) and receiving state licensure as a psychologist usually requires a counseling psychology PhD or a similar degree.

Whatever your motivation for pursuing a counseling doctorate, you may find that it serves as a valuable contribution to your career development. This type of program may involve studying topics like:

  • Advocacy
  • Assessment and treatment
  • Counseling ethics
  • Counselor training and supervision
  • Diversity and multiculturalism
  • Group and family counseling
  • Publication and scholarly journals
  • Research methods
  • Substance abuse
  • Trauma and crisis care

In addition to your classroom work, you may earn practicum hours in a local work setting. Students often arrange their internship experiences through hospitals, university counseling offices, or mental health organizations.

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The setting you choose will help shape your professional expertise. For example, if you want to be a children’s counselor, then you could choose an internship site where you can focus on that specialty. Your doctoral program may also require a dissertation. This in-depth research project can take several years to complete. Some programs might involve a capstone project instead of a dissertation.

After earning your PhD, you may continue your current career as a licensed counselor, or you might pursue licensure for the first time. You might also be qualified to train and supervise new counselors or run a community organization. Conducting research is another career path that’s generally open to PhD holders.

Common Online Doctorate in Counseling Specializations

Counseling session, focused on Behavioral Science

Counseling takes many different forms, depending on your style and your interests. You can choose a degree specialization to prepare you for the practice area of your choice.

Common counseling specializations include:

  • Behavioral Science. If your plan is to counsel people about addictions, relationships, or criminal rehabilitation, then behavior studies might be crucial for your work.
  • Counselor Education. This concentration is designed for people who want to prepare incoming counselors for the field by providing education and overseeing their counseling practice.
  • Marriage Counseling. Studies in sexuality, addiction, interpersonal relationships, and family dynamics can enhance your career as a counselor who serves couples and families.
  • School Counseling. Working as a counselor in education settings requires a special set of skills, so this program focuses on topics like group facilitation and child development.
  • Youth Counseling. Studies in youth counseling can help equip you to work with kids, teens, and families in counseling settings.

Some schools offer generalist counseling PhDs instead of concentration-specific ones. In that case, you may be encouraged to pursue specialization through the internship site that you choose. However, a growing number of universities offer on-campus or online school counseling programs no GRE required.

Counseling Careers & Salaries

PhD in Counseling Careers & Salaries

PhD programs in counseling can be a strategic choice for anyone who wants a career as a counselor. Counseling takes many forms, and the type of counselor you are may depend on your previous training or the type of PhD you choose to earn.

Types of counselors include counseling psychologists and mental health counselors. There are also substance abuse counselors, who work with people who have addictions, and rehabilitation counselors, who support people with disabilities. Some counselors may specialize in services for couples or families.

Clinical social workers are often counselors, and they focus on connecting their clients to support services in the community. Counselors work in schools too. They may help students navigate their problems or provide guidance about life and career options.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are some career paths associated with advanced studies in counseling.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Postsecondary Education Administrators $96,910
Social Scientists and Related Workers $84,430
Clinical and Counseling Psychologists $82,510
Postsecondary Psychology Teachers $77,860
Social and Community Service Managers $74,000
School and Career Counselors and Advisors $60,510
Social Workers $50,390
Marriage and Family Therapists $49,880
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $48,520
Rehabilitation Counselors $38,560

Some of these jobs may require additional licensure in addition to a counseling PhD. Not everyone with a PhD in Counseling will work directly with clients. Some may run mental health organizations or other community agencies.

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Others may choose to teach. For example, they could teach psychology or counseling at the college level. Eventually, they may even move into college administration roles. Working as a researcher could be another option. Social scientists are researchers who design studies and analyze their findings. Their research may direct public initiatives or suggest new techniques for counseling practice.

Counseling PhD Curriculum & Courses

People getting Counseling PhD

As you work toward a doctorate, you’ll take a variety of classes on advanced topics in counseling. Example courses include:

  • Addiction Counseling: You’ll investigate the science of addiction and learn about evidence-based practices for helping people with substance abuse disorders.
  • Advocacy: During your schooling, you may explore what it means to advocate—both within your organization and on a public-policy scale—on behalf of the population for whom you care.
  • Child and Teen Counseling: You can study how kids develop, and you’ll explore ways that young people’s unique needs should influence your counseling practice.
  • Counseling in Groups: At the doctoral level, you’ll grow your group-facilitation skills and learn more about meeting the needs of diverse groups of people.
  • Counseling Research Methods: You may study both qualitative and quantitative research methods for people in the counseling field.
  • Educating Counselors: This course can equip you for teaching roles in which you train other students to become counseling professionals.
  • Law and Ethics: Being a leader requires knowing the responsibilities of this profession and being firmly committed to carrying them out.
  • Psychotropic Medication: To prepare for a career in clinical counseling, you may study pharmaceutical interventions that can help people with mental or behavioral disorders.
  • Supervision Skills: As you learn how to supervise counselors who are working toward licensure, you’ll explore ways to provide constructive feedback and ensure quality care.
  • Trauma Care: The focus of this class will be on providing counseling services to people who are experiencing crises or dealing with the aftermath of trauma.

Your Ph.D. in Counseling curriculum may vary considerably. Course offerings differ from school to school, and different concentrations require different classes. Plus, your choice of electives will shape your program.

Admissions Requirements

Man preparing requirements for Counseling PhD Online

Many PhD programs require that you already have a master’s degree and professional licensure. That varies, though, since some programs are designed for initial licensure. If you do need to earn a master’s as a requirement for PhD program admission, a number of universities offer programs leading to an online masters in counseling no GRE required.

Other materials you may need to turn in include:

  • Example of your writing abilities
  • Reference letters from employers and professors
  • Resume that shows relevant paid or volunteer experience
  • Official transcripts that show related studies and a minimum GPA

There may also be an interview so the admissions committee can evaluate how you present yourself and relate to other people.

Online Counseling PhD Programs Accreditation

University offering Online PhD in Counseling

It’s necessary to attend a university that holds regional accreditation, a school-wide designation that’s given to effective colleges. To qualify for regional accreditation, schools must prove their ability to provide a good education.

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If you want your doctorate to be recognized, it needs to come from an accredited college. Then, your studies may transfer to other schools or qualify you for post-doctoral programs. Also, your state’s licensing board may require a graduate education from a regionally accredited college.

CACREP Accreditation

In addition to regional accreditation, schools can also seek programmatic accreditation for their counseling programs.

In this field, programmatic accreditation is given by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). All CACREP accredited schools must meet or exceed industry standards. In some cases, CACREP accreditation can influence your future career prospects. Your state licensing board may require a degree from a CACREP approved program. Some national certification programs may require it, too.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Financial Aid for Online PhD in Counseling

Doctoral students may have a variety of financial aid opportunities. Low-interest student loans may be available through state and federal programs.

You can submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to learn more. Grants, though, aren’t common at the graduate level. Some students qualify to receive scholarships or fellowships. Your college might be one source of this funding, but outside organizations administer scholarship programs too. Employers also contribute to school costs sometimes.

PhD programs, particularly full-time ones, may be free for qualifying students. You would likely do teaching or research in exchange. This is more common for on-campus programs but not unheard of for online ones.

What Can You Do with a PhD in Counseling?

Clinical Psychologist getting doctorate degree online

This degree could help you launch or enhance your career as a professional counselor. Your state may require licensed counselors to hold a graduate degree.

Types of counselors include marriage therapists, rehabilitation counselors, mental health counselors, and counseling psychologists. With a doctorate, you might also qualify to supervise other counselors. This level of education could also help graduates pursue other leadership roles in counseling organizations, such as program manager or executive director.

Academia might be another option. Examples include teaching college psychology classes or conducting research.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Doctorate in Counseling Online?

Most full-time doctoral students finish in 3 to 5 years. How long it takes can depend on a variety of factors, such as the course requirements and the projects you must complete before graduation. Programs typically include internships. That component requires a fixed length of time, which limits how much you can speed things along.

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If you’re interested in getting through school quickly, you can look for programs without dissertation requirements. In that case, you may be able to keep your studies to about 3 years. Some colleges set a maximum length of time—7 years, for example—that you can be enrolled in the program.

What’s the Difference Between a Doctoral Degree in Counseling vs. Therapy?

Both counselors and therapists provide help and support for others. Which career path—and area of study—is right for you?

Counseling Therapy
  • Short-term work with patients
  • Offer support for specific problems, such as stress or grief
  • Longer-term work with patients
  • Help with broader issues, such as mental health disorders or family relationships

These two approaches aren’t mutually exclusive, so in a counseling profession, you may use both counseling strategies and therapy techniques.

Is a Doctorate Degree in Counseling Worth It?

Counseling Psychologist and client during a session

Yes, a doctorate degree in counseling is worth it for many professionals. Furthering your education could help equip you to be a more effective counselor. A doctorate could even lead to more opportunities to help other people with their lives.

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Also, with doctoral training, some professionals become counselor supervisors or program managers. Leadership roles could allow you to spread your influence even further. Trained counselors are greatly needed. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that jobs for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors will likely increase by 23% over the next ten years.

Universities Offering Online PhD in Counseling Degree Program

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Adams State University

Adams State University

Adams State University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision. It is designed to prepare students for clinical, academic, and research settings within the counseling field. This 60 credit program blends the flexibility of online classes with community-building, intensive week-long residencies on campus each summer.

Adams State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Amridge University

Amridge University

Amridge University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Professional Counseling. The program Is intended for students who do not intend to pursue licensure but want to deepen their therapeutic and scholarly expertise in the counseling discipline. The curriculum consists of 60 credits and utilizes a hybrid online and in-person learning format.

Amridge University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Barry University

Barry University

Barry University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling. It is designed for students interested in establishing or furthering careers in counseling, counselor education, supervision, leadership, or advocacy. The program boasts flexible learning options and a training clinic where students can get hands-on experience in close partnership with faculty.

Barry University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Capella University

Capella University

Capella University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision. The program is designed to help students become successful practitioners, educators, researchers, clinical supervisors, and leaders. This 60 credit program is comprised of 12 core courses, all of which are offered online to help ensure flexibility for professional students.

Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University offers a 65 credit program for a Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision that is housed 100% online. Courses are typically offered in 8 week terms. The curriculum covers fundamental concepts, such as ethics, social justice, designing, conducting, and analyzing research, and counselor education pedagogy.

Grand Canyon University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Hampton University

Hampton University

Hampton University offers an online program for a Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision. The program is designed for licensed counselors who want to gain additional experience in order to pursue advancement or leadership opportunities. The degree consists of 64 credits, with each course lasting 16 weeks. The program can typically be completed in 3.5 years of full-time attendance.

Hampton University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

James Madison University

James Madison University

James Madison University’s Doctorate in Counseling and Supervision emphasizes research, scholarship, and practice equally within the counseling profession. The program uses a low-residency model in which most of the learning occurs asynchronously online but is punctuated with week-long residencies on campus.

James Madison University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Lesley University

Lesley University

Lesley University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling and Psychology with a concentration in Transformative Leadership, Education, and Applied Research. The program aims to teach students how to promote social justice, health, and inclusivity in all aspects of their profession. It consists of 48 credit hours, and most students can complete their studies in just 3 years.

Lesley University is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

Liberty University

Liberty University

Liberty University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision. The program utilizes an increasingly popular intensive format to help ensure both flexibility for busy students and numerous chances to bond and network with colleagues. This 60 credit program can typically be completed in 3.5 years. Students may transfer in up to 30 qualifying credits from outside institutions.

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Loyola University – Chicago

Loyola University Chicago

Loyola University—Chicago offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling Psychology. The program aims to equip students with the skills needed to excel as licensed psychologists, researchers, teachers, and counselors across a wide array of sectors. The 69 credit curriculum includes coursework, written and oral examinations, internships, and a culminating dissertation, all of which can usually be completed in 6 years.

Loyola University Chicago is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Oregon State University

Oregon State University

Oregon State University’s Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling Is intended for students with an existing master’s degree in counseling or a field closely related to counseling. The program admits new students twice each year and uses a hybrid online and in-person model, with face-to-face instruction in Portland typically required twice quarterly. Students can typically complete the program in 3 to 5 years.

Oregon State University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Regent University

Regent University

Regent University offers an online program for a Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision. The program aims to help students master an understanding of human development. It provides opportunities to gain hands-on counseling training, conduct research, and develop multicultural competencies. Graduates may pursue work in educational, clinical, governmental, nonprofit, and research settings.

Regent University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Texas A&M University

Texas A and M University

Texas A&M University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling Psychology. The curriculum covers core topics such as psychopathology, counseling techniques, statistical analysis, educational research, and psychotherapy theories.

To graduate, students must complete a minimum of 96 credits and demonstrate core competencies in communication, research, and specific subject matters. Exact requirements vary based on each student’s educational and professional background.

Texas A&M University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Massachusetts – Boston

University of Massachusetts - Boston

The University of Massachusetts—Boston offers a Doctorate in Counseling Psychology. Central to this program’s goals is the development of students’ competencies in research, clinical and practicum performance, teaching, and innovative problem-solving.

Though the program is campus-based, the schedule is designed with working professionals in mind. Students can set their own pace of progression, choosing to attend either full-time or part-time.

The University of Massachusetts Boston is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

University of the Cumberlands

University of the Cumberlands

The University of the Cumberlands offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision. The program is designed for practicing counselors ready to pursue new opportunities in educational and supervisory roles within their field. The program can be completed entirely online and consists of 66 required credit hours.

The University of the Cumberlands is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Getting Your PhD in Counseling Online

Woman pursuing PhD in Counseling Online

The ability to counsel others well is an invaluable skill. As a counselor, you could help people work through their problems and improve their relationships.

Most professional counselors need graduate-level training. A doctoral degree might add to your authority and expertise as a licensed counselor, or it could be a required step in your initial licensing process.

Online college classes could help you accomplish your goal, and you can earn a reputable counseling PhD online from an accredited school. You can start checking out your options and making a plan for your doctoral education today.

Ready to start your journey?
Jordan Meeks
Jordan is pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Policy and earned her Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management and her Bachelor's in Business Administration. Jordan's research focuses on adults returning to college and online degree programs.