Online PhD Programs in Counseling and Psychology – Doctoral Programs

Mental health issues are at an all-time high in the United States. Statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Health show that one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness. These numbers increased substantially due to isolation and job loss during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In addition, research from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF 2021) shows the number of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression is 30 percent higher in January 2021 compared to pre-pandemic data from 2019. Fortunately, perhaps in response to this global crisis, the demand for counseling and psychology professionals is on the rise. 

While many mental health positions in counseling, social work, or other related fields require a bachelor’s or master’s degree, earning a doctoral degree in counseling or psychology can position someone to deepen their clinical and research experience or lead teams of mental health professionals to treat more patients.

A commonly asked question is: what is the difference between counseling and psychology? While the two fields share the purpose of helping individuals and families navigate difficult emotional situations or disorders, two significant differences between the two careers are the types of research performed and the types of patients seen. 

Psychologists with doctoral degrees are often trained in quantitative (objective and countable) research methods and are positioned to help people with serious mental illnesses. On the other hand, counselors with doctoral degrees are trained in qualitative (subjective and observable) research methods and often see patients with short- to long-term adjustment disorders. With a doctoral degree, both psychologists and counselors are positioned to teach in universities, lead cutting-edge research teams, and lead teams of mental health professionals. 

So what is required to apply for a doctoral degree in counseling or psychology? Master’s degree holders in two-year counseling or psychology can continue their studies through a doctoral program which typically takes three to seven years and requires extensive research, clinical work, and writing a dissertation. While there are several online doctoral degree programs available in counseling, a few online doctoral programs in psychology are available to serve the education needs of those who want to earn a degree while working full-time or attending to family responsibilities. 

To match pace with national mental health needs, the occupational outlook for doctoral degree holders in counseling and psychology is trending upward. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021), between 2020 and 2030, openings for psychologists are projected to grow by 8 percent nationally, a rate that is as fast as the national average for all occupations. In addition, the BLS shows the median annual salary for psychologists is $82,180 in 2021, which includes professionals with masters and doctoral degrees. 

Read on to learn more about online doctoral degree programs in counseling and psychology.

Types of PhD Programs in Counseling and Psychology

When it comes to doctoral degrees, there are several programs in counseling. Aspiring psychologists searching for PhD programs should know there are two accrediting organizations. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredits master’s and doctoral degrees in counseling, and the American Psychological Association (APA) accredits doctoral, internship, and postdoctoral residency programs in psychology. 

To choose the best program, applicants are advised to consider their future career goals and interests. In general, PhD programs in counseling prepare graduates to focus on patient adjustment issues such as anxiety, depression, couples counseling, behavior disorders, and substance abuse. By comparison, PhD programs in psychology may also see patients or specialize in clinical research and administer psychological assessments measuring intelligence, emotional relation, or neurological capabilities.  

Here are two lists of PhD programs in counseling and psychology included in CACREP- and APA-accredited programs.

CACREP-accredited PhD Programs in Counseling

  • EdD in Counselor Education and Supervision: This is a practical degree program focusing on applying solutions to mental health problems from an administrative or teaching role; a clinical internship may not be required.
  • PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision: This is designed for those who want to work in theoretical, clinical, teaching, and leadership roles; a clinical internship is typically required.

It is worth noting that as of 2013, new university teaching faculty members in CACREP-accredited programs must have a doctoral degree from a CACREP-accredited program to be eligible for employment. Additionally, licensure requirements vary by position and state requirements, and earning a doctoral degree from a CACREP-accredited program prepares candidates for the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) to become a licensed counselor. 

APA-accredited PhD Programs in Psychology

  • PhD in Counseling Psychology: This is a foundational degree that leads to various positions seeing patients in clinical practices, research, teaching, and supervisory roles in private or public healthcare facilities.
  • PhD in Psychology: This is a general degree program that can be broad or specific in its focus and includes clinical and research components; a one-year internship may be required.
  • PhD in School Psychology: This school counseling degree program prepares future school psychologists to work with youth and behavioral issues that interfere with learning and socialization.
  • PsyD in Counseling Psychology: Students in PsyD programs focus on client interaction, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment and learn practical applications of research-based psychology practices; a one-year internship may be required.

Online Counseling and Psychology PhD Program Accreditation

As mentioned above, master’s and doctoral counseling degree programs are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). There are more than 900 CACREP-accredited programs in the United States. Programs demonstrate their academic rigor through a two-part process of self and peer assessment and must prove that their mission, curriculum, and teaching meet high standards of excellence. 

In addition, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes CACREP as an accrediting body, and nine of the 86 CACREP-accredited PhD programs in counseling are offered through online programs. 

As for psychology, the American Psychological Association (APA) currently does not accredit any online doctoral programs. Therefore, the APA urges students wishing to pursue an online doctoral degree in psychology to seek online PhD programs in psychology that hold regional or national accreditation through the U.S. Department of Education or an accrediting body approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). 

Typical Admissions Requirements for PhD Programs in Counseling and Psychology

Each doctoral program has its own unique admissions requirements. Here are some standard admissions requirements for online doctoral degree programs in counseling and psychology: 

  • A master’s degree from a CACREP-accredited counseling program or a master’s degree from an accredited psychology program 
  • Criminal background check
  • Current license or be eligible to apply for licensure in the state of residence 
  • GPA of 3.0 or higher from master’s degree program
  • GRE scores 
  • Interview with an admissions committee
  • Letters of reference
  • Official transcripts for undergraduate and graduate coursework
  • Previous clinical experience in counseling or psychology 
  • Statement of career or research goals

Supervised Clinical Hour Requirements – PhD Programs in Counseling and Psychology

Counseling programs accredited by CACREP include a supervised clinical hours component to prepare students to work one-on-one with patients. CACREP requires students to complete skill development preparation before being eligible for supervised clinical experience. 

A minimum of 700 hours of supervised experience is required, and hours are divided into two categories: practicum and internship. Practicum hours must total 100, and at least 40 of those hours must be in direct service with clients. 

As for internship hours, the minimum requirement is 600 hours, of which students must spend 240 in direct service with clients. CACREP defines direct service hours as ”the supervised use of counseling, consultation, or related professional skills with actual clients (can be individuals, couples, families, or groups) to foster social, cognitive, behavioral, and affective change.” The organization does not count tasks in administration and observation as direct service hours.

As for APA-accredited doctoral programs in psychology, students are encouraged to keep well-documented records of their supervised clinical hours. Depending on the state where licensure is sought, a psychologist must earn 1,500 to 6,000 supervised clinical hours. 

Licensure requirements vary by state, and students are advised to carefully research the number of supervised hours required for each state listed on the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) website.

Here are some examples of accredited online PhD programs in counseling and psychology.

Online PhD Programs in Counseling

Adams State University

Adams State University offers an online PhD in counselor education and supervision program. Accredited by CACREP in 2017, this program requires four one-week summer residencies. This program’s mission is to position counseling professionals in a diverse range of counseling positions and advance the knowledge base through scholarly inquiry. 

With a PhD in this field, graduates can find work as counselor educators, supervisors, researchers in academic settings. Students must write a dissertation or a comparable research project related to counseling or counselor education and supervision to complete the doctoral program. 

  • Location: Alamosa, CO
  • Duration: 66 semester hours; approximately four years
  • Accreditation: CACREP
  • Tuition: $435 per credit 

Amridge University (Hybrid) 

Located in Montgomery, Alabama, Amridge University offers a hybrid PhD program in professional counseling. This research-oriented program requires 60 semester-hours beyond the master’s degree, and additional courses may be necessary if a counselor wants to seek professional licensure. Students enrolled full-time can complete the program in four years, depending on the completion of dissertation requirements. 

Courses focus on counseling theories, human development, problems with abuse and addiction, cultural diversity, and research. Graduates from this program are experienced in qualitative and quantitative research methods, statistical skills, and theoretical and practical counseling knowledge. 

  • Location: Montgomery, AL
  • Duration: 60 semester hours; approximately four years
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commissions on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $750 per semester-hour (part-time); $675 per semester-hour (full-time)

Liberty University 

Liberty University offers a fully-online EdD in pastoral care and counseling. With rotating start dates, students can complete this 57-credit program in just three years and transfer up to 50 percent of the total degree credits. Students in this program take courses offered in eight-week terms. This program isn’t designed to meet state counseling licensure requirements but is open for licensed counselors and non-licensed counselors to pursue. 

This doctoral program is designed for pastors, licensed counselors, marriage and family therapists, and clinical social workers who want to incorporate biblical counseling skills into their work. Graduates from this program complete a dissertation and benefit from a practice-focused degree program solving real-world problems with advanced research. 

  • Location: Lynchburg, VA
  • Duration: 57 credit hours; approximately 2.5 years
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commissions on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $595 per credit

Oregon State University (Hybrid) 

Located in Corvallis, Oregon, the College of Education at Oregon State University offers a hybrid PhD program in counseling. Students in this program are members of a multi-state cohort that has included participants from western states Oregon, Washington, California, Hawaii, and Alaska. The in-person classes take place on weekends twice each quarter in Portland, Oregon, making the courses accessible for students traveling from outside the area to attend these courses. 

This part-time program aims to develop a specialized area of professional counseling and requires a dissertation and an internship. Applicants must submit transcripts and be screened for personal and emotional suitability to apply for admission. Prior experience in counseling is encouraged, and a 3.0 GPA in the final 90 credits of undergraduate and graduate work count as favorable qualifications. New cohorts begin every summer quarter.

  • Location: Corvallis, OR
  • Duration: 94 quarter-credits; approximately three to five years
  • Accreditation: CACREP
  • Tuition: $590 per credit

Shippensburg University  

For more than 50 years, Shippensburg University has offered master’s-level counseling programs and currently provides a part-time EdD in counselor education and supervision. The mission of this hybrid program is to develop students’ expertise in advanced practice and clinical supervision. Students can complete this program part-time or full-time and take their courses in a cohort model over three years. 

Graduates from this program are prepared for a full range of leadership roles, including educational, clinical, and administrative roles managing crisis and disaster response teams and trauma-informed care. 

Building upon theoretical and clinical concepts covered in the 60-credit master’s degree, EdD courses are offered online and on-campus on evenings and weekends. Students move through this cohort model for the first three years and require additional semesters to complete their dissertation defense requirements. 

  • Location: Shippensburg, PA
  • Duration: 60 credit hours; approximately three years
  • Accreditation: CACREP
  • Tuition: $626 per credit (in-state); $774 per credit (non-resident)

University of the Cumberlands 

The University of the Cumberlands offers an online 66-credit PhD program in counselor education and supervision. With an emphasis on preparing students for careers in research and higher education, students in this program benefit from the convenience of pursuing an advanced degree without giving up full- or part-time work. Courses include advanced counseling theories and skills, leadership & advocacy in professional counseling, and neuroanatomy & behavioral medicine for professional counseling. 

This interdisciplinary program comprises faculty from the Department of Education and School of Counseling. Faculty from education teach students leadership courses, while the school of counseling education coursework, advising, clinical experiences, and dissertation research and writing. Graduates from this program pursue specialized careers as research and counseling psychologists specializing in addiction, advanced counseling, and leadership. 

  • Location: Williamsburg, KY
  • Duration: 66 credit hours; approximately three years
  • Accreditation: CACREP
  • Tuition: $400 per credit

Online PhD Programs in Psychology

Northcentral University 

Northcentral University in La Jolla, California, offers one of the few online PhD programs in psychology. Designed to meet the growing interest in and need for advanced educational opportunities in psychology, this program emphasizes critical thinking, theoretical, and practical skills. 

This program does not prepare students to become licensed psychologists. However, ten specializations are available, including industrial/organizational psychology, in which students can choose a non-clinical internship practicum experience. 

Graduates are prepared for many careers such as behavior analyst, clinical case manager, college professor, health information manager, behavioral counselor, and researcher. Courses begin every Monday, and students can choose from ten specializations: addictions, the psychology of gender and sexual fluidity, general psychology, gerontology, health psychology, industrial-organizational psychology, mental health policy and practice, trauma and disaster relief, and counseling psychology, with or without a California state licensure track. 

Northcentral University also offers an online doctorate of marriage and family therapy (DMFT) program.

  • Location: La Jolla, CA
  • Duration: 60 credits; approximately three years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)
  • Tuition: $3,444 per course

Walden University 

Walden University offers an online PhD in psychology with a non-clinical/non-licensure focus. This program aims to prepare students for teaching, research, and consulting positions. Applicants to this program can transfer up to 55 credits. 

In addition, students can choose from six specializations to tailor their studies to future careers in educational psychology, health psychology, research in psychology, social psychology, teaching in psychology, or design a unique specialization.

To apply, students must have a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in a related field from an accredited school and meet general admission requirements. Once admitted, students can pursue a fast-track option, increasing their course load from two to three credits per term so long as they maintain a 3.0 GPA or higher. Students in this program are supported with online resources, faculty, and academic coaching services. 

  • Location: Columbia, MD
  • Duration: 65 quarter-credits; approximately three to eight years
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: $38,025 per year 

Jobs for PhDs in Counseling or Psychology 

With a PhD in counseling or psychology, graduates have expanded access to career opportunities in teaching, administration, and clinical settings. Here are three jobs for graduates of counseling and psychology doctoral programs. 

Become a Community Mental Health Counselor

After a community is impacted by trauma such as a natural disaster, terrorist attack, or war, a community mental health counselor steps in to help communities process their losses. 

Through speaking with individuals and groups after a disaster, community mental health counselors, also known as crisis counselors, serve as outreach personnel in community and civic organizations. In addition, a community mental health counselor can be a pivotal part of the reunification and future development of neighborhoods, families, and organizations by providing mental and emotional support to community members after a community disaster. 

Become a Forensic Psychologist

When a crime is committed, much attention is given to the perpetrator. The role of a forensic psychologist is to determine the motive of a specific or often-occurring crime. 

Forensic psychologists perform interdisciplinary work that spans criminal justice, law, and psychology. For example, forensic psychologists can be pivotal in crime prevention by analyzing criminal risk factors and serving in court-appointed rehabilitation roles for convicted criminals by questioning alleged criminals, interviewing crime-scene witnesses, and investigating actual crime scenes. 

Become a Military, Army, or Veteran Counselor

Returning military veterans often find reentry to civilian life difficult for various reasons. Veterans’ counselors help military vets mentally process their experiences, and services are available to veterans who have been honorably or generally discharged. 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI 2020) estimates that one in four active-duty members experiences signs of mental illness, with the top three afflictions being post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and traumatic brain injury. Veterans’ counselors can help military veterans develop coping skills at one of the 170 veteran’s affairs (VA) medical centers and outpatient clinics located throughout the United States. 

Rachel Drummond

Rachel Drummond

Writer

Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).