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. The demand for counseling and psychology professionals are rising in response.

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 major 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 typically trained in qualitative (subjective and observable) research methods and most 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 counseling or psychology can opt to 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 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), between 2018 and 2028, openings for psychologists are projected to grow by 14 percent nationally, a rate which is much faster than the national average for all occupations at 5 percent. Doctoral degree holders can expect to earn higher salaries compared to people with master’s and bachelor’s 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 for PhD programs. 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 may administer psychological assessments measuring intelligence, emotional relation, or neurological capabilities.

Here are two lists of the types 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 a variety of 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 is a school counseling degree program that 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 870 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. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes CACREP as an accrediting body and eight of the 82 CACREP-accredited PhD programs in counseling are offered through online programs.

As for psychology, the American Psychological Association (APA) currently has accredited any online doctoral programs. Students wishing to pursue an online doctoral degree in psychology are urged by the APA to seek online PhD programs in psychology which 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 common 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 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 240 must be spent 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) for the purpose of fostering social, cognitive, behavioral, and/or 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 is required to 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 which are listed on the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) website.

Featured Online PhD Programs in Counseling and Psychology

Here are seven featured 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 since 2017, this program requires four one-week summer residencies. This program’s mission is to position counseling professionals for work in a diverse range of counseling positions and advance the knowledge base through scholarly inquiry.

To complete the doctoral program, students must write a dissertation or a comparable research project related to counseling or counselor education and supervision.

  • Location: Alamosa, CO
  • Duration: 66 semester hours; approximately four years
  • Accreditation: CACREP
  • Tuition: $397 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 required if a counselor wants to seek professional licensure.

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

  • Location: Montgomery, AL
  • Duration: 60 semester hours; approximately four years
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commissions on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $780 per semester hour

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 may transfer up to 15 credits.

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
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commissions on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $595 per credit

Oregon State University (Hybrid)

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

This part-time program aims to develop a specialized area of professional counseling and requires a dissertation and an internship. New cohorts begin every summer quarter.

  • Location: Corvallis, OR
  • Duration: 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 offers 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.

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 may require additional semesters to complete their dissertation defense requirements.

  • Location: Shippensburg, PA
  • Duration: 60 credit hours; approximately three years
  • Accreditation: CACREP
  • Tuition: $699 per credit (in-state); $1,046 per credit (non-resident)

University of the Cumberlands

The University of the Cumberlands offers a 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 online program benefit from the convenience of pursuing an advanced degree without having to give up full- or part-time work.

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 go pursue specialized careers as research and counseling psychologists with specializations 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 only 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.

Graduates are prepared for a wealth of 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 a related doctorate of marriage and family therapy (DMFT) program online.

  • Location: La Jolla, CA
  • Duration: 69 credits; approximately three years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE)
  • Tuition: $3,393 per course

PhD Degree in Counseling and Psychology Jobs

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.

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 occurs, community mental health counselors serve as outreach personnel in community and civic organizations. By providing mental and emotional support to community members after a community disaster, a community mental health counselor can be a pivotal part of the reunification and future development of neighborhoods, families, and organizations.

Forensic Psychologist: When a crime is committed, much attention is given to the perpetrator and 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. Through questioning alleged criminals, interviewing crime-scene witnesses, and investigating actual crime scenes, forensic psychologists can be pivotal in crime prevention by analyzing criminal risk factors and serving in court-appointed rehabilitation roles for convicted criminals.

Veteran’s Counselor: Returning military veterans often find reentry to civilian life difficult for a variety of reasons. Veteran’s 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.

Rachel Drummond

Rachel Drummond


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).