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Counseling Psychologist: Education and Career Information

Working as a counseling psychologist is a very broad yet rewarding career that allows you to work within a hospital, school, business, government agency, or open your own practice and be self-employed. The role of a counseling psychologist is to help clients identify and overcome abnormal behaviors and mental disorders while at the same time providing them a means to live a more emotionally-healthy, successful life.

What does a counseling psychologist do?

Counseling psychologists employ a variety of methods to help their clients manage mental illness and emotional problems. These methods may include everything from simple thought exercises to advanced, experimental techniques. Often times, though, the job of a counseling psychologist is to simply listen to their client and help them discover truths that they may not yet realize. Unlike a psychiatrist, a counseling psychologist is not allowed to prescribe drugs to treat their clients’ conditions.

There are a wide number of roles that a counseling psychologist may fill. Often times, schools will employ counseling psychologists to serve as a resource for helping troubled students. Counseling psychologists are also employed by many hospitals for the task of aiding in the treatment of patients who are suffering from a mental condition. Some counseling psychologists choose to open their own practice and recruit clients for themselves. In addition to these three roles, a wide number of businesses and government agencies employ counseling psychologists in order to fulfill a variety of tasks including helping employees resolve emotional issues they may be facing.

All said, the career path of a counseling psychologist is quite broad. With the same background and education, you may find yourself helping emotionally troubled teens in a high school, treating patients with schizophrenia in a mental hospital, or serving high-end clients in your own private practice. The choice of where you work and what role you fill is entirely up to you.

How much does a counseling psychologist earn?

Since working as a counseling psychologist is a wide-ranging career, the salaries for counseling psychologists vary greatly depending on where they are working and what role they fill. According to the BLS, though, the average salary for counseling psychologists of all kinds in 2016 was $75,230 per year, with the top 10% of counseling psychologists earning upwards of $121,610 per year. The job outlook for counseling psychologists is also positive, with 19% growth expected by 2024.

What types of skills are needed to become a counseling psychologist?

In order to be successful as a counseling psychologist, you will need to adopt a number of skills. These skills include:

Research: Even counseling psychologists not involved with academia will still need to be good at researching in order to research potential treatments for their clients.

Ethics: Counseling psychologists deal with people at their most vulnerable and often know details about people that no one else may know. As such, it is crucial for counseling psychologists to have very high ethical standards.

Communication: Good communication is essential for a counseling psychologist. In order to help their clients, counseling psychologists need to be able to effectively communicate with them.

Listening Skills: It’s arguably even more important for a counseling psychologist to have adept listening skills than it is for them to have communication skills. A big part of a counseling psychologist’s job is listening to their clients and working to better understand the problems they are facing.

Patience: Being a good counseling psychologist takes a lot of patience, as most emotional problems and mental conditions cannot be fixed overnight. Many times, there may not even be an end in sight for a person’s condition. It is important, however, that a counseling psychologist stays with the task and continue to help the person even if progress is painfully slow.

Problem Solving: There is still so much for the scientific community to learn about the human mind, and no two cases are completely alike. Therefore, a counseling psychologist must possess excellent problem-solving skills in order to help their clients find a solution to problems that won’t always have a textbook solution.

Internship Requirements

Internships serve as a valuable experience for counseling psychologists to draw from. In order to work as a counseling psychologist in a school or clinical setting, you will be required to complete a one-year internship as part of your doctoral study.

Educational Requirements

Working as a counseling psychologist will typically require you to earn a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in counseling psychology, though there are some positions where you can work as a counseling psychologist with a Master’s degree in counseling psychology. Either way, the path to becoming a counseling psychologist starts with earning your Bachelor’s degree in psychology.

During the four years required to earn a Bachelor’s degree in psychology, expect to cover topics such as personality theories, child psychology, and biological basis of behavior. Classes will also cover a wide range of useful topics including group behavior, social psychology, counseling, and statistics. Though internships at this stage of your education are not required, they are still very helpful and highly recommended.

The next step to becoming a counseling psychologist is to earn your Master’s degree in counseling psychology. During this two-year program, you will cover more advanced material such as behavior modification and psychopharmacology. Typically, during a Master’s program in counseling psychology, students will also be required to participate in real-world counseling situations and complete work that goes beyond the classroom.

While there are some positions for a counseling psychologist that can be obtained with just a Master’s degree in counseling psychology, it is typically recommended that you go ahead and earn your doctorate since most positions in the field will require you to have it. Still, you have a couple of options available to you at this point. While earning a Ph.D. is the most common route to becoming a counseling psychologist, more and more schools are starting to offer a Psy.D. program for students who wish to practice as a counseling psychologist in a clinical setting. Either way, a Doctoral program in counseling psychology will require you to complete and submit comprehensive, original research in the form of projects and papers. Upon graduation, you may be required to work for a year under the supervision of a licensed counseling psychologist before you are able to receive your own licensing.

Psychology Scholarships

American Psychological Foundation Scholarships Association of Black Psychologists Epilepsy Foundation
Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Child Psychology Graduate Student Fellowship Future Counselors of America Scholarship Gallagher Koster Health Careers Scholarship
Kay Wilson Presidential Leadership Award NIH Undergraduate Scholarship NAJA Graduate Scholarship
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Psi Chi Awards and Grants Wayne F. Placek Grants
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