The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects mental health counseling positions to increase 23% by 2026, much faster than the national average growth rate for all occupations. The growing number of people seeking therapy and the wide availability of online doctoral programs in counseling make now an ideal time to pursue an online Ph.D. in counseling.
Graduates with online doctoral degrees in counseling are prepared to serve individuals struggling with mental health issues or to train future counselors. The following page covers requirements to earn a Ph.D. in counseling online, including common courses and residency components. Keep reading to learn about accreditation, career outlook, professional organizations, and financial aid options.
For career information, skip down:
- What Else can I Expect from an Online Doctorate in Counseling Program?
- Accreditation for Online Doctorate in Counseling Degrees
- Employment Outlook for Doctorate in Counseling Graduates
- Paying for Your Online Doctorate in Counseling
The Best Online Doctorate in Counseling Programs
1. Oregon State University
One of the state's flagship universities, Oregon State University offers several of its programs online. One such distance option is the university's online Ph.D. in counseling, which requires students to complete a total of 150 quarter hours to graduate.
The program runs on a cohort model, providing students with one-on-one advising from a faculty member. Participants complete courses in a hybrid format, combining online coursework with twice-quarterly residencies in Wilsonville, which is accessible from the airport in Portland.
All applicants must already hold a master's degree in counseling or an adjacent field, earned with a minimum GPA of 3.0. The program accepts students for the spring, summer, and fall terms. Although Oregon State is a public university, all online students enrolled in the counseling program pay the same per-credit tuition, regardless of their state of residence.
Oregon State is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. The counseling program is also nationally accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.
2. University of West Georgia
The University of West Georgia's psychology department focuses on humanistic and transpersonal psychology, defining psychology as the “holistic study of human experience.” Students in this department follow an interdisciplinary, liberal arts approach to psychology that incorporates philosophy, art, anthropology, literature, sociology, religion, and other disciplines. Learners at UWG can also opt to pursue a Ph.D. in counseling online.
The school's 60-credit professional counseling Ed.D. program runs on a cohort model, welcoming 12 students each summer. Learners complete two courses per term and only need to visit the school's main campus in Carrollton, Georgia at the beginning of the program for an orientation. All applicants must have at least three years of counseling experience, a master's degree in counseling, a counseling license, and minimum scores of 151 and 142 on the verbal and quantitative portions of the GRE, respectively.
UWG is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
3. Mississippi College
Mississippi College is the state's largest private college and one of the oldest Baptist-affiliated schools in the nation. The college hosts many popular distance education programs, including online doctoral degrees in counseling.
The school's 72-hour professional counseling program runs on a cohort model, combining practice, research, and theory. Students complete theoretical coursework related to clinical assessments and group dynamics, as well as 12 hours of doctoral internships. All students must also undertake a capstone project and complete a series of competency assessments over the course of the program, including qualifying and comprehensive examinations. Students must enroll year-round and take courses each term, including during the summers.
Applicants must have two years of counseling experience, a minimum GPA of 3.25 in previous graduate work, a licensed professional counselor credential, and satisfactory GRE scores. Transfer students may transfer up to 21 hours into this program.
MC is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
4. Regent University
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Pat Robertson founded Regent University in 1977 in the city of Virginia Beach. The school has steadily expanded and now offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Regent also operates an array of distance learning programs, including an online Ph.D. in counseling.
This 51-credit program runs on a part-time cohort model, offering a sequence of courses that allows students to earn their degrees in four years of part-time study. The final year consists exclusively of dissertation research, writing, and defending. Other program coursework covers grant writing, indigenous mental health care, and political structures and policy analysis. Faculty deliver program coursework asynchronously. Additionally, all students must complete a capstone seminar that deals with psychological science and Christian thought.
Program applicants must already hold a master's degree in a relevant field, earned with a minimum GPA of 3.5. All applicants should also have at least one year of relevant work experience.
Regent is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
What Else can I Expect from an Online Doctorate in Counseling Program?
Students earning their Ph.D. in counseling online complete different requirements, depending on the specific program. Because there are many schools of thought in psychology and counseling, curricula vary widely. In addition, different course delivery methods create significant discrepancies between programs.
Curriculum for an Online Doctorate in Counseling
- Research Methods in Psychology: Most students take this course early in their studies to learn how to perform and present original research. Most often a survey course, research methods focuses on quantitative data and experimental design and is foundational for all Ph.D. candidates.
- Dissertation: The most common capstone experience for a doctoral program, counseling dissertations typically require candidates to develop and conduct original research under the supervision of a faculty committee. The dissertation prepares candidates for future academic endeavors.
- Statistics: Students learn how to apply statistical methodology to research. The survey course covers several topics, including data collection, analysis, and organization.
- Addictive Behaviors: This course explores the physiological and psychological elements of addiction. Learners discuss the ideas of cycle, treatment, and prevention and are prepared to involve communities and families in supporting individuals struggling with addiction.
- Grant Writing: This staple course for doctoral students teaches learners to secure funding through grants. The course teaches skills necessary for students continuing in academic or research fields.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Doctorate in Counseling?
The time necessary to earn an online Ph.D. in counseling depends on several factors, including delivery method and whether the program is self-paced or cohort-based. Online courses may be synchronous, using live video conferences, or asynchronous, in which students complete coursework on their own time.
Students in cohort programs complete coursework in a prescribed sequence with a small group of peers. This structure fosters accountability and leads to predictable completion times. Most online Ph.D. programs in counseling combine asynchronous and synchronous elements. Though completion time varies by enrollment status, most students online counseling doctoral programs in three to five years.
Accreditation for Online Doctorate in Counseling Degrees
The accreditation process involves a thorough evaluation from a third-party agency. Six accrediting bodies award regional accreditation, the most common and most highly regarded type of accreditation. National accrediting bodies typically handle one field or type of program.
Students should make sure their prospective school holds regional accreditation to ensure other institutions and future employers will recognize their degree. Counseling students should also look for accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). By choosing a CACREP-accredited program, students completing counseling Ph.D. programs online ensure they receive the training necessary to succeed in the field.
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) oversees all matters related to public education throughout the country, including accreditation. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) is a private organization that oversees accrediting agencies to ensure the quality of the country's higher education. The ED uses accreditation status to award federal funding to institutions and students. Lists of accredited schools and programs are available on the ED and CHEA websites.
Employment Outlook for Doctorate in Counseling Graduates
Doctorate in Counseling Careers
Counselors work in various settings, including schools, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and private practices. Counselors in hospitals and rehab centers often work long hours, spending time with patients. Private practice counselors and therapists typically schedule appointments with clients and enjoy more flexible hours. Counseling professors research and teach at universities.
Professor: Counseling professors perform original research, teach courses, and observe students while they practice treating patients. Professors frequently advise students individually. Postsecondary teaching positions require a Ph.D. in counseling.
- Median Annual Salary: $75,430
- Projected Growth Rate: 15%
School and Career Counselor: School counselors work in elementary, middle, or high schools, helping students develop academic and soft skills needed to function in a school environment. Career counselors help people determine which jobs fit their skills. School counselors need a master's degree.
- Median Annual Salary: $54,560
- Projected Growth Rate: 13%
Mental Health, Substance Abuse, or Behavioral Disorder Counselor: These counselors help individuals deal with problems such as eating disorders, depression, substance abuse, and addiction. Counselors planning to specialize in mental health must have a master's degree.
- Median Annual Salary: $42,150
- Projected Growth Rate: 23%
Rehabilitation Counselor: These counselors help people with disabilities overcome barriers to living independently. They often work in youth centers, senior centers, and rehabilitation centers. Most rehab counselors have a master's degree.
- Median Annual Salary: $34,670
- Projected Growth Rate: 13%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Doctorate in Counseling Salary
Factors impacting individual counselor salaries include where they work, their experience, and which field of counseling they're employed in. Counselors who pursue positions in academia after completing a counseling Ph.D. program online generally earn higher salaries than graduates who choose to practice. The table below highlights median salaries for five counseling positions at different career stages.
|Job Title||Overall Median Salary||Entry-Level Employees||Mid-Career Employees||Late-Career Employees|
|Mental Health Counselor||$40,098||$38,000||$41,000||$46,000|
|Substance Abuse Counselor||$37,874||$34,000||$38,000||$44,000|
|Licensed Professional Counselor||$45,215||$42,000||$49,000||$58,000|
Counseling Professional Organizations
Professional organizations are valuable resources for students and graduates of online counseling doctoral programs. These organizations help counseling professionals stay updated on changing best practices and new research in the field. Professional organizations often provide access to publications, job boards, annual conferences, and other networking opportunities. Below are three of the largest professional organizations in the field.
- American Counseling Association: Founded in 1952, the ACA provides members with access to continuing education programs, research and publications, and a job board.
- International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors: The IAMFC connects family and marriage counselors from around the world. Members receive access to publications, professional development opportunities, and annual conferences.
- American School Counselor Association: The ASCA offers professional development opportunities and access to publications. The association also provides readings and leaflets to help parents and educators interact with school counselors.
Paying for Your Online Doctorate in Counseling
While students earning a Ph.D. in counseling online often save money on transportation costs and campus fees, most students need assistance financing their degree. Thankfully, there are many financial aid options for students completing counseling Ph.D. programs online. Many counseling students finance their degree through graduate assistantships or by serving as a teacher's assistant; however, these opportunities are more frequently available to on-campus students than to online students.
All students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to determine whether they qualify for federal grants and loans. Additionally, many counseling organizations offer third-party scholarships for students who commit to practicing in the field. Award amounts range from $300 to $20,000. Institutions also offer program-specific scholarships for students enrolled in counseling Ph.D. programs online.