How to Become a Counseling Psychologist

How to Become a Counseling Psychologist

If you are planning to enjoy a career in psychology, there are a variety of different career paths that you can choose from. There are numerous responsibilities and roles for counseling psychologists. Their daily routines range and they have various steps that will have to be pursued to make this career a reality.

What Is the Definition Of Counseling Psychology? 

There are two common ways to work within the field of psychology: clinical psychology and counseling psychology.

What Is Counseling Psychology?

Counseling psychology often focuses more on daily stresses that a person may deal with in their lives that can be related to interpersonal relationships, job stress and education. Its focus is less on diagnosable conditions and more on daily issues people are dealing with. 

Both clinical and counseling psychologists spend a great deal of time assessing and treating their patients. The main difference with counseling psychology is that it offers clients the framework and tools to lead fulfilling and happier lives. They put a deeper emphasis on counseling and helping clients find better ways to deal with their stresses.

What Is Clinical Psychology?

Understanding clinical psychology is the first step to deciding if this is the best career choice for you. Generally, clinical psychology focuses on patients who display severe psychopathologies including personality disorders, depressive disorders, and anxiety disorders. It also focuses on clients who have diagnosable mental health disorders. 

The role of clinical psychologists is to assess, diagnose and treat these issues. Many clinical psychologists conduct research as a regular part of their practice. Commonly, clinical psychologists will coordinate with healthcare providers and psychiatrists to prescribe specific medications when appropriate. Pharmaceuticals may be prescribed as a necessary treatment for certain mental health disorders.

Specific Counseling Psychology Areas

There are specific areas that counseling psychologists can work in, or they may choose to work as generalists. It is possible to specialize in working with certain patient populations including the elderly, adolescents, or children. They may choose to work in specialized fields including forensic counseling, family counseling and addiction counseling, etc.

What Are the Roles Of A Counseling Psychologist?

Counseling psychologists perform a variety of activities daily to help their patients handle mental health issues, emotional and physical challenges. Their activities each day will vary. Common activities include:

  • Leading talk therapy sessions with patients
  • Working one-on-one with patients to generate treatment and counseling plans
  • Coordinating as necessary with other mental healthcare professionals including psychiatrists
  • Diagnosing patients with conditions and mental health disorders
  • Intervening with patients during times of crisis or trauma
  • Educating patients about different strategies and frameworks they can rely on to improve their wellbeing
  • Assessing the well-being of patients and identifying where they may be having difficulties

How to Become A Counseling Psychologist 

To become a counseling psychologist, you will need to complete an accredited doctoral program in the field. Before taking this step, however, you will first need to have completed a related bachelor’s and master’s degree. Below is a look at each of these major milestones in your career. 

Step 1: Earn your Bachelor's Degree in a Relevant Field

Receiving a relevant bachelor's degree is your first step toward becoming a counseling psychologist. Your degree will act as an introduction to the field of psychology and establish the foundation and groundwork information that you require to be a successful graduate. Some areas of study will help you progress including studying counseling or education and getting a degree in one of the following:

  • Bachelor of Science in Human Services
  • Bachelor of Science in Anthropology or Sociology
  • Bachelor of Science in Psychology 

Step 2. Finish your Master's Degree

Note that numerous doctoral programs will require that a student has their master's degree prior to enrolling. Certain programs will enable a student to earn both their doctoral and master's degrees at the same time.

Completing a master's degree (ie. Master of Science in Counseling Psychology) before enrolling in a doctoral program is an excellent way to obtain a strong foundation of knowledge. 

One of the benefits of getting your master's degree is that you will become qualified to work as a licensed mental health counselor. This will allow you to spend time working in the field and gain experience helping patients. 

This work experience can help to prepare you for the upcoming academic work that is a large part of a doctoral program. Advanced academics can help you determine which areas you feel passionate about. This can give you some ideas of what avenues you hope to pursue at the doctoral level.

Understand that certain master's programs have been specifically designed to be earned in a shortened timeframe. These programs are excellent for students who are sure they want to immediately enroll in a doctoral program.

Step 3. Complete Your Doctoral Program

You must complete a doctoral program that meets the state's qualifications where you want to practice to qualify for your psychologist license. This may be a PsyD in Counseling Psychology or a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology. It is essential to evaluate a variety of programs to ensure you pick the right one.  Some of the specifics to look for in a program are:

A) Educational Options

Pick programs that feature numerous learning formats including independent study, hands-on research and casework. All these aspects generate valuable experience. 

B) Specializing Availability

Look for a program that delivers specialization opportunities if you are hoping to work with a certain patient population or deal with a certain challenge. 

C) Professional Model

Typically, a program will be informed by a certain kind of professional model that influences the program's approach to the field and the curriculum. Some Counseling Psychology programs focus on the ecological model. This model focuses on a person as one component of a larger system and includes the socio-economic reality of the individual. 


When your goal is to work as a counseling psychologist, it is vital to choose a program where you will work with faculty members who have spent time working in the field. Being educated by those who have the experience to bring into the classroom is essential for your success. 

Creating Reality With Your Dream Career

Do your career goals focus on creating a positive difference in your patients' lives? Do you hope to arm your clients with the skills and knowledge they require to live more fulfilling and meaningful lives? If you answered yes to these questions, becoming a counseling psychologist is a fantastic option for you. 

This will require hard work and dedication and a variety of educational milestones; however, if you have the dream, this can become your reality one day with the right schooling and focus. It can be a very rewarding career.