Online Doctorate (PhD) in Counseling Programs

Reviewed by: Megan Kelly, MA, LMHC

A doctorate in counseling is a terminal degree for the counseling subject field, meaning it is the highest level of education one can pursue. There are different types of programs at the doctoral level, such as a doctoral degree in counseling and PhDs in counseling. These programs can equip students with the skills and knowledge needed to succeed as a counselor and advance in their careers.

There are numerous doctorate of counseling degrees in the U.S.. Doctoral students can pick from a PhD (more research based), a doctorate of counseling, or even a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), among others.

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At the top of the educational tier, doctorate in counseling programs are prestigious, sought-after degree programs throughout the country. Read on to learn about the differences and commonalities of each Doctor of Counseling program option.

For individuals already on the counseling path, online doctorate degrees in counseling could be great options for satisfying careers, while allowing students to learn in the format and timing that works best for their busy lives.

Doctorate (Phd) in Counseling Degree Programs Online

Individuals interested in counseling can find a college that provides online doctorate degrees that allow them to make a difference in their own lives, as well as in the lives of others. There are multiple types of doctoral counseling degrees.

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Online CACREP Accredited programs | Online MPCAC Accredited programs

Consider Online PhD Counseling Programs

Online doctoral counseling programs can provide the same quality of coursework that traditional in-person programs provide. Instructors are readily available through various channels of communication, such as video chat, email, and course message boards,, which makes online classrooms just as efficient and effective as traditional in-person programs.

Below are some of the types of programs individuals can pursue online.

Some individuals need degree programs that fit in with their jobs, family, and other responsibilities. As online degree programs have gained respect over the years, more people are taking part in advancing their degrees while maintaining their previous commitments.

Qualifications for a Doctorate in Counseling Degree

Considering a doctoral degree in counseling is a terminal degree, there are specific educational qualifications to be accepted into a program, whether that is online or on campus.

Below are the most common qualifications candidates should keep in mind. Remember that every university and program is different, so be sure to check with the admissions department of each program before applying.

1. Educational Requirements      

Individuals who apply to doctorate programs typically hold related undergraduate or graduate degrees. Many online doctoral counseling programs require that applicants hold a bachelor’s degree in counseling, psychology, or other mental health-related fields, as well as a master’s degree in counseling or related fields.

2. Existing Counseling Experience 

Due to the in-depth nature of the degree program, students are typically expected to have some knowledge or experience with the counseling field prior to entry. This might be knowledge in the areas of research and development, or experience with providing counseling services or supervision services.

3.Understanding of Counseling and Psychology      

While taking courses related to research in counseling, most doctoral students will be expected to construct their own thesis or dissertation, which is required prior to graduation. This project is focused on a specific area of study or research and is meant to demonstrate  an expert-level basis of knowledge gained during a student’s time in their doctoral program.

4. Ability to Take Online Classes and Fulfill In-Person Requirements      

Although online doctorate programs are completed mostly asynchronously and through digital formats, most programs require that students take part in one or two in-person practicums during their program. The locations of these in-person requirements vary depending on the university.

It is important that students research these requirements prior to enrolling in a doctorate program. There are many options for specialties at the doctorate level.

Online Doctorate in Counseling Curriculum

Students interested in pursuing a postdoctoral career in counseling may find that programs such as a doctorate in counseling education are great fits.

For individuals interested in the applied sciences, a doctoral degree in clinical mental health counseling, psychology, marriage and family counseling, or school counseling can be good choices. Depending on which path a student takes, the curriculum will weigh heavily upon the subjects at hand.

Most doctorate in counseling programs can be completed in three to six years, depending on whether a student has completed a master’s program prior to entry.

Benefits of Getting a Doctorate in Counseling

Getting a doctorate degree in counseling can help increase a candidate’s job opportunities and professional growth. Below are some of the benefits of earning a doctorate in counseling.

Help Others

Counselors can give guidance and support to individuals with mental health disorders or who are dealing with challenging circumstances. They may find that this career provides benefits that go above and beyond financial security or professional status. 

A higher degree could allow the opportunity to work in important fields of research, as well as government agencies. These higher-level job opportunities could grant counselors the ability to help more individuals by taking on roles that have greater impact than traditional individual or group counseling such as roles in policy development or professional advocacy.

Expected Growth      

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth of 25% for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors between 2019 and 2029, much faster than the projected average for all occupations. There is a projected growth of 8% for school and career counselors between 2019 and 2029, also much faster than the projected average for all occupations. This could mean that there will be many more job opportunities opening up for counselors in the near future. 

Online PhD in School Counseling Programs

For candidates who want to earn their PhD or Doctor of Education (EdD) but who have busy schedules or other obligations, an online doctorate in counseling program could be a great fit. Below are some quick facts about the online doctorate programs on offer. 

Doctorate of School Counseling Degrees

TOTAL PROGRAMS: 76 different Doctorate of School Counseling degrees

AVGERAGE SALARY: According to the BLS, school and career counselors earn an annual median salary of $58,120. An individual with a Doctorate degree may qualify for higher-paid positions in school settings, such as the role of school psychologist. According to BLS, school psychologists earned an annual median income of $78,780 in the U.S. in May, 2021.

Specialized Doctoral Counseling Programs

Often, those who have their master’s degree in counseling or related fields go on to enroll in a counseling PhD or EdD programs. These kinds of programs can help students become specialized counselors and focus their career trajectory. They can also take advantage of shortages in the field. For example, the need for bilingual counselors and counselors with a disability specialization have helped create new degree programs in focused areas that were overlooked before.

What Online Doctorate in Counseling Degrees Are Available?

Below are some of the types of doctorate degrees students can pursue. 

PhD in Counseling         

Students can earn their PhD in Counseling to sharpen their supervision, assessment, counseling, and group counseling skills. These programs often dive into topics such as diversity training and advanced theory and practice. Certified counselors with advanced degrees can work in a wide variety of settings, such as hospitals, private practice, agencies, and government.

PhD in Counseling Psychology            

PhD in counseling psychology is a broader degree that expands upon the concepts learned in a masters of counseling (counseling, assessment, diagnosis, intervention, treatment, etc); PhD in school psychology is focused specifically on issues related to students & student mental health, usually within a k-12 environment.

EdD in Professional Counseling and Supervision

Professionals who have their master’s degree in school counseling often seek to earn their EdD in Professional Counseling and Supervision.

What Specific Courses Should I Expect From a Doctorate in Counseling Degree?

Since doctorate-level degrees can be specific and focused, the coursework in these programs can vary greatly. However, there are common topics that doctorate degrees in counseling could address. 

Core Coursework

Students may take classes that cover topics including statistical methods, assessment and evaluation, neuroscience, social psychology, perspectives in school psychology, ethical and professional considerations, and counseling children and teens. 

Gaining Professional Experience        

Professional experience requirements can include spending up to 100 hours at practicum/internship settings working with counselors or performing research on a specific topic of focus. Requirements and specifications can vary, so students should speak to faculty members of each program they are applying to in order to ensure that the program is a good fit. 

Organizations to Know for PhD Counseling Students

Professional counselors should keep up with current trends, best practices, and changes in the field. Organizations such as the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), American School Counselor Association (ASCA) can be a great resource for this and provide career support to professionals. The NBCC is a great resource for learning more about specific certification, examinations and licensure information. ASCA also offers scholarships and grants for students to take advantage of during their studies. 

Counseling Licensure

Licensure is required for graduates who plan to work with the public after graduation. Most states require that applicants for licensure graduate from an accredited university, pass a state board exam in counseling, and take part in one to two years of supervised employment. However, requirements may vary by state, and the types of counseling often require different certifications.

PhD in Counseling Career Paths

Having a doctorate in counseling is the highest of accomplishments for individuals in this field. After receiving a degree and becoming licensed, counselors can work in hospitals, private practices, and state agencies, or they can even start their own private practice.


There is no end to the possibilities for those who are willing to put in the time and effort required to be the best professional in the field. Doctorate-level graduates are needed in research to help determine new techniques for effective counseling as well as testing current theories.

Applied Counselor

Applied counselors work with individuals with emotional distress or mental disorders. Counselors can help guide patients through these circumstances with therapy and life planning.

School Counselor

School counselors can work in educational facilities to support students and their families. They can guide students through application processes, help with administrative tasks, and offer support to them once they move on to the next step of their education.

If you are still interested in becoming a counselor, read more below about some of the most popular online counseling programs. On each page is a detailed write-up of the program, specific courses, and schools that offer that program that are currently accepting applicants.

Consider your options for obtaining a doctorate in counseling and which program could help you reach your career goals.

American School Counselor Association, About ASCA
American School Counselor Association, School Counselor Roles & Ratios
Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, Counseling Specialties
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, School and Career Counselors and Advisors
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

List of Programs

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Counseling Career Guide

Still Looking for a Counseling Degree?

Here are some of the most popular online counseling programs. On each page you will find a detailed write-up of the program, specific courses, and schools that offer that program that are currently accepting applicants.

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