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Different types of counseling degrees and specializations

October 05, 2023
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Counseling is a dynamic and evolving field that plays a crucial role in helping individuals cope with various challenges and improve their overall mental health and well-being. As more people seek mental health services, the need for qualified counselors grows.

In this article, we'll explore various counseling degree programs and the specialized areas within the field. Keep reading to explore which counseling degree program might be right for you.

Counseling degree programs

Counseling degree programs are typically offered at the graduate level. While the specific curriculum and requirements may vary from one program to another, most counseling degree programs include coursework in counseling theories, ethics, assessment techniques, and practical counseling skills.

Here are some common types of counseling degrees.

Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) in Counseling

These are general counseling degrees that provide a broad overview of the field. They’re suitable for individuals who are interested in pursuing counseling careers in various settings, such as community agencies, outpatient settings, or private practices. MA or MS programs often offer opportunities for specialization in specific areas of counseling. These programs are sometimes also referred to as master’s in clinical mental health counseling. Clinical mental health counselors work with clients who have a wide range of diagnoses, including anxiety, depression, and more. They provide therapeutic interventions and support to help clients manage their symptoms and improve their overall well-being.

Graduates of clinical mental health counseling programs often pursue licensure as Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) or Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHCs), depending on the state. These programs cover topics such as psychotherapy techniques, psychopathology, and assessment and may include the specializations listed below.

Master of Social Work (MSW) with a Counseling Concentration

An MSW with a counseling concentration combines social work principles with counseling skills. Graduates are equipped to work with individuals and families in a multitude of settings, including within the school system, through healthcare, and with social service agencies.1

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) in Counseling Psychology

These doctoral programs are designed for individuals who are interested in becoming licensed psychologists with a strong focus on counseling. PhD programs typically emphasize research and may lead to careers in academia or research institutions, while PsyD programs focus more on clinical practice and are ideal for those seeking to work as licensed psychologists in a counseling capacity.

Counseling specializations

Within the field of counseling, there are numerous specialized areas that allow counselors to focus on specific populations or issues. Some of these specializations require additional training and often lead to distinct career paths. Here are some of the most common counseling specializations.

Marriage and family therapy degrees

Marriage and family therapists (MFTs) are trained to work with individuals, couples, and families to address relational issues and promote healthy communication and functioning within the family system.2 MFTs use various therapeutic approaches to help clients navigate challenges such as marital conflicts, parent-child relationships, and blended family dynamics.

To become licensed MFTs, individuals typically pursue a master's degree in counseling with a focus in marriage and family therapy. These programs focus on systemic therapy. Graduates must also complete supervised clinical hours and pass a licensing exam.

School counseling programs

School counselors play a vital role in the educational system by supporting students' academic, social, and emotional development. They help students set academic goals, address behavioral issues, and provide guidance on career planning and college admissions.

To become a school counselor, individuals typically pursue a master's degree in school counseling. These programs cover topics such as child and adolescent development, crisis intervention, and career development.

Substance abuse counseling degrees

Substance abuse counselors work with individuals and groups struggling with addiction and substance abuse issues. They provide counseling and treatment plans to help clients overcome addiction and maintain sobriety.

To practice in substance abuse, an individual can pursue a master's degree in counseling with a focus on addiction and recovery, but many also enter the field with a master’s and relevant experience through an internship or practicum site. A substance abuse counselor may work in conjunction with medical professionals to provide comprehensive care.

Career counseling programs

Career counselors help clients explore their interests, skills, and values and provide guidance on educational and vocational choices.3

Master’s degree programs in career counseling typically include coursework in career development theories, vocational assessment, and counseling techniques. Career counselors may work in schools, colleges, career centers, or private practices.

Rehabilitation counseling degrees

Rehabilitation counselors work with individuals who have disabilities to help them lead independent and fulfilling lives. They assess clients' needs and collaborate with other professionals to create comprehensive rehabilitation plans.

Master's degree programs in rehabilitation counseling focus on disability studies, vocational rehabilitation, and counseling techniques. Graduates often pursue certification as Certified Rehabilitation Counselors (CRCs) and can work in settings such as rehabilitation centers, government agencies, and private practices.

Art therapy programs

Art therapy is a specialized field that uses art as a therapeutic tool to help individuals express themselves and explore their emotions. Art therapists work with clients of all ages, including children, adolescents, and adults.

To become art therapists, individuals typically need a master's degree in art therapy or a similar field. These programs combine art therapy theory and practice with counseling techniques.

Play therapy certification

Play therapy is a form of counseling that utilizes games and creative activities to help children and adolescents communicate and process their emotions and experiences. Play therapists use toys, games, and art materials to engage with clients in a therapeutic and supportive manner.

Many play therapists pursue additional training and certifications. The Association for Play Therapy (APT) offers a Registered Play Therapist (RPT) credential for professionals who meet the required clinical experience and supervision hours.4

Choose a counseling degree program that means more

Pursue your dream with Marquette University's online Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. Marquette University's counseling department is committed to preparing its students to think critically and serve diverse populations, becoming leaders in the social justice arena. To begin your counseling journey, schedule a call with an admissions outreach advisor today.