Best Online Master’s Degree Programs in Counseling Psychology

Learn how to become a successful clinical practitioner by earning an accredited master’s in counseling psychology online. Find the best programs and see how they can advance your career.

If you have strong interpersonal skills and an interest in helping people navigate life’s ups and downs, pursuing a master’s in counseling psychology online could be a great way to advance your career without giving up your current responsibilities or needing to relocate.

The best online counseling psychology master’s programs build core competencies in psychological science and clinical reasoning, opening up career paths in mental health, rehabilitation, and psychotherapy.

Our guide can help you get started. It spotlights several top-ranked online master’s degree programs in counseling psychology and details how they can elevate your professional profile. You’ll also learn about common courses, specialization options, financial aid opportunities, admissions requirements, and career pathways after graduation. Keep reading to see where an online master’s in counseling psychology can take you.

College Spotlights: Best Master’s in Counseling Psychology Online Programs for 2021

Searching for potential schools can be overwhelming, so we used the criteria that will matter to you most: affordability, flexibility, accreditation, and student support. Each school rises to the top on all accounts and offers programming that will give you the skills and experience you need to advance your career in counseling psychology. Our more comprehensive program ranking will arrive later this year, so stay tuned to learn more about the opportunities that await.

California Baptist University

California Baptist University offers an online master of science in counseling psychology completable in just 24 months. It requires 60 total credits and provides a solid foundation in counseling techniques informed by psychological modes of inquiry. It prepares students for professional work as family or marriage therapists, clinical counselors, and other areas that call for training in behavioral disorders, relational obstacles, and mental health. CBU administers the program in hybrid and 100% online asynchronous formats for optimal convenience.

This master’s in counseling psychology online includes core instruction in counseling theory, psychopathology, and applied research methods. The program concludes with a two-term practicum experience that involves supervised training with clients in the field. Before graduation, students must submit a case study report based on their experience, a practice that mirrors real-world work conditions. Students leave the program with key skills in psychodiagnostics, assessment and intervention, trauma responses, and evidence-based treatment.

Golden Gate University

At Golden Gate University, aspiring professionals can earn an online master of arts in counseling psychology that offers licensure preparation. The 60-credit course of study builds academic knowledge in the discipline as well as core clinical skills. Also, the school maintains a strategic partnership with the Psychotherapy Action Network, an organization that empowers individuals and professionals alike for mental health advocacy. Students enjoy full access to the organization’s resources and professional networking opportunities.

Golden Gate’s curriculum includes 50 supervised clinical hours that help students build the applied skills they need for professional success. In terms of instruction, the school boasts small class sizes, promoting more active engagement across learning modalities. Students receive all course material using fully online tools, studying psychodynamic counseling models, cross-cultural psychology, and cognitive-behavioral therapy, among other topics. The program also provides each student with a traineeship placement to implement gained skills and knowledge in professional contexts.

University of Western Alabama

The University of Western Alabama’s course of study sets itself apart from other online master’s degree programs in counseling psychology by offering a non-traditional path to completion. Designed for continuing education students not seeking licensure or licensure in a related field, UWA’s program requires just 33 credits. Courses use an expedited delivery schedule and last only eight weeks each. Most students finish the program in two years, graduating with a deeper understanding of counseling psychology, psychotherapy, and health therapeutics.

All students take a core sequence of professional classes and concentration electives delivered entirely online. The professional classes focus on research methods and counseling techniques, while the concentration electives look to more focused applications. The base concentration develops further knowledge in mental health, systems theory, and psychological assessment. The applied concentration looks at group counseling methods, psychopharmacology, and family intervention. The school also accepts up to nine credits earned at an accredited institution.

Advantages of Earning an Online Master’s in Counseling Psychology

Pursuing a master’s in counseling psychology online means you will enjoy unique benefits not always available with other learning modalities. You will receive the technical knowledge and clinical skills you need to advance your career without the headache involved in relocating to be near campus or completely restructuring your life to fit the school’s schedule. These programs meet you where you are – here are just a few of the advantages that await.

  1. Flexibility and Convenience

    These programs provide an optimal degree of flexibility and convenience. Most programs deliver their curriculum entirely online, and many use asynchronous tools. This means you can access material and complete assignments anytime, anywhere. You’ll have no problem balancing your studies with existing professional commitments.

  2. Specialization

    Counseling psychology is a broad field with many applications. Earning your degree online means combining breadth of study with a depth of expertise. You will receive a solid overview of the discipline. Still, you will also have the opportunity to focus your studies by choosing a specialization that aligns with your interests and broader professional trends.

  3. Hand-on Training

    Counseling psychology is an inherently hands-on profession. These programs occur online, but that doesn’t mean you won’t get the immersive training you need to succeed after graduation. Many schools offer hybrid options for in-person elements, while others use virtual role-playing and interactive simulations. You will also receive a fieldwork placement in most cases where you can practice your competencies.

What You’ll Learn in Master’s in Counseling Psychology Online Programs

These programs build a solid knowledge base in human psychology and counseling theory foundations. They typically begin with an academic overview of the discipline. This develops the practical tools and clinical skills you need to provide counseling services to groups and individuals. You will learn how to assess needs based on behavioral issues, how to offer diagnoses informed by psychopathology, and how to recommend evidence-based treatment plans.

Online master’s degree programs in counseling psychology build these skills through a set of distinctive courses. Most schools conclude their curriculum with a practicum component designed to integrate those skills in a supervised setting. Each study extends its unique class offerings, but many core topics are shared across programs. Here are a few of the courses you can expect to take once you enroll.

Popular Courses

  • Human Lifespan Development

    This class examines human development across the lifespan with special attention given to the psychological and therapeutic implications. It looks at the cognitive, social, cultural, and psychological aspects of aging and how they impact health. Students consider how human beings move through infancy and childhood through adolescence, young adulthood, and later life stages.

  • Counseling Theories and Techniques

    Students in this course receive a survey of the main theories and strategies that inform counseling practice. They also begin to develop their counseling style. Key theories include psychoanalytic, existential, family systems, and cognitive-behavioral approaches. Through experiential exercises, students practice implementing these theories by creating case studies, conducting interviews, and developing treatment plans.

  • Research and Evaluation for Counseling

    This course offers a working overview of the main research methods professional counselors use to evaluate clients and develop evidence-based practices. Students learn to critically analyze existing literature and conceptualize research plans based on their findings, resulting in a final project. In most programs, the course covers qualitative and quantitative approaches to psychological research.

  • Psychopharmacology

    Material for this class looks at paradigms of mental and emotional dysfunction along with the conceptual frameworks used to analyze them. Students draw on their clinical reasoning skills to evaluate individual cases and propose viable solutions. They also examine existing case studies and learn how to classify different disorders based on the DSM-5 and other professional documents.

  • Psychological Assessment

    Students in this class learn about the underlying principles and methods that contribute to effective psychological assessment. They look at the main tools, and tests professionals use to implement these measures and administrative procedures related to reporting and interpretation. The class also looks at key issues related to professional ethics and legal compliance.

Specialization Options

In addition to core course work, many master’s in counseling psychology online programs offer individual areas of specializations. If you know where you want to work or have a specific client population in mind, this can be a great way to jumpstart your career. Specialized areas of study like the ones detailed below focus on your education a bit further and deepen your skill set. Selecting a focus area qualifies for you more specific roles and can set you apart from the competition.

  • School Counseling

    Many different programs offer this specialization, which focuses on how counseling practices can contribute to learning in K-12 settings. It brings psychological concerns into conversation with learning theory and prepares students for work as school or career counselors. Topics may include career readiness assessment and counseling for children and adolescents.

  • Mental Health Counseling

    A generalist track in some programs, the mental health counseling specialization prepares students for work in various capacities as rehabilitation counselors, mental health therapists, addiction counselors, and more. It focuses study on the skills necessary to promote mental and emotional wellness among groups and individuals in cross-cultural settings.

  • Trauma Counseling

    This specialization develops a trauma-centered approach to counseling and therapy. It qualifies aspiring professionals for work in various therapeutic contexts that require specialized skills in physical, sexual, and emotional trauma. It looks at how trauma literature interacts with psychology and counseling more broadly and focuses on modulating approaches or techniques when necessary.

  • Arts Therapy

    This social change-oriented specialization looks at how the expressive arts can provide successful counseling and therapy services. It focuses on dynamic, immersive, and experiential techniques that rely on narrative to further treatment. In most cases, it will include more hands-on practicum components due to the nature of the approach.

  • Integral Counseling Psychology

    The integral counseling psychology specialization adopts a holistic approach that combines mind, body, and spirit. It draws on insights from psychology and adjacent disciplines like philosophy, religion, and the broader social sciences. Topics may include psychodynamics, transpersonal psychology, community mental health, and gestalt therapy.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Counseling Psychology Degree Programs

Accreditation is a key indicator of program quality and is one of the first things you should look for when assessing potential schools. Reputable colleges and universities hold institutional accreditation from independent bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Most will possess regional accreditation; others may have national accreditation.

Sometimes programs hold additional forms of accreditation beyond the institutional level. These credentials – usually called programmatic or specialized accreditation – provide additional backing specific to individual disciplines. They are not always necessary but provide further endorsement and may be required for licensure. In counseling psychology, the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council and the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs oversee this process.

What You Can Do with a Master’s in Counseling Psychology

Earning a master’s in counseling psychology online qualifies you for a broad range of career paths in mental health, rehabilitation services, and psychotherapy. The professions detailed in this section give you a sense of the possibilities awaiting once you finish your studies.

Each career listed will continue to benefit from a positive job outlook with increased opportunities for growth and advancement. Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that counseling and therapy will expand by over 20% in coming years. That figure outpaces all occupations nationwide by nearly 15%. Here are just a few ways you can take advantage of these conditions.

Mental Health Counselor

Mental health counselors help clients maintain balance and improve their emotional adaptability. When necessary, they offer diagnoses and work with clients to develop effective treatment plans that address problems or disorders. They may focus on a particular specialty such as substance abuse or trauma and typically work in clinical settings.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$33,000 $43,317 $61,000

Source: PayScale, 2021

Marriage/Family Therapist

Family and marriage therapists provide counseling services to individuals and groups within a family unit. Those services are typically designed to address psychological issues and improve personal relationships. They must assess individual needs in light of family dynamics, gather relevant information, and recommend long-term wellness and functioning treatment.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$37,000 $49,583 $75,000

Source: PayScale, 2021

School Counselor

These professionals provide counseling in educational contexts, particularly K-12 settings. They help students and their families cope with the challenges associated with learning and development. They offer techniques to improve academic performance and provide tools for responding to conflict, adjustment, and change. Some may also help students identify potential career paths.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$38,000 $50,872 $73,000

Source: PayScale, 2021

Rehabilitation Counselor

Rehabilitation counselors assist individuals with mental, emotional, or physical issues. They help improve their clients’ quality of life by evaluating needs and developing a rehabilitation plan that fits individual circumstances. They also work with other healthcare providers to determine what tools or resources are necessary to increase independent living.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$31,000 $45,695 $73,000

Source: PayScale, 2021

Licensed Professional Counselor

These counseling professionals wear many hats. Depending on their employer, they may fulfill roles as consultants, case managers, educators, or clinicians. They help clients overcome barriers related to psychological or physiological imbalances. They do this by providing assessments and goal-centered treatment that enhance strengths and mitigate weaknesses.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$37,000 $48,786 $65,000

Source: PayScale, 2021

Costs and Financial Aid for Online Master’s Degree Programs in Counseling Psychology

Understanding the financial side of things is a key step when considering online master’s degree programs in counseling psychology. Graduate study is not cheap, so it’s important to be aware of the expenses involved before enrolling. Available financial aid opportunities can help reduce these costs in most cases. Many programs extend their scholarships or fellowships, as do many private organizations and stake-holders in counseling psychology.

The table below details the range of potential expenses. As you can see, tuition rates vary quite a bit and depend on factors like the type of school, where you live, and your enrollment status.

What Your Online Master’s in Counseling Psychology Could Cost

School Name No. of Credits Cost/Credit Est. Total Tuition Cost

Fisher College

Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology (MA)

60

$748/credit

$44,880

Southern Wesleyan University

Online Master’s in Counseling Psychology (M.S.)

60

$430/credit

$25,800

Florida International University

MS in Psychology: Professional Counseling Psychology

60

$478/credit (in-state)

$1,024 (out-of-state)

$28,680 (in-state)

$61,440 (out-of-state)

FAQs About Earning Your Master’s in Counseling Psychology Online

What are the admissions requirements for an online master’s in counseling psychology?

Most online master’s degree programs in counseling psychology follow a shared admissions process and ask for similar items. However, specifics on this can vary, so it’s always best to double-check with program officials for updated instructions on deadlines and application materials. Generally speaking, you should be prepared to send in the following materials:

  • Evidence of a bachelor’s degree earned at a regionally accredited institution in the U.S.
  • Official transcripts for all previous work indicating a competitive GPA.
  • A brief written statement that discusses your background, interest in the study, and future professional goals.
  • Letters of reference from previous supervisors, employers, or teachers.

If you’re interested in licensure at some point or have a specific specialization in mind, there could be additional instructions or requirements. Most schools stick to set deadlines for admission, but some may accept applications throughout the year.

How long will it take to finish my master’s in counseling psychology online?

Most programs require 60 credits and graduate students in two years on average. California Baptist and Fisher College both follow this model, as does Southern Wesleyan University. Some programs provide a shorter time frame. For instance, the University of West Alabama’s timetable is one-two years, but it is a shorter course of study that requires fewer credits and does not prepare students for professional practice.

Of course, individual circumstances can affect any of these timeframes. If you plan to study part-time, for example, you will probably double your time in school. Conversely, you can take advantage of summer/winter terms and other accelerated options and expedite your path to completion.

Can I earn a master’s in counseling psychology 100% online, or do I need to visit campus?

Because counseling psychology is such a hands-on and immersive field, individual approaches to this differ depending on the school. By and large, most master’s in counseling psychology online programs deliver all didactic coursework requirements entirely online using synchronous or asynchronous tools (or some combination of the two).

Some schools administer the entire program online, as is the case at Eastern University and Golden Gate University. Others provide both online and hybrid options (see Brandman University and Florida International University). Many programs also require in-person components like fieldwork placements or supervised clinical experiences.