Psychology and Counseling Degree Programs

Updated January 21, 2022 | Staff Writers

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Psychology and Counseling

If you’re captivated by human behavior or have ever wondered what makes someone “tick,” then psychology may be a field you should explore. Contrary to popular belief, not all students who study psychology go on to work as counselors or psychologists. On the contrary, many different industries hire graduates of psychology degree programs to perform a wide variety of jobs. In this article, we’ll discuss the different types of psychology and counseling degrees available and the careers these degrees prepare students for.

Do I Need a Degree in Psychology/Counseling?

To qualify for a career in psychology or counseling, you’ll most likely need a degree. While some entry-level jobs may accept a high school diploma and provide on-the-job training, these positions won’t likely pay well or offer the job security or career satisfaction that more advanced opportunities in the field can provide. Consider the following psychology and counseling careers as well as their mean annual wage, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Each of these positions requires a degree in psychology or counseling.

  • Psychologists: $77,030
  • Postsecondary Psychology Instructors: $73,770
  • School and Career Counselors: $55,410
  • Marriage and Family Therapists: $48,790
  • Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors: $43,300
  • Rehabilitation Counselors: $34,860

Associate’s Degrees in Psychology and Counseling

Associate’s degrees in psychology and counseling are designed to give students an introduction to the field and some base knowledge to build upon as they continue their studies. Most positions in the field of psychology require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, though there are some exceptions. While the majority of beginning psychology students will choose to enroll in a baccalaureate program after graduating from high school, an associate’s degree can be a good way for students who are unsure of their future academic and career plans to explore the field.

Like most associate’s degree programs, associate’s in psychology offerings are typically two-year programs. Accelerated options do exist, however. Such programs allow students to finish their associate’s in psychology and counseling in less time. Other options include part-time, hybrid, and fully online associate’s degree programs. Even the most flexible associate’s program in psychology and counseling will still require approximately 60 credit hours of coursework. Most, if not all of these credits are transferrable to a bachelor’s degree program in psychology or a related field.

Types of Associate’s Degree in Psychology and Counseling

Most associate’s degree programs in psychology and counseling are associate of arts in psychology. There are other types of two-year degrees in the field, however. Some of these less common offerings are listed below.

  • Associate of Arts in Applied Psychology
  • Associate of Science in Psychology
  • Associate of Christian Counseling
  • Associate’s in Addictions Counseling
  • Associate of Applied Science in Human Services Counseling

Associate’s Degrees in Psychology and Counseling: Curriculum

Generally speaking, curricula for associate’s degrees in psychology and counseling consist of two components: a general education component and a degree-specific core. General education classes cover topics such as English, mathematics, natural sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities, and the like. The degree-specific core will cover various topics in the field of psychology and counseling. Below, we list some examples of degree-specific classes. Keep in mind that the particular classes you take will depend on the type of associate’s degree in psychology and counseling you pursue as well as the specific school you attend.

Degree-Specific Courses for Associate’s in Psychology and Counseling Programs

  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Theories of Personality
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Writing in Psychology
  • Child and Adolescent Development
  • Individual Counseling Methods
  • Psychology in the Community
  • Family Therapy
  • Interviewing and Counseling Techniques
  • Career Choices in Psychology
  • Counseling Psychology

Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology and Counseling

Bachelor’s degrees in psychology and counseling are the most popular types of degree programs in the discipline, perhaps because they represent the minimum level of education required for the vast majority of employment opportunities the field has to offer. They also mark the starting point for students who intend to pursue graduate studies in psychology, counseling, or even a related area such as law or business, for instance. Bachelor’s degrees typically require twice the work of an associate’s degree program. This amounts to approximately 120 credit hours and four years of study. For students who are willing to take on a heavy course load, accelerated options may allow for a quicker completion.

Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology and Counseling: Curriculum

Like associate’s degrees in psychology and counseling, bachelor’s programs in this field generally include a general education component as well as major-specific courses. The difference is that bachelor’s-level classes are usually more rigorous and allow for a deeper level of exploration into the discipline. Bachelor’s programs also give students the option of specializing in a specific area of psychology and/or counseling. We list some of these optional specialization areas below.

Bachelor’s in Psychology and Counseling: Areas of Specialization

  • Workplace Psychology
  • Christian Counseling
  • Crisis Counseling
  • Human Services
  • Criminal Psychology
  • Addictions and Recovery
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Applied Psychology
  • Forensic Psychology
  • Military Resilience

Most students who major in psychology will take similar core courses as part of their bachelor’s degree programs. This is because the American Psychological Association (APA) sets curriculum guidelines for these programs that most colleges and universities adhere to. Students who choose to specialize in a particular area of the field will take additional courses related to this concentration. Below are some of the sample core classes one can expect to take in a psychology/counseling bachelor’s program. These course titles are taken from actual bachelor’s degree programs currently accepting new students.

Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology/Counseling: Sample Core Courses

  • Developing a Psychological Perspective
  • Introductory Psychology
  • Culture, Ethnicity, and Diversity
  • Laboratory Methods in Psychology
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Research Methods in Psychology
  • Comparative Psychology
  • Biological Psychology
  • Psychological Foundations of Learning
  • Psychology as a Science and Profession
  • Behavior Modification
  • Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology

Master’s Degree in Psychology and Counseling: Overview

Master’s degree in psychology and counseling are advanced programs of study that give students the opportunity to explore psychological and therapeutic concepts in great depth. These programs typically take two or three years to complete, though accelerated offerings may be available. Master’s degree programs in psychology and counseling often cater to working professionals, offering part-time, hybrid, and even fully online programs to cater to busy schedules.

Master’s in Psychology and Counseling Degrees: Curriculum

Like master’s programs in most fields, graduate degrees in psychology and counseling tend to be heavily research-based. Most programs require a thesis, and even those programs that offer a non-thesis track will often require students to complete a research project and/or capstone. Students may also be required to participate in an internship to gain real-world experience in the field prior to graduation. Like many bachelor’s degree offerings in the field, master’s in psychology/counseling programs often give students the option of focusing their studies in a particular concentration or emphasis area. Some examples of these focus areas are listed below.

Master’s Degree Psychology/Counseling: Concentration Areas

  • Applied and Evaluative Psychology
  • Social, Cognitive, and Developmental Psychology
  • Substance Abuse Counseling
  • Health Psychology
  • Biopsychology and Comparative Psychology
  • Forensic Psychology
  • Human Resource Management
  • Global Mental Health Counseling
  • Personality/Social Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Biological/Experimental Psychology

The specific courses students enrolled in a psychology/counseling master’s degree program will take vary based on the chosen concentration and the specific program they elect to attend. Below are some sample courses taken from curricula published by schools offering the master’s in psychology and counseling.

Psychology and Counseling Master’s Degree Programs: Sample Courses

  • Bridging Science and Practice in Human Development
  • Research Methods in Psychology
  • Cognitive Processes
  • Social and Cultural Psychology
  • Ethical Practice in Psychology
  • Animal Thinking and Communication
  • Learning, Cognition, and Motivation
  • Depression and Suicide
  • Psychological Testing and Assessment
  • Biological Bases of Behavior
  • Professional Issues in Psychology
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Stress, Trauma, and Resilience
  • Contemporary and Ethical Issues in Psychology

Doctoral Degrees in Psychology: Overview

Doctoral degrees in psychology are available to those students who want to advance to the highest levels of research and practice in the field. These rigorous programs require a tremendous commitment of time and effort and usually take between four and six years of post-baccalaureate study to complete. Many students will enter a psychology doctoral program immediately upon completion of a bachelor’s degree while some may earn their master’s credential prior to their doctoral study. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), there are two main types of doctorate programs in psychology:  the doctor of philosophy (PhD) in psychology and the doctor of psychology (PsyD). While the programs overlap in many respects, the PhD offering focuses more on research in the discipline while the PsyD emphasizes techniques in the practice of psychology.

Psychology Doctoral Programs: Curriculum

The curricula for doctoral programs in psychology build upon the foundational knowledge of the field that students gained in their baccalaureate programs. In addition to advanced coursework, students will be asked to complete either a dissertation or capstone project. Both options require high levels of research and critical analysis. Some doctoral programs in psychology also require that students take and pass a comprehensive examination.

Doctoral Degrees in Psychology: Areas of Concentration

Doctoral degrees in psychology allow students to study a specific area of the discipline in great depth. Students usually identify an aspect of psychology that interests them while studying at the bachelor’s level and go on to study this area of the field in more depth in a master’s or doctoral program. By choosing a concentration, students elect to take advanced courses in a particular sub-field of psychology. They will also focus their dissertation or final research project on a topic related to their chosen area of concentration. Below, we list some of the concentration options available to doctoral students in psychology:

  • Human Growth and Development
  • Health Psychology
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Child Psychology
  • Addictions
  • Gerontology
  • Sport Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Gender Diversity Studies
  • Industrial Psychology
  • Organizational Psychology
  • Trauma and Disaster Relief

Psychology Doctoral Programs: Sample Course Titles

The specific coursework that students will be asked to complete during their doctoral programs will depend heavily upon the area of concentration they choose. For purposes of illustration, we list some sample course titles below:

  • Advanced Qualitative Analysis
  • Adolescent Psychology
  • Cognition, Emotion, and Motivation
  • Ethics and Multicultural Issues in Psychology
  • Psychology of Group Dynamics
  • Research in Sport Psychology
  • Advanced Psychology of Marriage and Family Systems
  • Cognition and Memory
  • Advanced Psychopathology
  • Introduction to Business Practices for Psychologists
  • Consultation Psychology
  • Psychology of Coaching
  • History and Systems of Psychology

Frequently-Asked Questions About Psychology and Counseling Degrees

Q: Can I complete my psychology and counseling degree online?

A: Yes. Increasingly, psychology and counseling degree programs are available online. Some programs are also available via hybrid formats which combine online and on-campus courses. When looking for a program that is offered partially or completely online, be sure to check for school and program accreditation.

Q: Will a psychology and counseling degree get me a job in the field?

A: Chances are, yes. The field of psychology is growing, thanks in part to an increased awareness of the need for mental health services. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that jobs in clinical, counseling, and school psychology are growing faster than average. Degrees in counseling and psychology will qualify you for these budding career opportunities.

Q: Will I need a license in addition to a degree in psychology and counseling in order to work in the field?

A: Possibly. To practice psychology in a clinical setting, you will need state and national licensure. Some degree programs will prepare you for the licensing process. Lesser positions in the field may only require a degree. It’s recommended that you research the employment requirements for the specific career in psychology that you plan to pursue prior to enrolling in a degree program.

Q: Where can I find out more about psychology and counseling degrees and careers?

A: For more detailed information about career opportunities and degrees in psychology/counseling, visit the American Psychological Association’s website. Information about careers in the field can also be found at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ website.

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