Online Degrees in Counseling

Counseling can be a rewarding career for individuals who have a desire to help others through difficult times. Counselors play a vital role in helping individuals, families and communities confront and work through life challenges. Depending on their specialty, counselors may help patients overcome addictions, find a career, achieve their potential at school, cope with a physical disability or face down psychological trauma.

Online degree programs — with their flexible study hours — are worth considering if you want to earn a degree and still keep a job as well as maintain other commitments. The online option is particularly suited for high school graduates who want to work part-time, working professionals, stay-at-home parents with family commitments and adult learners who want to go back to school to complete their degree.

Whether you are a recent high school graduate, want to change or advance your career, online degree programs in counseling can give you the skills you need to counsel your clients through life’s toughest moments.

Just over half (50.6%) of children with a mental health condition aged 8-15 received mental health services in the previous year.

Whether it’s financial stress, depression, the loss of a loved one, or other issues, counselors are trained to help individuals cope with both short-term life issues as well as chronic mental health problems. Counselors can work in a variety of settings — from schools, hospitals and private clinics to rehabilitation centers and mental health facilities.

While duties may vary according to their specialization and workplace, typical duties can include:

  • Counseling individuals and small groups
  • Helping individuals through difficult changes in their lives
  • Collaborating with clients’ family members, teachers and peers or community support groups to help clients modify their behavior or achieve their goals
  • Referring clients to resources they need such as welfare organizations, inpatient treatment facilities and job placement facilities
  • Maintaining client records and monitoring their progress

As with many healthcare occupations, the demand for qualified counselors is expected to grow over the next few years at a rate faster than average for all occupations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) attributes several reasons to this growth including:

  • A growing elderly population
  • An increasing use of integrated care
  • The rise in the treatment of substance abuse through counseling programs

The table below lists the occupations related to this field along with job openings, average salary, total employment and job outlook for 2019 to 2029 using data from the BLS.

Median Salary
Projected Job Growth
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors319,400$47,66025%
Counselors, All Other27,310$ 50,80010%
Rehabilitation Counselors120,200$37,53010%
Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors292,230$ 62,3208%

Source: 2020 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2019-29 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Choose a degree that can help you meet your career goals

Counselors generally begin their careers as clinicians or assistants. They can then advance into counseling roles, and may eventually take on more responsibility as supervisors or lead administrators. With an advanced degree, counselors can even tap into teaching or research opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 40 percent of counselors holding advanced degrees are school or vocational specialists. Another third are rehabilitation or mental health counselors.

What can I expect to learn in an online associate program?

Approximately 20% of state prisoners and 21% of local jail prisoners have “a recent history” of a mental health condition.

Online certificate programs in counseling are rare and can mainly be found in the field of substance abuse. (Certificate programs are available in the related field of psychology)

Online certificate programs in substance abuse cover basic counseling concepts like individual and group counseling methods, the psychology behind substance abuse and its management and related mental health disorders.

Typical duration: Up to one year of part-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent

Typical coursework: This can include topics that help generate an understanding of substance abuse and its treatment like psychology and sociology. You may find these courses in your certificate program:

  • Introduction to psychology
  • Introduction to substance abuse
  • Physiology of substance abuse
  • Individual counseling
  • Group and family counseling
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Laws and ethics

Possible electives: Co-occurring disorders; criminal justice and substance abuse; gambling; presentencing mitigation

What can I do after earning a certificate?

A certificate in counseling may allow you to work in entry-level counseling roles in substance abuse treatment centers. Potential jobs you may find with a certificate are:

  • Alcohol and drug abuse counselor
  • Addictions counselor

What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor’s degree program?

Online associate counseling degree programs usually focus on substance abuse, addiction, psychology and Christian counseling.

An associate program generally introduces students to various psychological and behavioral concepts along with theories on addiction and the various methods of their treatment.

Typical duration: Two years of full-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent

Typical coursework: Coursework usually includes general education courses along with counseling-related topics like:

  • Individual counseling methods
  • Family therapy
  • Problem and compulsive gambling
  • Ethics/confidentiality in addiction and prevention
  • Christian counseling
  • Human and spiritual development theory

What can I do after earning an associate degree?

Potential occupations associated with this degree are:

  • Addictions counselor
  • Rehabilitation assistant
  • Chemical dependency counselor
  • Personal counselor
18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias.

What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor’s degree program?

Combining general education and electives in psychology, the bachelor’s degree program offers a foundation for the specialized training of the master’s degree.

Typical duration: Four years of full-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent

Typical coursework: This can include general education topics along with counseling-focused courses like:

  • Methods of counseling
  • Crisis management skills
  • Psychiatric rehabilitation principles and practices
  • Foundation of behavioral health care
  • Multicultural counseling

You may need to complete a practicum or an internship as a part of your degree program.

Possible electives: Child psychopathology; psychiatric rehabilitation competencies; trauma-informed care; behavioral health and aging; family-focused interventions

What can I do after earning a bachelor’s degree?

An online bachelor’s degree in counseling can open up a number of entry-level occupations in a variety of counseling and counseling-related professions such as:

  • Addiction specialist
  • Chemical dependency practitioner
  • Guidance counselor
  • Mental health professional
  • Substance abuse counselor

What can I expect to learn in an online master’s degree program?

The standard minimum qualification for a career as a licensed counselor in any specialty is a master’s degree. An online master’s degree program in counseling is normally designed to teach students about different patterns in human behavior, how to treat different cases, deal with victims of trauma and abuse and how to diagnose psychiatric disorders so that their clients can get the appropriate help they need.

Typical duration: Two to five years of full-time study

General prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree in counseling, psychology or a related field

Typical coursework: Topics are designed to give students the skills they need to counsel clients on a variety of different issues and use individual and group counseling techniques for their treatment. Core curricula may include:

  • Foundations of counseling theory
  • Theories and techniques in marriage, couple, and family counseling
  • Counseling addictive disorders
  • Crisis and trauma
  • Prevention, intervention, and consultation
  • Research methodology and program evaluation

Many online graduate counseling programs require students to complete a practicum at an approved facility along with an internship. Students may also need to complete a master’s thesis based on original research and a campus residency program.

Possible electives: Empathy training; human sexuality; eating disorders; anxiety and mood disorders

What can I do after earning a master’s degree?

As a graduate, you may be eligible to practice as a counselor in settings such as hospitals, schools, addiction and rehabilitation centers, social work programs, and correctional facilities. Occupations you may be eligible for can include:

  • Marriage and family counselor
  • Rehabilitation counselor
  • School-to-work transition counselor
  • Veteran administration counselor
  • Vocational evaluator

What can I expect to learn in an online doctoral degree program?

The two common doctoral degree types in counseling are:

  • Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Counseling: Primarily focused on original research, scholarly publication and university-level teaching; this degree is designed for aspiring researchers and professors.
  • Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.): Primarily a practitioner’s degree, the Psy.D. can lead to licensure as a counseling psychologist or to a career as a clinical supervisor or educator. You can learn more about the Psy.D. here.

The two degrees sometimes overlap. Ph.D. graduates can also work as practitioners, and Psy.D. graduates can become researchers or teachers.

Online doctoral degree programs in counseling vary widely in the blend of research and clinical training, and in the area of specialization and emphasis. However, the general flow of online doctoral degrees in counseling comprises three main phases:

  • Coursework: Students spend the first two to three years completing both core and elective curriculum. Elective courses are concentrated in a student’s area of focus, which may be a counseling method, a client population or a research problem.
  • Qualifying exams: After completion of coursework, students must pass a comprehensive mid-program examination to assess competency in their area of specialization.
  • Dissertation or doctoral project: Students earning an online Ph.D. in counseling are required to complete a traditional academic dissertation.

Typical duration: Five to seven years of full-time study

General prerequisites: Master’s degree in counseling, psychology or a related field

Typical coursework: Apart from psychology and counseling-related courses, topics can be related to research, evaluation methods and advanced counseling techniques. Courses you may find in your curricula are:

  • Advanced research in adult human development and behavior
  • Fundamentals of social science research
  • Advanced program evaluation
  • Advanced ethics and leadership in studies in human behavior
  • Quantitative methods for counselor education research

Most online doctoral degree programs require students to attend a series of short, campus-based residencies throughout the program.

What can I do after earning a doctoral degree?

Earning an online doctoral degree in counseling can open doors to advanced positions in clinical practice, research and academia. Occupations can include:

  • Counselor educator
  • Adjunct or part-time counseling faculty
  • Full-time counseling faculty
  • Counselor supervisor


During the course of your online counseling program, you may be able to specialize in a particular aspect of counseling such as:

  • Marriage, couple and family counseling
  • Addiction counseling
  • Career counseling
  • Trauma and crisis counseling
  • Military families and culture
  • Rehabilitation counseling
  • School counseling


Accreditation is an important factor to consider while choosing from the various available counseling degree programs online. It demonstrates that the education imparted by a program is on par with the high quality standards required of professionals in the field.

Attending an accredited program is often a prerequisite while applying for financial aid as well as professional certifications and licensures. Counseling degrees are programmatically accredited at the master’s and doctoral levels by professional organizations. The American Psychological Association (APA) accredits programs only at the doctoral level. Other accrediting bodies are:

Counselors can seek certification through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), a voluntary national credential distinct from state licensure. Another certification, the Crisis Intervention Certification, is offered by the American Institute of Health Care Professionals (AIHCP). Rehabilitation counselors can obtain the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) certificate offered by the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC).

All states require counselors to be licensed. Licensing requirements can vary depending on the type of counseling offered and the state. Generally, most states require counselors to have a master’s degree and 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. Counselors may also be required to pass a state-issued examination and complete continuing education classes annually.

Employment Statistics

Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Educational Support Services
  • Junior Colleges
  • Vocational Rehabilitation Services
  • Technical and Trade Schools
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools
States with the highest level of employment
  • California
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Florida
  • Illinois
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA
  • El Centro, CA
  • Fresno, CA
  • Stockton-Lodi, CA
  • NAPA, CA

Rehabilitation Counselors

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Vocational Rehabilitation Services
  • Residential Intellectual and Developmental Disability, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Facilities
  • Other Residential Care Facilities
  • Community Food and Housing, and Emergency and Other Relief Services
  • Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals
States with the highest level of employment
  • California
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Massachusetts
  • Ohio
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • California-Lexington Park, MD
  • Trenton, NJ
  • Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA
  • Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV
  • Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN

Counselors, All Other

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Community Food and Housing, and Emergency and Other Relief Services
  • Other Residential Care Facilities
  • Offices of Other Health Practitioners
  • Death Care Services
  • Individual and Family Services
States with the highest level of employment
  • California
  • Texas
  • Louisiana
  • Florida
  • New Jersey
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • Trenton, NJ
  • Amarillo, TX
  • Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
  • Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA

Source: 2020 Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Apart from federal financial aid, there are numerous scholarships available from private institutions and colleges for qualified students of counseling programs. Some of them are:

Other resources

  • Addiction Counselor – Associate in Applied Science, Kansas City, Kansas Community College,, accessed September 2018
  • Addictions Counselor Education Program Certificate, University of Massachusetts Boston,, accessed September 2018
  • Associate Degree in Counseling, Florida Christian University,, accessed September 2018
  • Associate in Applied Science in Additions and Prevention Studies, Allen Community College,, accessed September 2018
  • BS in Behavioral Health Counseling, Drexel University Online,, accessed September 2018
  • Doctoral Degrees in Counseling, Capella University,, accessed September 2018
  • Marriage and Family Therapists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook,, accessed September 2018
  • Master of Arts in Counseling, Colorado Christian University,, accessed September 2018
  • Master of Arts in Professional Counseling Degree, Liberty University Online Programs,, accessed September 2018
  • Mental Health by the Numbers, National Alliance on Mental Health,, accessed October 2018
  • MS in Marriage Couple and Family Counseling, Walden University,, accessed September 2018
  • M.S. Rehabilitation Counseling, University of Wisconsin – Stout,, accessed September 2018
  • Online Bachelor’s in Substance Abuse Counseling, Cincinnati Online,, accessed September 2018
  • Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook,, accessed September 2018
  • Psychologists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook,,accessed September 2018
  • Psychology and Counseling, Online Doctoral Degrees, Walden University,, accessed September 2018
  • Psychology / Counseling Online Bachelor of Science Degree, Crown College,, accessed September 2018
  • Psychology Pre-Counseling, Capella University,,accessed September 2018
  • Rehabilitation Counseling, MS, University at Buffalo, Department of Counseling, School and Educational Psychology,, accessed September 2018
  • Rehabilitation Counselors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook,, accessed September 2018
  • School and Career Counselors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook,, accessed September 2018
  • Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors, 21-1011.00. National Center for O*NET Development,, accessed September 2018
  • Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook,, accessed September 2018
  • Undergraduate Certificate in Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling, National University,, accessed September 2018
  • Why Become a Counselor?, Oakland University,, accessed September

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