If you’re interested in working in mental health, you likely already know you will need a graduate-level degree to work in many of the most common positions. Earning your Master of Science in Counseling Psychology is one option to help you meet that requirement.
But before earning any degree, it pays to ask a fundamental question: What can you actually do once you’ve earned the degree?
Below, we describe what counseling psychology is, explore the most common career outcomes for those with an MS in Counseling Psychology, and highlight fields that the degree will prepare you for.
What is counseling psychology?
Counseling psychology is a specific type of practice within the broader field of psychology. Counseling psychology focuses on understanding how patients function on both an individual level and in the context of their various relationships with family, friends, work colleagues, etc.
Counseling psychologists use this understanding to help their patients address various challenges, including alcoholism and addiction, anxiety, family dysfunction, and more.
People often compare counseling psychology to clinical psychology, which typically focuses more on individuals with diagnosable mental disorders and psychopathologies. The two disciplines overlap in significant ways.
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What can you do with a Master’s in Counseling Psychology?
As its name implies, a Master of Science in Counseling Psychology is intended for professionals interested in working in mental health counseling. Most programs are designed to prepare graduates to qualify for licensure in their respective states.
“For example, graduates of Northeastern’s program meet all of the requirements for licensure as a mental health counselor in Massachusetts,” says Susan Bradley, Assistant Program Coordinator for the Applied Psychology Department in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University.”Following the degree award, graduates must complete post-master’s supervised clinical experience and pass the national exam (National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE).
Once you have earned your license, a variety of potential career paths will become available to you.
“With a license in counseling psychology, you could work in a number of different areas like community mental health centers, outpatient clinics, hospitals, schools, and eventually even private practice,” Bradley says.
According to Bradley, students who complete their MS in Counseling Psychology walk away from their studies with the necessary therapy skills, as well as training in various counseling theories, ethics, and an understanding of human development. Graduates are well equipped to develop treatment goals, identify diagnoses, conduct specific therapeutic interventions like cognitive behavioral therapy, and encourage patients to share their stories and speak about their experiences.
Earning your master’s degree in counseling psychology is an excellent way of breaking into the field so that you can begin to have a positive impact on patient lives. However, it’s important to note that if you intend to advance in your career or pivot toward research or education, you will likely need to pursue a doctorate such as a PhD in Counseling Psychology.
Counseling Psychology Careers
Earning your master’s degree in counseling psychology can prepare you for many different job titles and positions. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, some of the most common job titles that graduates pursue include:
- Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
- Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
- Rehabilitation Counselor
- Mental Health Specialist
- Crisis Counselor
- School Counselor
- Counseling Therapist
- Family Therapist
- Rehabilitation Psychology Therapist
While not all mental health professionals choose to specialize in working within a specific subfield of counseling psychology, many do. Some common specialties include child and adolescent psychology; health psychology; forensic psychology; cultural, gender, and political psychology; and early intervention.
Choosing the Right Program for Your Career
Once you are sure that earning an MS in Counseling Psychology is the right decision for your career, consider the following before choosing a graduate program.
First, understand which professional model informs the curriculum, as different models approach mental health from very different perspectives. For example, the Northeastern program is grounded in an ecological model that considers socio-cultural elements and people’s “context.”
According to Bradley, the ecological model is a more modern approach, which understands that an individual exists in and interacts with multiple contexts, each of which must be considered during treatment.
“The ecological model is embedded in what we do here at Northeastern,” Bradley says. “It’s talked about in every course. It’s part of our language. It’s part of the fabric of the program that you can never look at an individual without considering the multiple contexts with which they interact.”
Bradley notes that if you would like to specialize in a given area, it’s useful to know this type of information before selecting a master’s program because, while many programs offer concentrations of some kind, they can vary significantly from program to program.
Finally, Bradley recommends finding a program that allows for a variety of learning formats, including hands-on research and casework.
“I think the faculty are a big part of what makes [our program] special,” she says. “The variety of research interests and the opportunity to work closely with the faculty to get involved in their research projects is what attracts many of our students.”
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