On the Job With a Master’s in Counseling Psychology
“I can’t imagine my life without my master’s degree from National University,” says Sunlight “Sunny” Walsh, MA, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) from San Diego.
Walsh graduated from National University in 2000 with her master’s in counseling psychology degree with a Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) emphasis.
From the time Walsh was nineteen-years-old until the time she was twenty-six, she taught preschool, eventually rising first to assistant director, and then to director of a preschool. Before coming to National, she had already earned an associate degree in child development and a bachelor’s in sociology.
Walsh wanted to go back to school because of the opportunities and flexibility that a master’s degree would offer her in the behavioral and mental health field. She also loved the broad number of opportunities that the MFT license would give her post-graduation. She says, “With a master’s degree, you can really move forward in a career path in the behavioral health field and mental health field. I work with families, with children, with adults. My master’s degree was key.”
Walsh says she chose National University because of the excellent reputation and the proximity to her home. “I think it really makes a difference when you go out to apply for a job and you can say ‘I have a master’s degree from National University,” she says.
At National, Walsh took courses in foundations of psychology, lifespan development, case management, counseling paradigms, as well as other core classes designed to prepare her for a career in the field. Each of her eighteen classes was four-weeks long and offered at night, which enabled Walsh to continue working full-time during the day. Walsh’s classes met two nights a week, giving her the opportunity to work side-by-side with her classmates and professors to earn her degree.
One of the most valuable lessons that Walsh learned during her time in the program was how to establish herself as a professional in the field. Her professors were practicing psychologists themselves, so they were able to share their practical experiences as counselors with their students. For Walsh, this meant she was receiving real-world, on-the-job training and experience both in the classroom and as a part of her off-site coursework.
“National University offered a program where we had professors who were in the field, and shared their stories and their examples,” says Walsh. “They showed their professionalism in the workforce and brought that to the classroom. Every single one of my teachers was incredible.”
Moreover, her classes equipped her with workplace-ready skills. “Each class was very useful and helpful, and each class helped me to be successful in the workforce,” says Walsh. “You get what you pay for at National University.”
Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology Degree License Requirements
Walsh connected and networked with her classmates, which helped her to secure employment at a nearby hospital. Here, she completed the 3000 hours of work experience required by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences to become a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). All students must complete the required hours within five years, as well as pass two exams to achieve licensure.
At the hospital, Walsh worked in the Chemical Dependency Department (now known as the Substance Abuse Program) and loved her job. Walsh gained nearly three years of experience working in both in-patient and out-patient programs in the rehabilitation center at the hospital as she logged required hours for full licensure.
As part of her required hours, Walsh also worked with adults with disabilities, assisting them with both securing and maintaining employment. Her job also allowed her to contribute to helping these individuals live healthier, productive lives. Through counseling, Walsh worked with these adults on their self-help skills, transportation skills, budgeting, and assisted with other services to help them navigate their lives.
Back in the classroom, Walsh’s counseling degree program offered her a sense of community and allowed her to form lasting relationships with other professionals in her field. That sense of connection with her classmates proved to be lasting; after graduation, she even invited some of her classmates to her wedding.
“Not only did I have this great campus, but I also had great professors and other classmates who were kind, friendly and knowledgeable,” Walsh says.
Psychology Degree in Action
After graduation, Walsh worked in a number of roles, many of them directly influenced by her psychology degree from National University.
For instance, she served as a Director of a Methadone Treatment Clinic in San Diego, where she utilized her experience from working part-time in the Chemical Dependency Department at the hospital. The methadone treatment clinic offered counseling services to those living with substance abuse disorder and chemical dependency difficulties, both issues that Walsh was uniquely prepared to help treat after her time at National University.
Walsh has also worked for a nationwide healthcare provider that worked with military families. For five years as a Military Family Life Counselor, she worked both on-and-off-base providing counseling services to active-duty personnel and their dependents.
Today, Walsh works as an Employee Assistance Professional (EAP), facilitating the employee assistance programs of companies all around the country. EAPs provide services to the employees of companies that pay into one or more assistance programs. These programs vary from company to company, meaning that the services and number of counseling sessions they offer depend on each individual company. Services may include legal advice, financial advice, mediation services, and counseling. Members are able to call in twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to speak with an EAP. Though Walsh works during the daytime, these programs employ EAPs for all shifts to ensure that their members have access to their services at all times.
Employees call in for a variety of reasons. While some members may be experiencing immediate distress, possibly from the recent loss of a loved one, difficult relationship issues, or a painful divorce, other callers may simply need a licensed counselor with whom they can speak about issues that have become difficult to manage. When someone calls in for mental health services, it is Walsh’s job to first assess whether or not the member is having suicidal thoughts or homicidal ideation, and in particular whether or not they are an immediate danger to themselves or others.
“The key is to make sure that they’re safe and that they know what the next steps are to get help,” she says. “Our job is to make sure, right then and there, that the members are safe and their family is safe.”
Callers must be eighteen-years-old to call, but members may call about their children, spouse, or another family member. As an EAP, Walsh uses solution-focused brief therapy. According to the American Counseling Association, solution-focused brief therapy “shifts the focus from problem-solving to creating present and future solutions” in a limited amount of time. These sessions occur over the phone and can last anywhere from ten minutes to an hour or longer.
This is where Walsh’s psychology degree really comes into play. Her coursework included classes in clinical assessment, child and adolescent therapy, family therapy, couples therapy, and the psychology of trauma. These classes prepared her to assess members who call when they are in distress or needing the advice of a counseling professional. The hospital experience she gained during the program working with foster children, adults with dependency difficulties, families, and couples also prepared her to work with employees who may be dealing with difficult situations in their personal or professional lives.
Walsh’s person experiences serve as a good indicator of the variety of professional career options with a counseling psychology degree.
Counseling Psychology Degree Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for marriage and family therapists with a master’s degree are projected to grow 23%, much faster than average for all occupations. Marriage and family therapists had a 2018 national median pay of $50,090 per year although wages can fluctuate significantly based on region and cost of living.
There were 41,000 LMFT jobs available in 2016 alone. A LMFT works with families and couples, like Walsh does as an EAP. LMFTs mostly focus on issues that stem from family and relationship issues. Walsh’s license also allows her to work with adults with disabilities, those with dependency difficulties at the hospital and methadone treatment clinic, and military families and their dependents. An LMFT has many options for what they might do with their counseling degree.
The BLS also states that mental health, behavioral disorder and substance abuse counselor jobs are also growing at a much faster rate for applicants who have obtained a master’s degree and completed an internship or residency. Mental health counselors and substance abuse counselors had a 2018 national median pay of $44,630 per year though, again, that rate can fluctuate based on region and cost of living.
Job growth for mental health and substance abuse counselors is projected to grow by 23% through 2026, with about 60,300 new jobs expected to become available during that time period. An LPCC, or Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, offers mental health services, such as treatment and counseling, to those with mental health and substance abuse difficulties. While Walsh has worked with both types of patients, an LMFT focuses more on how these difficulties affect a relationship, family dynamic or social settings. LPCCs work with individuals or groups, just like LMFTs, but LPCCS cover a broader number of mental health issues in their practice.
The Program at National University
To apply to the master’s in counseling psychology degree program, students must possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university and have achieved a 2.5 GPA or higher overall and a 2.75 GPA or higher in the last 90 quarter units. Students with lower GPAs may still be admitted with high test scores on the GRE, GMAT or Miller Analogies Test. All applicants are evaluated for the psychotherapy profession, regardless of career goals. Students must submit an application packet, pass a personal interview, and attend the program orientation before they may begin classes.
National University has both on-site and online programs for students to complete their coursework and earn their degrees. With the flexibility of the four-week courses offered at NU, students can begin their studies at the beginning of any month. Students entering the MA program, who have already earned their BA or BS, can finish in as little as eighteen months with their Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology degree.
Students must take track courses for their specialization and complete the additional practicum hours required in order to meet the educational requirements for both licenses. In the MFT track, students must complete courses in child and adolescent therapy, family therapy, and couples’ therapy. In the PCC track, students must complete courses in research and evaluation, testing and assessments, and career and academic counseling. Students are also given the option to complete both the MFT and PCC track. To obtain both licenses, students must take both track-specific courses and complete the required hours and exams.
As for Walsh, she loves working with people and being able to offer them help and guidance in their lives. Her next venture is to open her own private practice. Walsh will continue to be able to utilize the flexibility that an LMFT has offered her. She can spend mornings with her daughters and husband, continue working as an Employee Assistance Professional during the day, and work in her private practice in the evenings and weekends.
“In private practice, I hope to be able to continue to help children and families,” Walsh says. “I love working with married couples and helping them to save their marriage.”
Walsh attributes her continued success and satisfaction to her love of meeting and working with new people. She enjoys getting to know them and helping them work toward their individual needs.
“The key is to show that empathy, compassion, care, and concern,” she says.
If you have those qualities, then this counseling degree may be right for you.
Am I Right for the Master’s in Counseling Psychology Degree?
In both the LMFT and LPCC tracks, National University’s Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology, prepares students interested in a variety of careers within the broader field of psychology.
If you enjoy working with those who have socially based difficulties, then the LMFT track may be right for you. If you are interested in working with both groups and individuals on a wide-range of mental health issues, then the LPCC track may be right for you.
If you are interested in learning more about the Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology at National University, please visit our program page.