What Should I Look for in an Online Master’s in Counseling Psychology Program?

Finding the right psychology program to earn your online master’s in counseling psychology is no easy feat. And according to Sabrina Catanho, licensed marriage and family therapist associate and case manager for People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), finding a high-quality program as a working adult is even more difficult.

“I’m older and I work full-time, so I don’t have time for all these placement tests and interviews,” Catanho explains. As she set out to find a program that could work around her busy schedule, she began to gravitate towards the Master’s in Counseling Psychology Program at National University.

Making the decision to earn your master’s requires dedication, hard work, and thorough research of the schools under your consideration. Before committing to an online master’s program, you need to be sure it’s the right fit for your lifestyle and long-term professional goals. Consider the importance of things such as classroom flexibility, online coursework, and hands-on experience prior to submitting your application.

 

Counseling Psychology: A Career Overview

There are many psychology programs available throughout the United States; however, students should be sure that any program they consider will provide them with the education necessary to be successful as counseling psychologists.

“Counseling psychology is more based on learning different theories and actually applying those theories by practicing therapy,” says Catanho. “At National, you get to role-play in classes, and you start to see what it’s like to actually be with a client.”

Counseling psychologists typically operate within a private practice or mental health center, offering one-on-one psychological sessions to clients. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), estimated job growth within this segment is projected at 14% between 2016 and 2026. California currently has the highest average salary for counseling psychologists at $108,350 annually.

Most psychologists are required to have at least a doctorate in order to operate within a private practice setting. However, students with a master’s in counseling psychology may apply their skills to a variety of different roles.

“I use a lot of what I learned with my clients even though I’m not particularly doing therapy right now,” Catanho says of her position at PATH. “Depending on what they’re going through, I can apply some interventions and recognize which theories would be most useful in certain situations.”

Psychologists face a unique set of challenges while on the job. In particular, Catanho mentions the occupational adage, “Ten percent of your case load takes 90% of your time.” Put simply, psychologists see patients with a wide variety of needs. Clients who have extra needs or who aren’t particularly independent will often necessitate more of a time commitment from their therapists than those who are further along in the therapeutic process.

Within the larger field of counseling psychology, there are a multitude of specializations students can pursue to further narrow their occupational field. Specializing can be beneficial as it will enable graduating students to provide additional services to their clientele. When selecting your online master’s program, be sure to research available concentration areas that you can add to your course of study.

 

Pursuing Specializations within Counseling Psychology

Specialization may appeal to counseling psychologists looking to pursue private practice. National University offers two concentration areas within the Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology Program: marriage and family therapy (MFT) and licensed professional clinical counseling (LPCC).

Future counselors who have a desire to serve individuals, couples, families, children, and adolescents through psychotherapy will take great interest in the MFT specialization. The program is designed to meet the requirements necessary for licensure outlined by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. If you plan to pursue a Ph.D., this graduate program will provide you with the context, skills, and education required to enter into a doctoral program, enabling the possibility of working within a private practice.

For those who are more interested in individual or group counseling, National’s LPCC is an ideal choice. This program emphasizes specific counseling techniques and theories, preparing you for further career and professional development. Upon graduation, students are eligible for state licensure through the California Board of Behavioral Sciences.

 

Getting Hands-On Experience Is Also Key

Your counseling psychology program should also provide you with the resources you need for continued success in your career. Access to on-site training and networking opportunities are a must for those seeking a career in private practice as a counseling psychologist. National University has many relationships with clinics and other facilities where students may pursue their required practicum.

“At the practicum site I got through National, I wasn’t just an intern; I was hired as a counselor and got paid for it, unlike most places that don’t pay you,” Catanho explains. “I was by myself working with clients every day, and by the time I graduated, I felt I was ready to take on clients of my own!”

Gaining hands-on experience through internships, practicum placement, or further specialization is an essential element to any counseling psychology program. These extra opportunities will be paramount to further professional development and future career success.

 

Key Considerations for Your Counseling Psychology Program

In addition to the program’s educational and professional development offerings, students need to consider how participating in such a program will impact other aspects of their lives. As Catanho indicated, finding a program that was able to accommodate her busy schedule was critical — and she isn’t alone. A report released by the National Center for Education Statistics noted a 35% increase in college students aged between 25 and 34 from 2001 – 2015. Adult learner enrollment is expected to increase an additional 11% between 2015 and 2026.

While adult learner populations are steadily increasing in universities across the U.S., these students face specific challenges that can make or break their educational experience. According to a study by the Education & Training Administration (ETA), the following were consistently listed as the biggest challenges for this student demographic:

  • Financial concerns.
  • Lack of time.
  • Family and work obligations.
  • Insufficient access to classes.
  • Lack of support.
  • Outside commitments leading to higher incompletion rates.

In his book Teaching Adults: A Practical Guide for New Teachers, Ralph Brocket describes how teachers and institutions need to take measures to address the educational barriers facing their adult students:

“A welcoming attitude, a supportive climate, and an approach that helps build confidence and shows that the person can learn will go a long way toward increasing retention of participants […] Most successful adult learning takes place in a collaborative or cooperative setting, where sharing and synergy are crucial.”

Catanho identified with these concerns, and sought out a program that was flexible and accessible. More than this, however, she wanted a program that was able to provide social stimulation and hands-on experience.

“What I realized was different about National is that you’re not just sitting there listening to lectures, taking tests, and hoping you retain information,” Catanho reflects. “The class sizes are small and you get to know your schoolmates. During class, you have five hours straight where you’re just having conversations. I think those conversations give you more knowledge and help you retain better. I can easily reach for something I learned at National and I know I’m not going to forget it.”

These social interactions and peer support are carried through in the program’s interactive learning activities, such as counseling session role-play.

“It seemed like every week we were doing role-plays in most of my classes,” Catanho says. “That was really helpful because once you’re in front of a whole class, you feel the same anxieties you’d feel with a client for the first time. But you’re able to get live feedback from your professor and classmates.”

Some students may also want to consider an online master’s in counseling psychology — especially if their schedules cannot support on-site learning. National University also provides this option, offering students access to interactive materials through its digital library.

 

Features of Successful Psychology Students

While National’s counseling psychology program may provide all of the tools necessary for students to be successful, ultimately it is the student’s responsibility to fulfill all graduation requirements. Catanho advises incoming psychology students to be exceptionally organized and have the ability to perform key administrative tasks, including filing skills.

“There is a lot of paperwork and that can be kind of a turn-off for some people,” she says. “It’s not difficult paperwork but you just have to make sure you keep your records in order. Once you finish the program, that’s the biggest thing: making sure you get in all of your paperwork.”

Students who possess strong interpersonal and communication skills are also more likely to experience academic and career success as they are able to build stronger relationships with their classmates and clients. The BLS lists patience, problem-solving, and analytical skills as important traits for psychology students as well. However, Catanho believes the most important characteristic for aspiring counselors is not something that can be taught or practiced.

“Being genuinely caring is so important,” she explains. “I don’t know if that’s something you can learn or if it’s just a quality you have to have, but you definitely have to care. If you don’t care about the client, you’re not really going to help them.”

Additionally, the successful student will actively participate within their respective fields of study beyond the classroom, such as through an internship, practicum placement, apprenticeship, or volunteerism. These experiences are not only good professional development, but they also can facilitate connections that will help them in their future careers.

 

Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology at National

National University boasts a comprehensive online master’s in counseling psychology program designed with adult students in mind. The university aims to keep the application process simple and efficient, requiring only one interview with the program department head for consideration. With online degree offerings, on-site learning, and flexible scheduling suited for any lifestyle, National’s psychology programs offer an excellent educational environment for learners at every stage of their professional development.

According to the ETA, “Institutions that offer shorter programs […] are most popular with adult learners.” Student success – especially among nontraditional student populations — is at the heart of National University’s institutional policies, which is why courses are offered at one-month intervals. This class structure conveys all of the materials students would learn during an entire semester in just one month, fully immersing them in their studies. This accelerated format also helps students retain information and grow more confident in their knowledge. On-site class sizes are purposefully small so each student can establish meaningful connections with their professors and classmates.

Catanho can attest to the quality of relationships built through the National’s Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology program.

“What I really loved about the program was just getting that one-on-one attention which I think you don’t normally get in traditional classes,” she says. “I felt totally comfortable reaching out to my professors after the program for recommendations. I think sometimes that’s not always the case — or if they even remember your name. But here, I know they’ll remember me. These are going to be important people in your life for years to come.”

If you’re interested in earning an online degree through the Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology program at National University, submit your application today. You can learn more about the program and its available specializations on our program page.