20 Best PhD in Counseling Online Programs [2020 Guide]

We've ranked the 25 Best PhD in Counseling Online Programs for 2020. Compare doctoral counseling programs & schools. Accelerated courses are also available.

We’ve ranked the 25 Best PhD in Counseling Online Programs for 2020. Compare doctoral counseling programs & schools. Accelerated courses are also available.

PhD in Counseling Online

After acquiring your master’s degree in counseling, one of the best options for advancing your future professional goals comes in the form of pursuing a PhD in this field. Those with a doctorate in counseling benefit from a growing job market and average annual salaries of $70,000 or more.

Most prospective students embark on the PhD journey with hopes of breaking into the academic field or gaining a similar well-payed stable job. In the field of Counselling, on the other hand, there is an additional reward at the end of the road: the opportunity to help people heal, improve, and transform their own lives.

Types of PhD in Counseling Online Degrees

The expansion of online learning opportunities has opened many avenues for prospective counselors. The following programs are all available now. Click on one you’re interested in to jump to that part of the page.

  • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy – Child & Adolescent Therapy
  • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy – Couple Therapy
  • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy – General Family Therapy
  • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy – Medical Family Therapy
  • PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy – Therapy with Military Families
  • PhD in Pastoral Care and Counseling
  • PhD in Psychology – Counseling Psychology

Though related, each of these degrees and concentrations will prepare you to work with patients in different life situations.

PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy – Child & Adolescent Therapy

psychologist talking to a teenage girl in her office during counseling session

At the PhD level, a specialist in Child and Adolescent Therapy will work primarily with children between the ages of 6 of 16.

Their day-to-day practice will include intelligence and learning assessments, address or contain learning disabilities, and help young people affected by a mood disorder.

Many child or adolescent specialists often focus on children on the autism spectrum, from at-risk populations, or who need to be safely involved in family therapy.

This specialization will focus heave on child development, family dynamics, and play-based therapy. Most programs now place a special emphasis on non-traditional family systems to ensure all their graduates can provide inclusive care.

Those who wish to focus on research rather than on a private practice will find new opportunities to test and design therapies that can affect a troublesome child’s outcomes for decades to come.

PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy – Couple Therapy

couple talking to a therapist during counseling session

A counselor with a PhD in Couple Therapy will focus on harmonizing the needs and dynamics of two different people. At the same time, they will have an opportunity to affect the quality of life of society from its smallest level.

Up until very recently, Couple-focused therapy was largely seen as a private matter or the last resort for failing marriages. However, in a world with changing gender dynamics and a larger number of non-traditional families, this field has rapidly become much more complex and specialized.

This course of studies usually includes specialized coursework in couple therapy practice, the historical and sociological forces shaping families, and emotional management. Special emphasis will be placed on the interpersonal dynamics within the couple, and on sexual health.

PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy – General Family Therapy

family talking to a counselor in her office

A PhD with a focus on General Family Therapy is not a generalist degree. The main goal of such a program is to provide the clinical and sociological competencies required to tackle family dynamics and to provide group therapy on a daily basis.

Because of the importance of families as a microcosm of general society, the coursework is bound to place a strong focus on sociology and social justice. In addition to building upon general clinical counseling, the ability to diagnose will be cultivated in a practical setting.

Further theoretical analysis will allow examining the effects of a traditional diagnosis on family systems and dynamics.

A doctorate in General Family Therapy will allow a counselor to collaborate with occupational therapists, domestic violence units, or to open their own private practice. It is a great value program for anyone who wants to keep their clientele diverse and still provide expert-level help.

PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy – Medical Family Therapy

medical family therapist talking to a client with mental health illness

The goal of Medical Family Therapy is to efficiently combine family counseling theory with more specialized knowledge on the clinical aspects of mental health.

These programs produce counselors who are uniquely qualified to examine the effects of a major mental diagnosis (such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or autism) on the family at large.

Psychiatry and clinical psychology now see community-based mental health care as the goal standard. As part of this trend, a medical family therapist can enlist the family in aiding a patient’s recovery.

They work hand in hand with caretakers and help them identify the signs of an impending episode. They can also analyze and predicts the ways in which a catastrophic diagnosis will affect the rest of the family. In turn, this can be used to provide preventative care.

PhD in Marriage & Family Therapy – Therapy with Military Families

therapist comforting a patient who served the military

A military environment is often seen as a highly-structured, hierarchical one where weakness is rarely allowed.

However, it is also comprised of people who have been exposed to extreme situations, or who may be temporarily missing an important family member. This poses its own mental health issues and disruptions.

A specialist in Therapy with Military Families will acquire specific experience with the issues that are typical in this population. This includes adaptation disorder and PTSD for those returning from the battlefield.

They also learn how to better navigate the resources available for recently-relocated families, who may be lacking the support of their extended relations. Likewise, they can work with the children of military bases, who often require extra help settling down.

This is a great specialty for anyone who wants to contribute to the country’s defense while still remaining in the counseling field.

PhD in Pastoral Care and Counseling

group of people sharing their stories during group counseling session

A Doctor in Pastoral Care is a fully-qualified counseling professional who specializes in religious communities, or in providing mental health assistance with a spiritual background. A program devoted to educating a pastoral counselor will focus both on mental health theory and on specific ministry-related tasks.

This is a very advanced program meant to help ministers, priests, and divinity majors bridge the abyss between mental or psychological care and spiritual care.

It is ideal for experienced, practicing ministers who also wish to take an active role in their communities, by intervening in their potential family conflicts or behavioral issues.

It can also provide a scientific background for anyone who wants to start a gospel-based addictions program, rehabilitation, or eating disorder therapy group.

PhD in Psychology – Counseling Psychology

psychologist talking to a client in her office

Although they appear synonymous in the general vocabulary, there is a significant difference between a counselor and a psychologist. This encompasses both the certification and the specific curriculum necessary for each one.

Nevertheless, many psychologists and clinicians often choose to pursue a Counseling degree, especially at the doctorate level.

A doctor in Counseling Psychology will be uniquely qualified to provide evidence-based mental health care, including behavioral interventions, rehabilitation, and other types of structured psychological therapy.

On a daily basis, they will deal with a variety of mental health diagnoses. They can also provide preventative care for those who are at risk of developing mental health issues, dealing with bereavement, or undergoing major life changes.

They often work hand in hand with psychiatrists and occupational therapists.

PhD in Counseling Curriculum

PhD in Counseling Curriculum

In a program such as this, the core curriculum is going to cover a multitude of areas of study in order to ensure that students develop the skill sets needed for careers in the field. If you sign up for this kind of program, you can expect classes related to:

  • Advanced Appraisal Techniques
  • Qualitative Methodology
  • Practice of Counseling Supervision
  • Methods of Counseling Research
  • Theories of Counselor Supervision
  • Advanced Counselor Practicum and Techniques
  • Statistical Methods for Counselor Education Research
  • Advanced Counselor Theories
  • Multivariate Methods for Counselor Education Research
  • Applications of Counseling Research

Most doctorate degrees require a dissertation, but more and more colleges are offering PhD programs without a dissertation. Instead, students work on a capstone project.

PhD in Counseling Career Outlook

PhD in Counseling Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most careers that require a PhD in Counseling provide an average yearly salary between $70,000 and $73,000, with clinical counseling careers making about half as much.

Job Title/Specialty Job Outlook Average Annual Salary
Post-secondary teacher 11% $75,430
School counselor 8% $56,310
Marriage or family therapist 22% $50,090
Substance abuse counselor 22% $44,630
Clinical/Residential facility counselor 10% $35,630

Your salary may be higher or lower based on your years of experience, the type of practice for which you work, and the region of the country in which you live.

Professional Organizations for those with a Counseling PhD

logos of Professional Organizations for those with a Counseling PhD

A family or marriage counselor has access to confidential information on a daily basis. Their interventions have the ability to enact deep change in the happiness of people. Handling this amount of power requires a responsible, well-rounded professional.

To ensure a minimum standard of quality of care and to regulate the potential ethical dilemmas that may arise, there are different professional organizations that group counselors. These include:

  • The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy: This organization represents more than 50,000 family therapists across the United States and Canada. Their main goals are to facilitate research in their field and to establish clinical standards for ethical practice.
  • The American Counseling Association: The ACA is the world’s largest network of counselors. They are based in Alexandria, Virginia, and their nearly 60,000 members encompass almost all practice settings and subtypes. They are well-renowned for their code of ethics.
  • The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP): Unlike the other two organizations mentioned above, the CACREP focuses on counseling programs and training seminaries rather than on existing practitioners. Their main role is to set the minimum standards that all counselor training programs must follow.

Consider joining one of these organizations as a student to take advantage of industry publications, conferences, and job and internship opportunities.

Accreditation for an Online PhD Counseling Degree

logos of six regional accreditors

There is now a wide variety of opportunities were a prospective student can train to become a certified counselor. This has led to the onset of many new names in the industry, which can generate confusion for students and employers alike.

A program’s accreditation will help potential employers or fellow researchers check that the training you have received was thorough and evidence-based.

This will also help you ensure that the education you will receive covers all the basic areas needed to perform as a professional and that the organization is financially stable and will continue running by the time you finish your degree.

Across the United States, most universities are accredited by regional conferences and accreditation bodies. Counseling programs, in particular, should be certified by the above-mentioned CACREP.

PhD in Counseling Admission Requirements

PhD in counseling student talking to interviewers during admissions interview

In terms of the admissions requirements for a Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling program, you’ll typically need to have a master’s degree that is nationally or regionally accredited.

Most schools also request a GRE score report with a total quantitative and verbal score of 4.0 and 300 on the section that pertains to analytic writing. If you’re taking the GMAT, expect to score a 400 or higher to meet the minimum admissions requirements of many schools.

Written commendations from professors, a letter of intent, or a personal interview with the core members of the institute’s PhD faculty can also pop up in the admissions process from time to time, so keep an eye for these more specialized metrics and requirements.

Financial Aid for a PhD in Counseling Online

screenshot of FAFSA website

A PhD is a significant financial investment that is meant to produce higher earnings for years to come. However, funding is a significant barrier for young professionals seeking to enter the counseling profession, especially if they are enrolling in a full-time program.

Some financial aid options to explore include:

  • Scholarships: These are merit-based bursaries, grants, and internships meant to assist high-performing students access a specific program. Many target specific populations, such as minorities or people with specific experience in a niche field.
  • Federal Grants: The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) offers need-based financial aid for certain underprivileged students. These grants do not need to be repaid but are hard to qualify for.
  • Federal Loans: Federal student loans are one of the most widely available forms of financial aid for American graduate students. These loans may be subsidized or unsubsidized, depending on the student’s financial background.
  • State and University Financial Aid: Each state, its university system, and many individual private universities have their own financial aid programs, and access to specially-tailored scholarships or bursaries.

The place to start is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Questions Related to Earning an Online Counseling PhD

Here are our answers to a few more questions you might have.

Can You Get a PhD in Counseling?

Yes, you can get a PhD in Counseling. Admission requirements will vary depending on the institution and its focus. In general, they will require a Master’s degree in counseling, psychology, or a related field.

You will most likely need some experience in the field (usually between 1 to 3 years) before presenting an admissions essay.

How Much Does a PhD in Counseling Cost?

The cost of a PhD will depend on the institution and the number of credits that need to be completed. In general, state universities are more affordable than private ones, especially for in-state students.

The total cost of a PhD can range between $27,000 (for an in-state student at a publicly funded university) to $47,000 (at a private university). This is before you deduct financial aid.

How Long Does It Take to Complete a PhD in Counseling?

Most PhD programs encompass between 50 and 72 credit hours, along with the completion of a doctoral thesis. This is designed to take between 3 and 5 years of full-time study. If you take a non-thesis program, you could finish in 3 years.

Is a Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling Worth It?

counseling degree student graduating

Yes, a Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling is worth it. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to find work in a growing job market and can command a higher salary for your level of expertise.

As part of planning for your future, you’ll want to compare the various career paths that come with obtaining a PhD or a master’s degree. Typically, a master’s degree will land you in a teaching career where you’ll be educating people on the different aspects of counseling.

Having a PhD, on the other hand, will open up the possibility of providing clinical counseling, as well as the opportunity to reach a supervisor position.

Of course, the type of jobs available to you is only part of the discussion when it comes to determining the worth of this process. Some people may choose to stop their education at a master’s degree because they’re satisfied with completing this challenge. Others are driven to pursue their education to the highest level, and as such, will want to earn their PhD.

When weighing the decision about whether to stay with a master’s degree or go for a doctorate, ultimately the choice will hinge on what you feel will give you the most satisfaction as you take this next major step in your life.

List of Schools Offering an Online PhD Degree in Counseling

Rankings Methodology

Each of these colleges and universities is fully accredited and offers doctoral programs in counseling via an online format.

#1  Adler University

Adler University campus

Adler University was established in 1952 and can be found in Chicago, Illinois. They offer a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision which can be completed with 3 years.

Classes are offered online and in the classroom. Physical classes are held evenings and weekends to accommodate the working professional.

  • PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision

Adler University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

#2  Adams State University

Adams State University campus

Adams State University was founded as a teacher’s college in 1921. It can be found on a 90-acre campus in the San Luis Valley. Their Counselor Education and Supervision Doctorate of Philosophy is delivered online.

There is the additional in-person requirement of a total of four separate one-week residences, which are completed in the summer.

  • PhD in Counselor Education

ASU is regionally accredited by The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

#3  Alliant International University

Alliant International University campus

Alliant International University has its main campus in San Diego but also has campuses located in California and Mexico. Founded in 2001, the University came about from the combination of two institutes.

They currently offer a PsyD in Educational Psychology, which is completely delivered online. Created for professionals, you can attain this PsyD degree in 3 years.

  • PsyD in Educational Psychology – School Counseling

Alliant International University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

#4  Antioch University

Antioch University campus

Antioch University was established in 1852 as Antioch College. They offer an MFT Doctor of Philosophy. This degree will prepare graduates for working in marriage and family therapy in Social Justice.

These include jobs in research careers, supervision, leadership, and academics. The doctoral degree has a considerable amount of focus on research training.

  • PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy

Antioch University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The Higher Learning Commission.

#5  California Southern University

California Southern University campus

California Southern University was established in 1978. The doctoral degree is offered 100% online and is clinically focused. This program prepares students for clinical psychologist licensure upon successful completion.

The program is a 66-credit program, and students can transfer up to 30 credits to the program. The program can be completed in 4 years, and a practicum must be done at locally approved sites.

  • Doctor in Psychology

California Southern University is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#6  Capella University

Capella University campus

Capella University was established in 1993 and has headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Their PhD is in Advanced Studies in Human Behavior.

The program equips graduates with the knowledge they need to step up the career ladder in social, behavioral, and higher education settings. With an emphasis on interdisciplinary leadership theory and research, it offers a large theory base.

  • PhD in Advanced Studies in Human Behavior
  • PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision

Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

#7  Felician University

Felician University campus

Felician University has two campuses, one in Rutherford and one in Lodi. The university was founded by the Felician Sisters.

The Doctorate in Counselling Psychology from Felician University is a 73-credit program with a length of 4 to 5 years. The program is offered with a mix of classroom and online instruction.

  • Doctorate in Counseling Psychology (Hybrid)

Felician University is accredited by The Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

#8  Fielding Graduate University

Fielding Graduate University campus

Fielding Graduate University was established in 1974 and is located in Santa Barbara, California. I offer a General PhD in Clinical psychology that can be completed in 5 or 6 years.

The program is designed with a sequential curriculum, making the minimum time to complete the degree is 5 years.

  • PhD in Clinical Psychology – Social Justice and Diversity

Fielding Graduate University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

#9  Hampton University

Hampton University campus

Hampton University was established in April of 1868. It is home to the oldest museum in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the oldest of the African diaspora in the US.

This program is geared toward licensed counselors who want to expand their careers into clinical and supervisory roles. The PhD is an accelerated degree in Counselor Education and Supervision, which is delivered online.

  • PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision

Hampton University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

#10  Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University campus

Grand Canyon University is a non-denominational Christian university that offers a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision. It takes a practical and theoretical approach and includes research studies to test new theories and ideas.

The degree ensures that graduates will be able to support clinical counselors and counseling students.

  • PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision

Grand Canyon University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

#11  Liberty University

Liberty University campus

Liberty University is an evangelical Christian university located in Lynchburg, Virginia. It offers a PhD in Counseling that is delivered entirely online.

The program’s emphasis is in Counselor Education and Supervision, and it is a 60-credit hour program that can be completed in 4 years, and students can transfer up to 15 credits.

  • PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

#12  Mississippi College

Mississippi College campus

Mississippi College can be found in Clinton and is a Baptist institution that was established in 1826.

They offer several graduate programs, including the Doctor of Professional Counseling, which is designed to equip students with the skills and knowledge they will need to be extremely effective in their roles as counselors.

  • Doctor of Professional Counseling

Mississippi College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

#13  Northcentral University

Northcentral University campus

Northcentral University or NCU can be found in San Diego, California. It was founded in 1996, but in 2019, it was acquired by the National  University System.

It offers doctoral degree programs online and has scholarships available for more exemplary students. The degree features both theory and practical but is heavier on the theory side.

  • PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy
  • PhD in Psychology – Addictions
  • PhD in Psychology – Counseling Psychology

Northcentral is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

#14  Oregon State University

Oregon State University campus

Oregon State University is a flagship research university. It was established in 1868 and is located in Corvallis, Oregon. It offers a PhD in counseling, which prepares graduates for becoming counselor educations, clinical supervisors, advanced practitioners, etc.

The degree has a major focus on research and how it can be used to understand and address the societal changes of today.

  • PhD in Counseling

Oregon State University is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

#15  Regent University

Regent University campus

Regent University is a Christian university established in 1977 and is located in Virginia Beach, Virginia. They offer international doctorate programs that are affordable and highly applicable.

Their programs and all their faculty and administrators have biblical principles at their foundation. The program is offered as a dual program with classes online and on-campus.

  • PhD in Counseling & Psychological Studies
  • PhD in Counselor Education & Supervision

Regent University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

#16  Saybrook University

Saybrook University campus

Saybrook University was established in 1971 and offers a PhD in Clinical Psychology. The degree is designed for those students who are looking for a program that will equip them with the practical skills necessary to start their professional practice.

The program covers multi-cultural psychology, psychotherapy, child and adolescent psychology, and more.

  • PhD in Clinical Psychology

Saybrook University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.

#17  University of Louisiana – Monroe

University of Louisiana Monroe campus

The University of Louisiana in Monroe offers a PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy. They have been offering this program since June of 1995. The program is delivered entirely online, and students require a Master’s degree.

With this degree, graduates can expect to increase their earning potential as they open up doors for career advancement.

  • PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy

The University of Louisiana at Monroe is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

#18  University of the Cumberlands

University of the Cumberlands campus

The University of the Cumberlands can be found in Williamsburg, Kentucky. It is a Christian university that was founded in 1888 and later had a name change in 2005. It offers a fully online PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision.

This program provides students with the necessary skills to work as counselors, teachers, and to build a career in research.

  • PhD in Counselor Education & Supervision

The University of the Cumberlands is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

#19  University of West Georgia

University of West Georgia campus

The University of West Georgia can be found in Carrollton, Georgia. It offers an EdD in Professional Counseling and Supervision. This program aims to provide graduates with the skills needed to effectively practice in advocacy and leadership roles in their communities.

The program features a dissertation to defend a selected professional practice to evaluate and improve programs for a positive impact on clients and their communities.

  • EdD in Professional Counseling and Supervision

The University of West Georgia is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

#20  Walden University

Walden University campus

Walden University offers many doctoral programs in Counselling completely online and is the # 1 conferrer of online doctoral degrees in the United States.

Their programs are geared towards the working professional who needs to tailor their studies to their lifestyle, where full-time studies are simply just not an option. Students entering the program have 4 different specializations to choose from.

  • PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision
  • PhD in Developmental Psychology
  • PhD in Psychology
  • PsyD in Behavioral Health Leadership

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

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