2024 Best Online PhD in Mental Health Counseling [Doctorate Guide]

By Stephanie Friedman
Updated on February 1, 2024
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You may be interested in pursuing a PhD in Mental Health Counseling if you’re passionate about helping people and are seeking advanced counseling training.

Best Online PhD in Mental Health Counseling

While in a doctorate program, you’ll typically have the opportunity to participate in internships and fieldwork. Most PhD programs also have a dissertation or thesis component in addition to coursework.

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PhD students typically have already completed a masters or bachelors degree, and many graduates are interested in careers in counseling, university teaching, research, or social work.

Online PhD in Mental Health Counseling Programs

student taking Mental health counseling PhD program online

Mental health counseling PhD programs give students advanced training on how to assess and treat mental health disorders. They also teach various research and leadership methodologies.

Much like with an online PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, when enrolled in an online doctorate program in mental health counseling, you may study some of the following subjects:

  • Marriage and family counseling
  • Clinical supervision
  • Quantitative research techniques
  • Client Diversity
  • Substance abuse treatment
  • Counseling research practices
  • Consulting
  • Rehabilitation counseling
  • Ethical counseling practices

In addition to foundational coursework and electives, you may be able to take part in internships, fieldwork, research, and seminars. Many PhD programs also have a thesis or dissertation requirement.

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Most students applying for PhD programs have already received a masters or bachelors degree, typically in a similar field of study, such as an on-campus or online masters degree in counseling, for example. Doctorate programs are intended to build on your previous education. Graduates tend to pursue careers in academia or clinical practice. They might pursue roles as teachers, researchers, or education administrators.

Depending on their education and skillset, others may work in roles like psychologist, social worker, and health education specialist. Many professionals use PhD programs to help them advance in their current careers as mental health counselors or substance abuse counselors. Other types of counselors can benefit from this field of study as well.

Counselors that deal with mental health may work in schools, private practices, outpatient care centers, or other types of healthcare institutions.

Mental Health Counseling Careers & Salaries

Mental Health Counseling Careers & Salaries

A doctorate in mental health counseling could help open up a wide array of job prospects to graduates, most of which lie in the counseling field. These types of roles include mental health, school, career, and substance abuse counselors.

Some graduates choose to stay in the academic world and pursue careers in education or research. They might go on to work as college professors, university administrators, or instructional coordinators.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are the median wages of some potential careers associated with mental health counseling.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Top Executives $98,980
Psychologists $81,040
Postsecondary Teachers $79,640
Social and Community Service Managers $74,000
Compliance Officers $71,650
Health Education Specialists $60,600
School and Career Counselors and Advisors $60,510
Social Workers $50,390
Marriage and Family Therapists $49,880
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $48,520

Depending on your education and qualifications, you may be interested in pursuing a role in psychology with a PhD in Mental Health Counseling.

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If you want to become a licensed clinical or counseling psychologist, you could also consider a PsyD in Mental Health Counseling or a PhD in Clinical Psychology.

Mental Health Counseling PhD Curriculum & Courses

professionals with PhD in Mental Health Counseling researching

The specific courses offered through doctoral degrees in mental health counseling can vary, but here are some course examples that you may come across:

  • Theories and Methods of Counselor Supervision: This class teaches you how to oversee counselors, and it covers techniques for training and developing other counselors.
  • Mental Health Care and Contemporary Society: You’ll learn about the different influences of modern mental health care from cultural, economic, and political perspectives.
  • Clinical Supervision and Leadership: Theory and Practice: This course teaches you ethical concepts and theories to help you supervise mental health professionals.
  • Statistics and Research Design: You’ll learn the foundations of statistics as they relate to psychology.
  • Leadership and Advocacy in the Counseling Profession: You’ll learn advanced leadership skills, with an emphasis on creating systemic change.
  • Advanced Psychometrics and Assessment: This class covers how to assess clients using advanced techniques and methods.
  • Advanced Theories of Change: You’ll learn about how to change theories play into counseling and psychology methods.
  • Applied Social Psychology: This course teaches students various elements of social psychology, including prejudice and relationships.
  • Qualitative Inquiry: You’ll learn concepts and research methods like problem investigation and sampling techniques.
  • Teaching, Writing, and Publishing in the Counseling Field: This class guides students on how to teach, write, and present in higher education.

In addition to your coursework, your program may offer opportunities for seminars and internships. Many mental health counseling PhD programs require students to complete a dissertation or thesis as well.

How to Choose a PhD in Mental Health Counseling Program

Friends checking on PhD in Mental Health Counseling Program online

While mental health counseling doctorate programs cover many of the same subjects in their curriculum, they can also differ when it comes to focusing areas and specific class offerings.

When choosing a program to complete your PhD, you may want to investigate the following:

  • Available specializations
  • Research opportunities
  • Course listings
  • Licensing requirements (vary by state)
  • Dissertation requirements
  • Internship opportunities

Choosing a PhD program that focuses on your interests may help you learn key skills and knowledge to pursue your preferred career. For instance, if you’d like to work toward a career in research, it could be beneficial to pick a program with abundant research opportunities.

Admissions Requirements

Man preparing requirements for PhD in Mental Health Counseling

While admissions requirements for mental health counseling PhD programs vary, here are a few common ones:

  • Bachelors or masters degree
  • Personal statement
  • GRE scores (only some schools require them)
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Resume

In addition to the listed criteria, some schools may have a minimum GPA requirement and ask you to submit transcripts. Counseling PhD programs may also want to see the completion of specific courses—such as psychology or counseling classes—as part of your bachelors or masters degrees. Some schools may also want potential students to go through an interview process before admitting them.

Accreditation

University offering Mental Health Counseling PhD

When choosing a mental health counseling doctoral program, it’s important to look at schools that are regionally accredited. When a school has achieved this status, its educational offerings have met specific academic quality standards.

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Many employers want to see that their future employees have attended regionally accredited schools. An accredited degree can also be a stipulation for license or certification boards. To learn more about accreditation, you can visit the US Department of Education‘s website.

CACREP Accreditation

When looking for a doctoral program in mental health counseling, you may also want to check if it has received accreditation from CACREP. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs is the programmatic accreditation for mental health counseling.

You can check on the CACREP website to see if the program you’re interested in qualifies. CACREP explains that qualifying programs further the counseling profession through academic excellence and promote growth and collaboration, among other benefits.

Mental Health Counseling Licensure and Certifications

Psychologist with LSAC, in a group counseling session

If you would like to become licensed in mental health counseling, there are a variety of requirements, many of which vary by state.

There are a variety of counseling credentials you may choose to pursue, including:

  • Licensed Drug and Alcohol Counselor (LDAC)
  • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
  • Licensed Substance Abuse Counselor (LSAC)
  • Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC)

Common licensing requirements include a masters or doctorate in counseling, supervised work hours, and a certification exam. For instance, becoming a licensed clinical psychologist typically requires having a doctorate in the field and passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

financial aid for students taking Mental Health Counseling PhD

To help you pay for a PhD in Mental Health Counseling, you may choose to look into financial aid options. The Federal Student Aid website provides an overview of various options for qualifying students on the state, federal, and school levels.

Qualifying graduate students may be able to apply for direct unsubsidized loans, which don’t require financial need but require you to pay for the interest on the loan. Typically, your school would determine how much you can borrow for these types of loans. You can also see if your employer offers tuition benefits for professional development.

What Is a PhD in Mental Health Counseling?

Mental Health Counselor taking notes while the patient talks

A PhD in Mental Health Counseling is designed to teach students to research and practice ways to support the mental health of individuals and families. You might have the opportunity to focus on studying a certain specialization, such as substance abuse or marriage and family counseling.

A PhD program builds on the knowledge students typically learn during a bachelors or masters counseling degree. In addition to coursework, students may participate in internships, fieldwork, and seminars, and they’ll likely complete a thesis or dissertation.

What Can You Do with a PhD in Mental Health Counseling?

Health Education Specialist discussing about healthcare programs

A PhD in Mental Health Counseling may help prepare you to pursue a variety of careers, primarily in the fields of counseling, psychology, and education.

For instance, graduates may work as mental health, substance abuse, behavioral disorder, or school counselors. Others may specialize in marriage and family therapy. PhD graduates may also choose to pursue careers in academia, in roles like university administrators and professors or researchers.

Depending on their education and credentials, they may also work toward becoming licensed clinical or counseling psychologists.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online PhD in Mental Health Counseling?

Woman taking doctorate in mental health counseling online

The timeframe for completing a doctorate in mental health counseling can vary, but there are a few factors that can influence your program length. It typically takes about 3 to 5 years to get a PhD, which can vary depending on the credit hours needed to graduate.

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For instance, if your program doesn’t include a dissertation requirement, you may be able to graduate in 3 years, provided you’re enrolled in classes full-time. A dissertation requirement may extend your overall time to completion.

Should I Get a Doctoral Degree in Mental Health Counseling?

Psychologist & Compliance Officer working on some documents

The decision to get a PhD in Mental Health Counseling depends on your career goals, but many graduates decide to pursue a doctorate for similar reasons.

You may want to get a doctoral degree if you are interested in a leadership job in universities, hospitals, and other institutions, as many of these programs teach leadership skills. Graduates may also want to pursue a career in counseling research.

You might also want to earn a PhD if you’re interested in the highest-level counseling training you can get. These types of programs can generally help students advance their counseling careers.

What’s the Difference Between a PsyD vs. PhD in Mental Health Counseling?

Mental Health Counselor in a session with elderly client

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) programs in mental health counseling may cover many of the same topics, but there are a few key differences between these degrees.

A PhD in Mental Health Counseling may emphasize:

  • Psychological theories
  • Research practices
  • Ethical analysis

A PsyD in Mental Health Counseling may emphasize:

  • Clinical practice
  • Patient treatment
  • Diagnosing patients

Overall, PhD programs in mental health counseling focus more on research and theoretical concepts, while PsyD programs focus on how to practically apply that knowledge to treat patients.

What’s the Difference Between an EdD vs. PhD in Mental Health Counseling?

A Doctor of Education (EdD) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Mental Health Counseling both study various theories and practices related to the field, but each one has a slightly different emphasis.

EdD in Mental Health Counseling PhD in Mental Health Counseling
  • Focuses on practical applications
  • May lead to opportunities in counseling leadership, professional training, or education
  • Focuses on research
  • Teaches students how to bring change and original scholarship to their field of study

EdD degrees generally help graduates pursue leadership careers in various organizations, while PhD degrees usually help graduates work toward postsecondary teaching or research jobs.

Is a PhD in Mental Health Counseling Worth It?

Mental Health Counselors observing their patients

Yes, a PhD in Mental Health Counseling is worth it for many students. Many roles aligned with mental health counseling are seeing an increase in demand. For instance, substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors are projected to see 22% job growth over the next ten years, which is much faster than average (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

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A PhD can help expand on the knowledge learned in a masters or bachelors degree, and it can be especially useful for those wanting to pursue careers in postsecondary teaching or research. This type of degree can also help counselors gain advanced clinical training for their chosen profession.

Universities Offering Online Doctorate in Mental Health Counseling Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Antioch University

Antioch University campus

Antioch University offers a low-residency program for a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision. It uses a 3 year cohort model that includes online coursework and two 4 day residencies each year. A practicum and an internship are also required. Antioch uses a quarterly academic calendar, and applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

Antioch University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Barry University

Barry University campus

Barry University’s PhD in Counseling can be earned on campus, in a synchronous online format, or in a combination of both. A practicum and three internships are required, and training at Barry’s on-campus clinic is typically provided. Barry offers a collaborative and inclusive learning environment. The curriculum emphasizes social justice in the counseling field.

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

Capella University

Capella University campus

Capella University offers a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision that can be earned online or in person. Preparation for a dissertation usually begins early in the program, and learning is commonly applied through a practicum and internships. The curriculum consists of 60 credits, including courses such as Advanced Counseling Practice, Counselor Supervision, and Research Theory and Philosophy.

Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Concordia University – Irvine

Concordia University - Irvine campus

Concordia University–Irvine offers a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision. The program is intended for already licensed professionals in the field. Courses are designed from a biblically informed perspective and use a flexible online format. Two in-person residencies are typically required.

Concordia University – Irvine is accredited by WASC Senior College and University Commission.

Denver Seminary

Denver Seminary campus

Denver Seminary offers a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision program that utilizes a 4 year cohort model. At least 1 practicum and 3 internships are required, and work usually begins on a dissertation during the third year of the program. Courses are online and often include synchronous videoconferencing sessions.

Denver Seminary is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Hampton University

Hampton University campus

Hampton University offers a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision program for already licensed counselors. The completion of 64 credits is required. Potential courses include Analysis of Behavioral Data, Ethics and Legal Aspects of Counseling, and Advanced Group and Systems Theory. The program also includes a practicum, internships, and a dissertation.

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

Kansas State University

Kansas State University campus

Kansas State University’s PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision program requires the completion of 96 credit hours after earning a bachelor’s degree. The program also requires the completion of a dissertation. Most courses in the program are offered on campus, but some are available online. Possible courses include Theories of Vocational Counseling, Legal and Ethical Issues in Counseling, and Advanced Group Counseling.

Kansas State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Liberty University

Liberty University campus

Liberty University offers a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision that can be completed mostly online, though it also requires some in-person internships and intensives. The program requires the completion of 60 credit hours and can usually be finished in 3.5 to 4 years. Courses are typically taught from a biblical perspective.

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

Mississippi College

Mississippi College campus

Mississippi College offers an online program for a Doctorate in Professional Counseling. Four courses are typically taken at a time in fall, spring, and summer semesters.

The program requires a capstone project rather than a dissertation. The curriculum consists of courses such as Advanced Lifespan Developmental Processes, Psychotherapy Integration, and Advanced Psychopharmacology and Neurobiology.

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

Oregon State University

Oregon State University campus

Oregon State University offers a PhD in Counseling program with both online and in-person instruction. New students typically begin studies in the summer term. Oregon State follows a quarterly academic calendar, and in-person meetings take place twice each quarter on weekends.

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

Regent University

Regent University campus

Regent University offers a PhD in Counseling and Psychological Studies that can be earned online. The program requires the completion of 51 credit hours. Many concentrations are offered, including Biblical Counseling, Grief Counseling, Addictions Counseling, Life Coaching, Trauma and Crisis Counseling, Marriage and Family Ministry.

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

Saybrook University

Saybrook University campus

Saybrook University offers an online program for a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision. Typical courses include Introduction to Counselor Education, Instructional Theory and Practice, Leadership, Advocacy, and Ethics in Counselor Education. The curriculum typically covers topics such as scientific research and clinical mental health counselor supervision.

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

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology campus

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology offers an online program for a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision. The program can typically be completed in 3 years of full-time study. The program offers opportunities to gain practical experience through 700 hours in a practicum and internships and to develop research skills through the completion of a dissertation.

The Chicago School is accredited by the Western Association of Schools & Colleges Senior College and University Commission.

University of the Cumberlands

University of the Cumberlands campus

The University of the Cumberlands offers a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision that can be earned online.

The curriculum consists of synchronous live courses. Potential courses include Advanced Counseling Theories and Skills, Theories and Techniques of Clinical Supervision, and Leadership and Advocacy in Professional Counseling. Opportunities are provided to collaborate with faculty members on research.

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

Walden University

Walden University campus

Walden University offers a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision with a specialization in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. The program is mostly online but does require fieldwork and an on-campus residency. It offers small class sizes to help classmates connect with each other and their instructors.

Walden is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Getting Your PhD in Mental Health Counseling Online

student taking PhD in Mental Health Counseling Online

If you’re seeking the highest level of education in the counseling field, you might consider pursuing an online doctorate in mental health counseling. Online programs can add flexibility to your academic schedule.

A PhD can be beneficial for those who already have established careers in the counseling field as well as those who are hoping to transition into a career in teaching or research. Doctoral programs in mental health counseling offer different specializations that can help you tailor your studies to your preferred area of interest.

To get started on your journey toward a PhD in Mental Health Counseling, you can begin researching accredited schools online today.

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WRITTEN BY
Stephanie holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of California, Irvine and a Certificate in Journalism and Newswriting from New York University. Stephanie focuses on researching affordable education opportunities, non-traditional career paths, and online learning.