Online Counseling Degree Programs

Counseling is a distinct and well-defined profession that has specific training standards and formal licensing requirements in all 50 states. One of the primary qualifications for receiving a counseling license is the attainment of an approved master’s degree in counseling. However, instruction in counseling can begin at the bachelor’s degree level, and continue up through doctoral programs for those who desire or require additional training. Counseling program graduates who attain licensure enter a profession that is an integral part of the health and human services network. Licensed counselors are schooled in theories of psychology and human social and behavioral development. They are trained to assess the mental health of their clients, identify the causes of emotional and behavioral problems, and offer solutions-based treatments using the tools of psychotherapy. That training is designed to prepare them to deliver mental health services to an array of clients in a variety of clinical settings.

Licensed professional counselors (LPCs) are trained to work in clinical settings, including but not limited to hospitals, mental health centers, residential healthcare facilities, schools, employee assistance programs, and private offices. Unlike psychologists, who must complete a doctoral program before applying to practice professionally, counselors can begin working with clients after finishing a master’s program and passing a state exam. While counseling programs do stress individual client-based therapy, they also focus on couples and family therapy, as well as on other types of group counseling. Some of the main areas of concern in counseling education include: alcohol and substance abuse; anger management; anxiety and depression; career guidance; eating disorders; gender identity; physical and psychological trauma; relationship dysfunctions; self-harm and suicidal ideation; and stress management.

Defining and Classifying Online Counseling Programs

Counseling programs provide instruction in the theories, techniques, and ethical practice of professional counseling. Online counseling programs accomplish this through distance learning, which allows students who cannot attend, or would prefer to not to enroll in a traditional campus-based program, a more flexible option for attaining a counseling degree. At the master’s level, which is where LPCs and other licensed counselors receive the bulk of their didactic and clinical training, counseling curricula are fairly standardized. Online counseling programs combine online courses with supervised on-site clinical training in the form of practicums and internships. This clinical training can be typically be completed at an approved site that is conveniently located for each student.

Online master’s in counseling programs encompass five broadly recognized specializations: addiction and substance abuse counseling; clinical and mental health counseling; marriage and family therapy; rehabilitation counseling; and school counseling. Depending on the area of specialization, these programs may receive accreditation from three primary organizations: the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP); the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE); and the Council on Rehabilitation Education (CORE).

OnlineEducation.com independently researches online counseling programs and categorizes these programs based on their curricula. In addition, only online counseling programs offered by regionally accredited, non-profit colleges and universities are listed on the site. In order for a program to be classified as online, it may require students to visit the campus up to two times per year. Programs that require more than two campus visits per year are classified as hybrid programs and are not included on the site at this time. Through our research, we have created a comprehensive, proprietary database of online counseling programs, which includes detailed information about admissions criteria, tuition costs, instructional methods, and course requirements for each program.

Programmatic Specialization in Counseling Programs

Among master’s in counseling programs, our research has identified five main areas of specialization. Programs on the site are placed into one of the five categories detailed below:

  • Master’s in Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling: These programs include coursework that focuses on the psychological causes and effects of alcohol and substance use, the mental health issues associated with addiction, and the counselor’s role in assisting individuals, couples, and families who are impacted by substance abuse and addictive behaviors.
  • Master’s in Clinical and Mental Health Counseling: These programs offer core training in the theories and principles of clinical counseling, the accepted methods for mental health assessment, and the ethical use of psychotherapy as a tool for helping individuals, couples, and families cope with a wide range of emotional and behavioral issues.
  • Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT): These programs offer targeted training in the social and psychological dynamics of couples and families, theories of family development, and the uses of therapy to address emotional and behavior problems in marriage and other familial settings.
  • Master’s in Rehabilitation Counseling: These programs are tailored to an area of counseling that involves helping people with emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and physical disabilities. The curriculum includes instruction in the specific issues faced by individuals with disabilities in key areas of their lives, including work, family, and community.
  • Master’s in School Counseling: These programs are designed to prepare students to work as counselors in K-12 education and at the college level. In addition to teaching core counseling proficiencies, these programs provide instruction in school administrative procedures, teaching protocols, and group social dynamics among children and adolescents.

Additional Counseling Resources on OnlineEducation.com

In addition to a comprehensive database of online counseling programs, OnlineEducation.com provides detailed information on the different types of counseling degrees. This includes information on curricula focus and coursework, as well as on variations in program structures. To complement our program directory, OnlineEducation.com maintains a section dedicated to FAQs about counseling programs and careers in the field of counseling. The FAQs are designed to address questions related to accrediting bodies and licensing requirements; related degrees that may or may not qualify graduates for licensure as a professional counselor; and the differences between counseling and related health and human services fields, like social work and psychology.


Online Master’s in Counseling Programs:

Online Master’s in Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling

Alcoholism, drug abuse, and addictive behaviors are a key area of focus in the counseling profession. Master’s programs in addiction and substance abuse counseling target the specialized knowledge and skills that counselors employ in the treatment of individuals suffering from addiction and addiction-related disorders.

Online Master’s in Clinical and Mental Health Counseling

Professional counselors offer assistance to a broad range of clients in diverse clinical settings. Clinical and mental health counseling represents the core area of knowledge and training necessary to provide individual, family, and group counseling to the general population in need of counseling services.

Online Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy

The unique and complex social and behavioral dynamics in couples and families present distinct challenges for those in the counseling profession. Marriage and Family Therapy, or MFT programs, explore these challenges and prepare students to assist couples and families manage and overcome emotional and behavioral issues.

Online Master’s in Rehabilitation Counseling

Persons with emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and physical disabilities are a population group that has traditionally required specialized counseling services. Master’s in rehabilitation counseling programs offer training in the skills needed to help clients with disabilities cope with and overcome specific problems in their work, family, and social life.

Online Master’s in School Counseling

Counseling services are a key part of school support systems at the K-12 level, and at colleges and universities. Master’s in school counseling programs provide training in counseling children, adolescents, and young adults, and in helping students suffering from emotional and behavioral issues thrive socially and academically.