Counselling and Therapy Credentials


I’m about a year (8 courses in fact) away from wrapping up my Bachelor of Professional Arts in Human Services from Athabasca University. This has led me to explore potential graduate schools on my path to becoming a therapist in the future. One thing I’ve discovered is that there’s a lot of confusion around different credentials and what they entitle one to do.

This post is focused on Social Work, Psychology, and Counselling, with an added bonus of identifying distance learning schools where individuals may take these programs.

College Diplomas

College diplomas include 2-year Associates degrees in the United States and Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology CAAT) diplomas in Canada. Examples include:

  • Associates in Human Services
  • Associates in Social Work
  • Social Service Worker, an online version is available through Durham College
  • Community Service Worker

These are entry-level credentials to give you the basic skills to work in the social services. Some of these credentials, such as the Social Service Worker diploma, allow you registration into a professional college (e.g. the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers) but most do not.

These programs provide training and experience in assessment (such as suicide risk assessment) and provide training in basic counselling skills but do not prepare students to diagnose or provide therapy.

Job titles for college diploma holders may be:

  • Intake Worker
  • Case Manager
  • Program Manager
  • Shelter Worker

Bachelor’s Degrees

Bachelor’s degrees are the 4-year degree most common in the US and Canada. A 4-year degree may be in Human Services, Psychology, or another discipline. If you earn a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) you are usually eligible for registration with the appropriate Board of Social Work or College of Social Work. On the other hand, a credential in Psychology or Human Services will not entitle one to registration.

Job titles for Bachelor’s degree holders will be similar to college diploma holders, with the added component that Bachelor of Social Work holders are entitled to the protected job title “Social Worker.” Bachelor’s holders with training may perform assessments and other tasks.

Online programs include Athabasca University’s Bachelor of Professional Arts in Human Services, or Liberty University’s Bachelor of Science in Social Work program.

Bachelor of Professional Arts in Human Services

This is the program I’m completing at the moment. Because I completed a Social Service Worker (SSW) diploma from Durham College (see above), I received 2 years/20 courses of transfer credit towards the 4 year degree, requiring 20 courses to finish.

These courses can be completed online, with no specific semester start and end dates. Instead, if you pay your courses yourself you have 6 months in which to complete them; if you are receiving financial aid (such as through the Ontario Student Assistance Program) you have 13 weeks in which to complete each course.

The fee (approximately $600 CAD for a student in Alberta, $800 CAD for a student elsewhere in Canada and $1000 CAD for a student outside Canada) includes all the course materials including textbooks shipped to you to complete the course. This makes it a very economical option for a Bachelor’s degree.

Examples of courses in the BPA Human Services that are required:

  • Social Work and Human Services
  • Ideology and Policy Evolution
  • Critical Reflection for Practice
  • Professional Ethics
  • Practice and Policy in the Human Services

Master’s Degrees

Here’s where it starts to get complicated. There are a number of Master’s degrees that one may use to enter the counselling or therapy professions. These include a Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology, Master of Counselling, Master of Education in Counselling Psychology, Master of Education in School Psychology, Master of Social Work.

Master of Arts (MA) in Counselling Psychology

The MA in Counselling Psychology may be a practice degree, allowing one to register as a Licensed Mental Health Counsellor (LMHC) or it may be a step on to a PhD or PsyD in Clinical Psychology. Individuals may qualify for registration as Psychological Associates or in Alberta as Psychologists.

Examples of online programs includes Yorkville University‘s program, which is based out of New Brunswick.

Master of Counselling (MC)

The Master of Counselling degree is offered by Athabasca and provides similar training as other counselling degrees such as degrees in Counselling Psychology or other. Athabasca offers specializations in Art Therapy, Counselling Psychology and School Counselling.

Examples of courses taken in the MC degree include:

  • Models of Counselling and Client Change
  • Intervening to Faciliate Client Change
  • Devleoping a Working Alliance
  • Professional Ethics
  • Assessment Processes

This program qualifies for registration with the Alberta College of Psychologists.

Master of Education (MEd) in Counselling Psychology

The Master of Education (MEd) degree in Counselling Psychology is offered through a school’s Faculty of Education rather than a Faculty of Social Work or Faculty of Psychology. One example is University of Toronto’s MEd. This program is designed as a terminal degree to train counsellors and therapists. Courses in this program include:

  • Theories and Techniques of Counselling
  • Critical Multicultural Practice: Diversity Issues in Counselling
  • Group Work in Counselling
  • Ethical Issues in Professional Practice in Psychology
  • Career Counselling and Development: Transitions in Adulthood

Because these programs are in the Faculty of Education they are more likely to cover school counselling and be designed to train counsellors or therapists that work with students and young adults. One example of an online program is the University of Massachusetts–Boston’s MEd in School Counselling.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

The Master of Social Work is the terminal degree for Social Work practice in Canada and the United States. These programs are either one year (for individuals who have already completed a BSW) or two year (for individuals who have not completed a BSW.) These programs qualify for registration with organizations like the Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers (OCSWSSW) in Canada or a State’s Board of Social Work in the US.

MSW degrees can be focused on macro (community) social work, or micro (individual) social work. Macro social workers are employed in community development, program design, administration and other areas while micro, individual or clinical social workers are employed as counsellors, therapists and other clinical mental health professionals.

An example 2-year online MSW program is that available from the University of North Dakota. Courses in that program include:

  • Human Behavior in the Social Environment I
  • Generalist Practice with Individuals and Families
  • Generalist Practice with Communities and Organizations
  • Social Policy
  • Generalist Research Methods and Analysis

Doctorate Degrees

Doctoral degrees prepare individuals for advanced clinical practice in the fields of Psychology and Social Work. Doctorares usually involve a component of research and practice. Some degrees not listed here (such as the PhD in Social Work) have no practice component and are designed chiefly to train researchers.

Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in Clinical / Counselling Psychology

The PhD in Clinical Psychology or PhD in Counselling Psychology are designed to train professional Psychologists. These programs are usually 5-7 years in duration and involve the completion of a PhD dissertation, a book-length research project. In addition to learning these fundamental research skills, Psychologists also learn how to administer and interpret psychological assessments like IQ tests and how to deliver therapy.

These programs are among the most competitive to get into, often admitting 5-10 candidates among the 100+ that apply for admission.

The differences between Clinical Psychology and Counselling Psychology are minor, but Clinical Psychology tends to focus on individuals with more psychopathology than Counselling Psychology.

Examples of courses in the PhD in Clinical Psychology at Ryerson University:

  • Ethical Professional Issues in Clinical Psychology
  • Systems of Psychotherapy
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Community Psychology
  • Mood Disorders

Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD)

The PsyD is a newer program than the PhD, emerging to meet needs of individuals who primarily want to practice therapy and assessment rather than work as scientists or researchers. PsyD programs are offered by a larger variety of educational venues, such as by professional schools of Psychology (like the Chicago School of Professional Psychology) rather than a university.

The PsyD involves learning to utilize research rather than produce it. Because students in a PhD program are creating researcher, they are “paid” to do so, by having their tuition subsidized (often free), and by being given a living stipend, while PsyD students more commonly have to “pay their way” through their program, upwards of $100,000.

Otherwise, PsyD and PhD graduates learn the same skills and are eligible for licensure in the same way – as long as their programs are accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Although there are online PsyD programs such as those offered by Walden University and Capella University these are not eligible for APA accreditation and therefore are unlikely to result in licensure.

Examples of courses available in the Chicago School of Professional Psychology’s PsyD program:

  • Biological Bases of Behavior
  • Health and Dysfunction
  • Cognitive Assessment
  • Cognitive Behavioral Theory and Therapy
  • Personality Assessment

Doctorate of Social Work (DSW)

The Doctorate of Social Work is the newest doctorate program. This program is similar to the PsyD in that it is a practice degree rather than a research degree. One example of a DSW is that offered by Tulane University in Louisiana. This program is available online but has significant tuition attached to it, up to $70,000.

Reflecting the existing education of their students (all of whom have an MSW or similar degree accredited by the CSWE) these programs are shorter than a PhD would be, often running 3 years versus the 5-7 years for a PhD or the 5 years for a PsyD.

Examples of courses in the Tulane DSW:

  • Historical Approaches to Social Welfare
  • Social Work Theory, Practice Models & Methods
  • Applied Social Statistics
  • Measuring Social Phenomena: Social and Economic Problems
  • Advanced Clinical Project Seminar

The goal of the DSW program is to train practitioners who are experts in policy analysis, program design and development or implementation of specific therapies.

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2017), "Counselling and Therapy Credentials," retrieved on December 9, 2022 from

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