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5 Reasons to Get a PhD in a Non-Clinical Counseling & Psychology Program

Students, graduates, and faculty from our PhD in Counseling & Psychology: Transformative Leadership, Education, and Applied Research share their thoughts.

If you’re a licensed mental health counselor or clinician, you might be wondering what the next step in your education or career could be. Perhaps you’ve researched doctoral programs in Counseling & Psychology but have discovered that many are clinical in nature. 

Suppose you’ve been practicing for several years, and you aren’t primarily looking for additional clinical training. In that case, a non-clinical program—like our PhD in Counseling & Psychology: Transformative Leadership, Education, and Applied Research at Lesley University—could be the best way to reach your personal and professional goals. 

Here are the top reasons our students, graduates, and faculty recommend getting your PhD and how you could benefit from Lesley’s program.

1. You want to advance into a leadership role in local, regional, national, or international settings.

By expanding your skills and expertise, you’ll be ready to work in leadership roles in the mental health field that require, or are more accessible with, doctoral-level training. A PhD can open opportunities in teaching and research at higher education institutions, consulting or training, and directing mental health programs in hospitals, schools, and other settings. The possibility of participating in an international counseling network as part of your PhD program can also deepen your understanding of mental health and counseling in global contexts. This will help make you a well-rounded leader who can understand different worldviews and perspectives.

2. You want to drive change in organizations and communities. 

As an advanced practitioner, you understand the urgent issues that schools, organizations, and communities face. A PhD gives you the credibility, status, and knowledge you need to make substantive contributions that support social and emotional wellness, and to promote social justice in the counseling profession. As a leader, you’ll be in a better position to infuse creativity and decision-making into your role. You’ll be able to challenge mainstream models in mental health counseling, design programs to address critical needs, pursue innovative ways of offering care, and implement your ideas for transformation.

"Lesley University’s PhD program in Counseling & Psychology is distinct in its emphasis on social justice theories and critical research methodologies. The program centers the lived experiences, perspectives, and voices that are often ignored or exploited in counseling and psychology. These knowledge bases and skills are essential for addressing the suffering caused by social inequalities.”
Heath Hightower ’22, Professor at Assumption College and Clinical Social Worker

3. You want advanced training in research methodologies and critical inquiry

As a doctoral student, you’ll receive advanced education in various research methodologies, writing, and publishing. These skills can help you become a teacher or scholar in higher learning institutions, solve problems through applied research, or contribute new knowledge to the profession. Starting with your doctoral research, you can transform the mental health counseling field as you explore areas of inquiry that are professionally and personally meaningful to you. You’ll add to the body of existing scholarship and challenge conventional thinking to push the field forward. 

Dissertations from Lesley PhD Graduates

With our curriculum that emphasizes diversity, equity, and inclusion, most students center their dissertation on a social justice issue.

4. You want to experience personal transformation and growth.

Doctoral study encourages deep engagement with your ideas and existing knowledge. It also introduces you to new possibilities and challenges you to explore different worldviews. Through the doctoral process, you’ll build an analytical framework and enhance your critical thinking skills. You’ll examine your own identity, positionality, and reflexivity as you explore concepts of self as an instrument of change, and self as a researcher and a leader, all while growing as an individual. 

5. You want to become a more effective facilitator of change at the micro-level.

Although non-clinical PhD programs tend to focus on research, teaching, and driving change, you’ll also emerge with enhanced skills in interpersonal communication that will support your clinical practice. Your advanced understanding of macro-level structural and systemic forces that produce and reproduce social inequity, and individual and cultural trauma, will fundamentally shift how you approach your clinical work on the ground. 

"The PhD program at Lesley helped me to define my core values and goals better and to put them into practice professionally."
Sarah Schwerdel ’21, Counselor at Mass Bay Counseling

Clinical and Non-Clinical Doctoral Programs in Counseling & Psychology: What’s the Difference? 

While every program is different depending on the school, here are some general characteristics of clinical versus non-clinical doctoral programs.

Clinical Programs Non-Clinical Programs

Require clinical internships or practicums 

Do not require clinical internships or practicums
Prepare students to teach in American Psychological Association (APA)-approved clinical or counseling psychology doctoral programs

Prepare students for broader careers as university faculty and scholars in counselor education, counselor training, or other clinical programs 

Prepare students for further licensure as a clinical or counseling psychologist 

Prepare students to choose, implement, and sustain evidence-based services and interventions in schools, mental health organizations, and communities 

May provide scientific training in psychological assessments or neuropsychology

Prepare students to drive change and solve problems through community-based and groundbreaking research 

May focus on pathology models 

May focus on social justice-oriented wellness models and prepare students for transformative leadership roles

Tend to have more credits and take longer to complete than non-clinical programs (4-6 years) 

Tend to have fewer credits and take less time to complete than clinical programs (3-4 years) 

Learn more about our Counseling & Psychology PhD program

Are you ready to take that next step in your education and mental health counseling career? Our doctoral program in Counseling & Psychology: Transformative Leadership, Education, and Applied Research is a 48-credit non-clinical program for licensed counselors and clinicians offered in a convenient, weekend cohort model starting each Fall (September).

Designed for working professionals, you’ll meet with your faculty and classmates for one weekend a month and continue your studies remotely between meetings. You'll work with faculty practitioners with expertise in trauma-informed leadership, school and community counseling, critical and liberation psychology, critically oriented and community-focused research methodologies, and many other areas. Apply today and get started on your path toward advancing social justice, mental health, and inclusive communities.  

Related Articles & Stories

Learn more about a few of our graduates who have transformed research, education, and the community with their degrees.