How Can you Specialize a Ph.D. in Family Counseling?

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Updated August 4, 2020

Individuals who pursue careers in family counseling generally have a desire to help others and have a career that's rewarding, challenging and offers good career opportunities. Many aspiring therapists and psychologists consider earning a Ph.D. as their ultimate goal. They often want to learn as much as possible about the various areas of family counseling but aren't sure what types of specializations are offered with a Ph.D. in Family Counseling. Here are a few areas of specialization a family counselor with a Ph.D. can pursue.

Related Resource: 10 Most Affordable PhD in Family Counseling Online Programs

Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychology is a specialization that focuses on improving personal and interpersonal functions throughout a lifespan. It deals not just with emotional and mental issues, but also with educational, social, developmental and health-related concerns as well. This area emphasizes the fact that each member of the family has a specific supporting role in the family and that their actions play a role in various outcomes. Counseling psychology students also learn about different counseling trends that are being used and get to design trials to test hypotheses and new therapy models. Counseling psychology helps families improve their well-being, resolve crises and learn how to function better in their lives.


Additions often play a large part in family problems, and psychology students who specialize in this concentration learn how to work with family's who have had their lives affected by addictions. They research the social, biological and psychological aspects of addiction and how those affect each member of the family. Now that more medical professionals believe that addiction is actually a disease, there is becoming more of an emphasis on treatment programs and helping family's suffering from addiction. Some of the family counselors work with the addict and their family members through all phases, including before, during and after treatment.

Clinical Psychology

Students pursuing a Ph.D. in Family counseling often choose clinical psychology as an area of specialization because many family issues center on mental illnesses. Whether it's the parent, spouse or child who suffers from mental illness, the result is always the same in that it always affects the entire family. Family counselors who specialize in clinical psychology are trained to work not just with the patient suffering from mental illness but with the family members as well. These clinical psychologists can provide insight into mental illness, offer suggestions and medications to decrease symptoms, and provide counseling assistance to family members.

School Psychology

Although family counseling may be entirely different than school psychology, they often become intertwined because school problems and home problems are often related. When a child has a problem in school, the psychologist or family counselor often brings the parents into the school's treatment program planning and execution. Students in a Ph.D. in Family Counseling program who specialize in school psychology learn how to identify what's causing the problem and create a treatment plan that can help the individual both in school and at home.

Family counselors are in demand, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, who predict family therapists should see an employment growth of 23 percent from 2016-2026. When students earn a Ph.D. in family counseling, they are putting themselves in positions where they can offer many types of help to struggling families. Choosing an area of specialization allows them to focus on certain areas so they may pinpoint a family's area of need and provide the best possible treatment.

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