5 Concentrations for a Ph.D. in Family Counseling

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Updated August 4, 2020

5 Family Counseling Ph.D. Specializations

  • Counseling Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • School Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Addictions

Advanced education in marriage and family therapy provides students with enough training to become experts in family psychology, and most students choose to narrow their focus to a particular Ph.D. concentration in family counseling. Since family dysfunction can be caused by a variety of factors from basic biology to environmental stressors, specialists in these areas can help pinpoint the exact cause and provide an evidence-based course of treatment. Some family counseling specializations are as follows.

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

1. Counseling Psychology

This Ph.D. specialization trains students to treat counseling as a science and emphasizes using empirical methods to measure the efficacy of treatment programs. There is an emphasis on the family systems theory where each individual has a particular support role in the family and using this theory to explain different outcomes. Students also learn how to analyze new counseling trends that may emerge, as well as the methodology of designing trials to test hypotheses and new therapeutic models.

2. Developmental Psychology

Family counseling involves individuals of all ages, and understanding the developmental stage of children and adolescents, as well as some of the transitory stages later in life, can provide clues about a particular clinical situation. Students pursuing a Ph.D. in family counseling with an emphasis in developmental psychology study the biological and chemical changes in the brain throughout development, as well as the psychological stages of aging. From this perspective, they can work in a clinical setting, helping clients better understand themselves and their family members. Graduates can also find work in family counseling research using their background in developmental psychology to help drive treatment methods.

3. School Psychology

While school psychologists do initially primarily interact with a child, parents are quickly brought into the situation. Sometimes, problems at school are indicative of social issues at home. Other times, the student may have a developmental, emotional, or educational delay that might require extra intervention or a different approach from parents and siblings. Students in this Ph.D. program learn to recognize these issues and identify potential causes. Then, with the input of the family, they design a treatment plan and follow the patient with regular assessments to ensure improvement.

4. Clinical Psychology

This field of family counseling centers around diagnosed mental illnesses. Whether in a parent, spouse, child, or sibling, mental illness changes the entire family dynamic. These Ph.D. students learn how to train the family on how to best help their sick family member while also taking care of themselves and keeping the family unit stable. They also work with the affected individual, giving him or her insight into the disease, tips to mitigate symptoms, and help relating to loved ones.

5. Addictions

As a growing percentage of practitioners and the general public accept the idea of addiction as a disease rather than personal shortcoming, as reported by Forbes, there has been a greater emphasis on finding effective treatments. Some professionals who earn their Ph.D. in family counseling with a concentration in addiction studies research the biological, social, and psychological aspects of addiction. Others work directly with the addict and family before, during, and after the person begins treatment to help restore a healthy family dynamic.

Given the many different facets of a family system, researchers are constantly learning new information about the etiologies and best treatment for relationship difficulties. Students pursuing a Ph.D. in Family Counseling contribute to this research and put it into clinical practice.

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