Houston Graduate School of Theology


Academic Excellence, Personal Transformation, Leadership Development

An Introduction to the Doctor of Professional Counseling Degree


By Dr. Jacob Porter, Director of the Doctor of Professional Counseling Program and Assistant Professor of Counseling at Houston Graduate School of Theology

This past July, HGST welcomed the first incoming class of students in its brand new Doctor of Professional Counseling (DPC) program. The DPC program is only the second of its kind in the nation, which puts Houston Graduate School of Theology at the forefront in the development of what we believe will be a much sought after terminal degree for professional counselors. To say I feel thrilled and honored to be the director of this new program is an understatement.

Because the program is so new—not only to HGST, but to the greater world of professional counseling—I wanted to take a moment to introduce the DPC. Below are some fast facts to help you get to know the Doctor of Professional Counseling degree.

The DPC is a doctoral–level professional degree. Whereas a PhD is a program designed for academic research, professional doctoral degrees focus on practitioner research. In other words, while a PhD is meant to prepare one for academic scholarly research, professional doctorates are meant to prepare individuals for practicing their disciplines at the highest levels of excellence. This does not mean no research or academics are involved; on the contrary, academic rigor is essential in a professional doctorate. What it does mean is that the emphasis of the final research product is less on theory and concepts and more on application and practice.

HGST’s DPC program can be completed while working full time and without moving to Houston. The very nature of a professional doctorate actually requires that students are actively engaged in their professions, where they can in real–time apply their learning to the practice of their vocations. HGST’s DPC program is designed in such a way that you can live and work anywhere and still complete the program. Courses are designed so that students first do pre–seminar work, typically involving some reading, reflection, and writing. Students then come together for one week of seminars on campus. This week is then followed up with post–seminar work, which typically involves research and writing. Two semesters structured in this way take place each year. Without uprooting the family or having to start over in a new work setting, DPC students can participate in the program from right where they are.

The DPC program includes courses in both general professional counseling and in specialization areas. Every student in the DPC program will complete doctoral–level coursework covering a range of issues: ethical and legal considerations, assessments, supervision, spirituality, and more. Every student will also choose from one of five specialization areas: addictive and compulsive behavior; sex and sexuality; trauma, grief, and loss; life cycle; and relationship dynamics. Within their specialization, students will complete coursework and participate in consultation groups. The goal is for real–time application of what is being learned to the student’s practice of professional counseling. 

The final product of the DPC program is a thesis or project. What sets apart doctoral work from undergraduate and master level work is the expectation that one who holds a doctorate has contributed to his or her field of study. For PhD students, this is done through the production of a dissertation, a product of a thorough and rigorous research process that has been defended before a committee of experts. In professional doctoral degrees, students engage in methods of practitioner research, in which the theories and methods of academia are brought to bear in real–life settings. The DPC thesis or project will contribute to the field of professional counseling by reflecting back into academia the results of what happens when all that theory from academia is actually put into practice.

We believe the DPC, though currently a largely unknown degree, will soon become a highly sought distinction of excellence in the field of professional counseling. We admit that many have never heard of a Doctor of Professional Counseling, at least not yet. It is new on the scene, and so of course skeptics are out there naysaying the whole endeavor. But the DPC serves to fill an important niche in the professional counseling field. In 2012, then–President of the American Counseling Association, Don W. Locke, called for the creation of the DPC as “...movement toward high professional standards and parity with other allied health professionals and provides the skills required for progression to that level,” and “the next step in meeting the needs of both professional counselors and the clients they serve.”

Our first semester of our DPC program is wrapping up, and we are currently accepting applications for our second incoming group of DPC students. The program is open to LPCs and LMFTs who feel called to practice counseling with excellence and to contribute to the field through practitioner research. If you or someone you know might be interested in the DPC program, I want to invite you to reach out to me personally at jporter@hgst.edu.

Matt ForsterComment