Understanding the Clinical and Counseling Psychology Differences?

clinical vs counseling psychology

Psychology is a popular choice for college students at both undergraduate and graduate levels. While there are several concentrations that students can choose from, clinical and counseling psychology fall into the top choice categories. While the choice may seem complicated, once students know the difference between clinical and counseling psychology, they will find it easy to reach a decision. Each of the concentrations offers a series of features and benefits for diverse career options. Students can study these differences closely to see which one suits their career goals and interests best.

In this article, we have researched the differences between clinical and counseling psychology. Graduates use their knowledge and skills to care for the well-being of others. Clinical and counseling psychologists work in private practices, universities, hospitals, wellness centers, and schools. Professionals from both sectors work in similar settings, but there are key differences between these two branches of psychology. One thing to note for clinical vs. counseling psychology is both these subjects are offered as master’s degrees. Therefore, students have to complete their bachelor’s in psychology and choose from these two options for graduate or postgraduate education. 

Understanding the Clinical and Counseling Psychology Differences

There are many areas of overlap between clinical and counseling psychology. Students of both have to study the same core topics and meet the same degree requirements, completing practicum and internships. It is only when students choose a specialization to tailor their degree that clinical psychology and counseling psychology begin to differ in their focus areas.

Counseling psychology students focus more on humanistic and client-centered treatments, while those who want to work as clinical psychologists focus mostly on behavioral issues and psychoanalytic persuasions. In theoretical orientation and research, counseling students veer towards cognitive behavior, while clinical psychology students tend to shift towards psychodynamic research. The former provides advice and guidance, while the latter looks to address various mental health disturbances, though the lines between clinical versus counseling psychology can be blurry and overlap, as mentioned.

Clinical psychology overview 

clinical vs counseling psychology

Clinical psychology programs train students to work in various clinical settings. This branch of science focuses on psychopathology or the study of mental disorders. They help their patients address and cope with various emotional, social, and physical issues that they are facing. 

Clinical psychologists are trained to treat a broad range of mental disorders, from post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorders to schizophrenia. Sometimes the work of clinical psychologists may overlap with that of a psychiatrist, but they cannot prescribe many medications in the way the latter can. Also, psychiatrists have to undergo complete medical training in an accredited program, while clinical psychologists can start practicing once they have received licensure after their master’s degrees. 

Clinical psychologists work in various settings and deal with a broad range of psychopathology and clinical diagnoses. clinical psychologists receive extensive training in theoretical orientations, including behavioral, psychoanalytic, and cognitive-behavioral theoretical foundations. Clinical psychology programs will vary depending on their focus areas within clinical psychology, they may receive more extensive clinical training with serious psychopathology. These may include conditions like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depressive disorders, among others. They work in clinical practice for community mental health centers, hospitals, inpatient settings, primary care settings, private practice, universities, and academic medical centers.  

Clinical Psychology programs emphasize a scientific and competency-based study of mental disorders. They help people who are struggling with various mental health and behavioral issues. Clinical psychologists gain the skills to help make a difference through compassionate, professional support to help overcome their challenges. Students of clinical psychology explore assessments and the important theories and practical applications of psychotherapy. The coursework prepares them to work as clinical psychologists in research, consulting, clinical practice, government settings, or doctoral-level programs.

A typical master’s in clinical psychology may include courses like:

  •   Behavioral Neuroscience   
  •   Behavioral Neuroanatomy  
  •   Behavioral Neurology  
  •   Behavioral Neurology  
  •   CBT for Depression  
  •   Child Assessment Psychopath  
  •   Child Psychopathology  
  •   Child Psychotherapy  
  •   Cognitive & Behavioral Therapy  
  •   Ethics   
  •   Lifespan Developmental Psychology  
  •   Mental Health Policy  
  •   Neuroimaging  
  •   Neuropsychological Assessment  
  •   Primary Care Psychology  
  •   Psychodynamic Traditions  
  •   Psychopharm  

Specializations in clinical psychology may include:

  • Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)
  • Applied Psychology
  • Educational Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Health Psychology
  • Self-Designed
  • Social Psychology
  • Applied Research
  • Clinical Counseling
  • Forensic Psychology

Work Focus for Clinical Psychologists:

  • Disorder-specific therapy
  • Administering tests on patients depending on the severity of their condition
  • Administer a wide range of tests: tests of neurological function, IQ tests, etc.
  • Working with individuals with serious mental illnesses and behavior problems
  • Conducting research and getting involved in research projects frequently

What is counseling psychology: An overview 

clinical vs counseling psychology

Counseling psychologists tend to be more holistic in their work. Therefore, counseling psychology programs can vary widely. A counseling psychologist will work with patients to alleviate stressors in their life and provide them with coping skills. Counseling psychologists address and treat a wide range of issues, including anxieties, depression, insomnia, abuse, and emotional duress. Students can choose an area of specialty like gender and sexuality, school counseling or marriage and family, etc., to develop specific competencies. However, in most cases, counseling psychologists do not work with psychologically unstable patients, for they are treated mostly in clinical settings. A counseling psychologist will focus more on healthy individuals with fewer pathological mental problems, while clinical psychologists focus more on psychosis or other serious mental illnesses. 

The work of counseling psychologists is based on a blend of humanistic psychotherapy, the natural sciences of psychoanalysis, and cognitive behavioral therapy. The work of counseling psychologists is more through verbal communication, listening to patients, advising them, discussing issues to reach the core of the problem and building resilience in patients. 

Counseling psychology programs will teach counseling psychologists to work in diverse settings like community mental health centers, schools, college counseling programs, rehabilitation centers, and private practice. Counseling psychologists help individuals and families deal with issues related to work-life, chronic pain, compulsive disorders, social adjustments, trauma, romantic relationships, family dynamics, or substance abuse. 

A typical master’s in counseling psychology may include courses like:

  •   Counseling Multicultural Communities    
  •   Counseling Skills    
  •   Counseling Techniques  
  •   Counseling Theories  
  •   Couple and Family Counseling    
  •   Crisis Intervention and Trauma Counseling  
  •   Diagnosis of Maladaptive Behavior  
  •   Family Dynamics    
  •   Group Dynamics, Processing, and Counseling  
  •   Human Growth and Development  
  •   Integrating Spiritual and Religious Issues in Counseling  
  •   Professional Functions of Clinical Mental Health Counselors  
  •   Professional, Legal, and Ethical Responsibilities Relating to Professional Counseling  
  •   Psychopathology and Maladaptive Behavior  
  •   Research and Program Evaluation  
  •   Social and Cultural Foundations of Counseling Psychology   
  •   Substance Abuse and Addiction  
  •   Treatment Planning and Intervention  

 Specializations in counseling psychology may include:

  • Health Counseling.
  • LGBTQ Counseling.
  • Marriage Counseling.
  • Religious Counseling.
  • Trauma Counseling.
  • Counseling and Human Sexuality
  • Child and Adolescent Counseling
  • Counseling Older Adults and Families
  • Mind, Body, and Meditative Practices in Counseling
  • Applied Psychology
  • Behavioral Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology

Work Focuses for counseling psychologists: 

  • General therapy
  • Dealing with less severe mental issues
  • Assisting people in day-to-day issues life management
  • Emphasizing advice, listening, and “talk therapy.”
  • Conducting research tailored to clients’ needs

How to choose the right specialization – Clinical Psychology vs Counseling Psychology

Choosing between a counseling and clinical psychologist is a matter of preference and career goals. Students focusing on clinical psychology will deal with more severe psychological disorders than those choosing counseling psychology. Students should be prepared to deal with a broad array of behavioral, social, and emotional problems and counsel clients from diverse backgrounds for the latter choice. Both clinical and counseling psychology involves the same licensing process though that may vary between states. However, clinical psychologist requirements may include internships in more clinical settings while a future counseling psychologist will work in supervised settings dealing with group and individual therapy sessions.

Clinical vs counseling psychology: What to keep in mind?

Students choosing between becoming a clinical and counseling psychologist need to determine where their career interests lie. Are they more interested in working with patients with serious psychological and mental health disorders? In that case, they may lean towards psychopathology that falls under clinical psychology. If they are more interested in providing emotional and vocational support for a healthier population base, they may lean towards counseling psychology. Each program offers a wide range of emphasis areas to further specialize one’s studies along with hands-on experience via internships to help guide one’s future career after graduation. Whether you choose to be a clinical or counseling psychologist, your work is vital in today’s society.

Other things to keep in mind:

Online or traditional format: Colleges offer both formats more frequently since many students choose to work and study simultaneously. Students can choose the format that best fits their needs, be it cost-wise or commute-wise. Students gain and master the knowledge and skills in research, critical thinking, and strategic analysis. There is more flexibility in the online version, and students are not bound by geographical boundaries. Traditional schools can be more expensive, but in-person teaching can be beneficial for students. Most of the top online colleges for psychology offer both online and on-campus formats. Both equip students with the skills they need to excel as clinical psychologists or therapists. 

Cost: Cost is an important consideration for most students. Typically, online colleges cost less, but that may vary between private, state, and public universities. On-campus, students have to bear a lot of other expenses like the cost of books and supplies, and living expenses, along with tuition and fees. They will also have personal expenses and transportation to consider. Online options are flexible and designed for working adults who can complete their education and get an advanced degree as they continue their day jobs. 

Accreditation: The American Psychological Association (APA) recognizes both clinical and counseling psychology and accredits masters to doctoral level programs in each field. Accreditation means that the program meets the Standards of Accreditation in Health Service Psychology (SOA) and will be recognized at all industry levels. While the program may offer unique courses and define differing training goals for students, graduates from both are competent and trained in providing psychological services to the public. 

Students should also consider the school’s admissions rate, student support system, staff and faculty profiles, regional and national recognition, graduation rate, placements, and the employment rate of its graduates.

Counseling and Clinical psychology: Jobs and Job Outlook

clinical vs counseling psychology

Entry-level jobs in the field start with lower salaries, but students can expect to earn more as they gain graduate education and hands-on work experience. However, the salary ranges for clinical and counseling psychologists can then vary a great deal depending on the setting that one is practicing and the title they hold. Management positions and those working as senior psychologists naturally earn more. The salary also varies between settings, including clinics and hospitals, schools and universities, corporate settings, or private practice.

Typical job titles in clinical psychology include:

  • Mental Health Social Worker
  • Learning Disabilities Specialist
  • Clinical Counselor
  • Clinical Case Manager
  • Licensed Clinical Psychologist
  • Research Psychologist
  • Rehabilitation Psychologist
  • Forensic Psychologist
  • Clinical Director
  • Neuropsychologist

Typical jobs in counseling psychology include:

  • Rehabilitation Psychology Therapist
  • Mental Health Specialist
  • Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)
  • Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
  • Rehabilitation Counselor
  • Crisis Counselor
  • Counseling Therapist
  • School Counselor
  • Family Therapist
  • University Counseling Centers

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that the average annual salary for psychologists, in general, is around $82,180. Jobs in this sector will grow 3 percent through 2029. Prospects are even better for those who have graduate and postgraduate degrees in an applied specialty.

The median annual salary for clinical psychologists is around $99,597. The median annual wage for counseling psychologists or therapists is approximately $85,900. 

Clinical versus Counseling psychology: Conclusion

Whether they choose clinical or counseling studies, aspiring clinical and counseling psychologists have one thing in common- they are both passionate about helping people. They seek to understand human behavior and actions and use their knowledge to help patients deal with situations and address problematic behaviors. Clinical and counseling psychologists are insightful professionals who predict behaviors based on scientific information and cases they have studied and help patients cope with stressful situations and adapt.

Clinical and counseling psychologists often perform similar work as practitioners and researchers since there is a great deal of overlap. The differences in the research areas may include vocational assessment and minority/cross-cultural psychology for the former and psychopathological conditions for the latter. As we have seen, clinical psychologists deal with serious mental illnesses, where hospitalization may be required. Counseling psychologists deal with behavioral problems that can be resolved in individual or community settings via a humanistic approach.


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 
American Psychological Association (APA)
U.S. News & World Report 

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