Understanding Clinical and Counseling Psychology Differences

clinical vs counseling psychology

Psychology is a popular choice for college students. This includes those at both undergraduate and graduate levels. There are several concentrations that students can choose from. However, clinical and counseling psychology fall into the top choice categories. The choice may seem complicated at first. Each of the concentrations offers features and benefits for diverse career options. Students can decide which one suits their career goals and interests best.

This article has 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 various settings. Examples include:

  • private practices
  • universities
  • hospitals
  • wellness centers
  • schools

Professionals from both sectors work in similar settings. Still, there are critical differences between these two branches of professional psychology. Both these subjects are offered as master’s degrees or as doctoral programs, like PsyD clinical psychology programs. Thus, students have to complete their bachelor’s in psychology first. Then, they can choose from these two options for graduate or postgraduate education. 

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Understanding the Clinical and Counseling Psychology Differences

There are many areas of overlap between clinical and counseling psychology. Students of both types of professional psychology have to study the same core topics. They must also meet the same degree requirements and complete practicums and internships. The similarities end once students choose a specialization to tailor their degree.

Counseling psychology students focus more on humanistic and client-centered treatments. Meanwhile, aspiring clinical psychologists focus primarily on behavioral issues and psychoanalytic persuasions. In theoretical orientation and research, counseling students veer towards cognitive behavior. Clinical psychology students tend to shift towards psychodynamic research. The former provides advice and guidance. The latter looks to address various mental health disturbances. Still, the lines between clinical versus counseling psychology can be blurry and overlap.

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. Clinical psychologists help their patients address various emotional, social, and physical issues. 

Clinical psychologists are trained to treat a broad range of mental disorders. These conditions span diagnoses like post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorders, and schizophrenia. Sometimes, the work of clinical psychologists may overlap with that of a psychiatrist. Psychologists cannot prescribe medications the way psychiatrists can, though. Also, psychiatrists must undergo complete medical training in an accredited doctoral program. Conversely, clinical psychologists can start a private practice after completing a master’s-level graduate program and receiving licensure. 

Clinical psychologists work in various settings. They deal with a broad range of psychopathology and clinical diagnoses. Clinical psychologists receive extensive training in theoretical orientations. These may include behavioral, psychoanalytic, and cognitive-behavioral theoretical foundations. Clinical psychology programs will vary depending on their focus areas within clinical psychology. For instance, they may receive more extensive clinical training for serious psychopathology. These may include conditions like:

  • bipolar disorder
  • schizophrenia
  • major depressive disorders

They work in clinical practice in different settings. Examples may include:

  • community mental health centers
  • hospitals
  • inpatient settings
  • primary care settings
  • private practice
  • universities and college counseling centers
  • academic medical centers  

Clinical psychology degree 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 make a difference through compassionate, professional support. Students in clinical psychology doctoral programs explore assessments. They also study the important theories and practical applications of psychotherapy. The coursework prepares them to work as clinical psychologists in various settings. These include research, consulting, clinical practice, government settings, or doctoral-level programs.

Typical master’s degree programs 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   

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
  • Administering 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. Thus, counseling psychology programs can vary widely. A counseling psychologist will work with patients to reduce stressors in their life. They may also provide them with coping skills. Counseling psychologists address and treat a wide range of issues. These could include:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • insomnia
  • abuse
  • emotional distress

Students can choose an area of specialty to develop specific competencies. Examples include gender and sexuality, school counseling, or marriage/family, and more. In most cases, counseling psychologists do not work with psychologically unstable patients. A counseling psychologist will focus more on individuals with fewer pathological mental problems. Meanwhile, clinical psychologists focus more on psychosis or other serious mental illnesses. 

The work of counseling psychologists is complex. It may blend humanistic psychotherapy, natural sciences of psychoanalysis, and cognitive behavioral therapy. The work of counseling psychologists focuses on verbal communication. These psychologists are skilled in listening to and advising patients. They focus on reaching the core of the problem and building resilience. 

Counseling psychology programs will teach counseling psychologists to work in diverse settings. These may include:

  • community mental health centers
  • schools
  • college counseling programs

Counseling psychologists may also work in rehabilitation centers or private practice. Counseling psychologists may help individuals and families deal with various issues. These may include:

  • work-life
  • chronic pain
  • compulsive disorders
  • social adjustments
  • trauma
  • romantic relationships
  • family dynamics
  • substance use

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

  •   Counseling Multicultural Communities    
  •   Counseling Skills    
  •   Counseling Techniques  
  •   Family Dynamics    
  •   Group Dynamics, Processing, and Counseling  
  •   Human Growth and Development  
  •   Social and Cultural Foundations of Counseling Psychology   
  •   Substance Abuse and Addiction  
  •   Treatment Planning and Intervention  

 Specializations for a graduate program in counseling psychology may include:

  • Health Counseling.
  • LGBTQ Counseling.
  • Marriage Counseling.
  • Religious Counseling.
  • Trauma Counseling.
  • Counseling and Human Sexuality

Work Focuses for counseling psychologists: 

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

Key Difference Between Clinical Psychology vs Counseling Psychology

Choosing between a counseling and a clinical psychologist is a matter of preference. Students focusing on clinical psychology will deal with more severe psychological disorders among patient populations. Counseling psychology students should be prepared to address a broad array of problems. These could include behavioral, social, and emotional problems. They must also provide counseling to clients from diverse backgrounds. Both clinical and counseling psychology involves the same basic licensing process. This process may vary by state, though. Clinical psychologist requirements may include internships in more clinical settings. Future counseling psychologists will work in supervised settings before they can practice independently. They could take part in both group and individual therapy sessions.

Difference Between Clinical Psychology and Counseling Psychology: What to Keep in Mind

When deciding whether to become a clinical or counseling psychologist, students must determine their career interests. They may be interested in working with patients with severe mental health disorders. In that case, they may lean towards clinical psychology. They could be more interested in providing emotional and vocational support. If so, they may lean towards counseling psychology. Each program offers a wide range of emphasis areas. They may also provide hands-on experience via internships. Despite the difference between clinical and counseling psychology, both roles are vital in today’s society.

Other things to keep in mind:

Online or traditional format: Many colleges offer both formats. This is because 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 master knowledge and skills in research, critical thinking, and strategic analysis. There is more flexibility in the online version. Traditional schools can be more expensive. Still, in-person teaching can be beneficial for students. Financial aid is often available as well. Most of the top online colleges for psychology offer both formats. Both equip students to excel as clinical psychologists or therapists. 

Cost: Cost is an essential 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. These could include the cost of books and supplies, living expenses, and tuition and fees. They will also have personal expenses and transportation to consider. Online options are flexible. These programs are designed for working adults. Here, they can get an advanced degree as they continue their day jobs. Financial aid is typically available for both formats.

Accreditation: The American Psychological Association (APA) recognizes both clinical and counseling psychology. This organization accredits graduate degree programs in each field. Accredited programs meet the Standards of Accreditation in Health Service Psychology (SOA). These programs are recognized at all industry levels. The program may offer unique courses and define differing training goals for students. Still, graduates from both are competent in providing psychological and counseling services to the public. 

Students should also consider other factors when choosing a program. Some of these may include:

  • the school’s admissions rate
  • student support system
  • staff and faculty profiles
  • regional and national recognition
  • graduation rate
  • placements
  • the employment rate of its graduates

Difference Between Clinical And Counseling Psychology: Jobs and Job Outlook

clinical vs counseling psychology

Entry-level jobs for licensed psychologists in the field start with a lower median annual salary. Still, students can expect to earn more as they gain hands-on work experience. The salary ranges for clinical and counseling psychologists can vary a great deal. Wages depend on the setting that one is practicing and the title one holds. Management positions and those working as senior licensed psychologists naturally earn more. The salary also varies between settings. Both clinical psychology and counseling psychology practitioners will earn more or less depending on where they work.

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

Typical jobs in counseling psychology include:

  • 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 $81,040. Jobs in this sector will grow 6 percent through 2031. Prospects are even better for those with graduate and postgraduate degrees than those with only a bachelor’s degree. A doctoral degree in an applied specialty could also be helpful.

Clinical Versus Counseling psychology: Conclusion

Aspiring clinical and counseling psychologists have some things in common regarding career paths. They are both passionate about helping people recovering from mental illness. They seek to understand human behavior and actions. They use their knowledge to help patients address problematic behaviors. Clinical and counseling psychologists are insightful professionals who provide direct services. They predict behaviors based on scientific information and cases they have studied. They also help patients cope with stressful situations and adapt.

Clinical and counseling psychologists often perform similar work as practitioners and researchers. There may be differences in their psychological science research areas, though. The former may include vocational assessment and minority/cross-cultural psychology. The latter may focus on psychopathological conditions. Clinical psychologists deal with serious mental illnesses where hospitalization may be required. Counseling psychologists deal with minor mental illness, typical life stresses, and behavioral problems. These are issues that can often be resolved in individual or community settings. Both counseling and clinical psychologists may conduct their own independent research as well.