Psychologists and counselors are both mental health practitioners. Individuals in both fields are state licensed. Both provide services directly to clients and most often can be reimbursable by insurance companies. Despite the fact that they have many overlapping duties, there are some distinctions that separate the two careers.
Educational Requirements for Counselors Versus Psychologists
In order to work as a professional counselor, professionals must possess a master’s degree. A counseling master’s degree programs is often longer than many other master’s programs. Clinical mental health counseling programs are transitioning to a 60-semester hour minimum throughout the country. Some of the counseling specialties, such as school or career counseling, require only 48 credit hours. Counseling programs follow curriculum standards set forth by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Many of the standards focus on the practical skills needed to help individuals through their life challenges.
A major difference between the two programs is that counseling programs do include coursework in research like psychology programs do. The major focus is, instead on how to be a good consumer of research and using the latest information to inform practice. Mental health counseling programs include a limited amount of coursework in psychopathology and some in assessment. Most psychologists receive doctoral level training, which requires study in research and statistics. Some specialties, such as industrial-organizational psychology require less, but a doctoral degree is required for work as a clinical or counseling psychologist. All graduate level mental health programs are competitive, but doctoral psychology programs are particularly competitive.
Scope of Practice for Counselors Versus Psychologists
A psychologist’s scope of practice often includes administration of a wide range of tests including intelligence tests and tests of neurological function. Psychologists may even administer tests to patients they do not see on a regular basis. The potential scope of practice for counselors varies from state to state, but they generally more limited in the tests they can perform. In some states, counselors pursue additional training so that they can administer psychometric assessments. Some states specify that a professional psychologist must supervise counselors working on qualification in psychometric assessment. Psychologists are also more likely to work with individuals with serious mental illness. They are trained to perform psychotherapy with a range of clients, but in many settings, general therapy roles will go primarily to counselors and other master’s level mental health practitioners.
Salaries for Counselors Versus Psychologists
Both professions are showing strong growth, however counseling is growing slightly faster. Jobs for mental health counselors are expected to grow 36 percent between 2010 and 2020. Jobs for counseling, clinical, and school psychologists, meanwhile, are expected to grow 22 percent. The mean salary for psychologists in these specialties was $73,090 in 2011. The mean salary for mental health counselors was $42,590.