Counseling psychologists help people adjust to challenges and problems that are preventing them from living a satisfying life. They help people in all stages of life deal with emotional, interpersonal, social, educational, developmental, career and health-related issues. Counseling psychologists are trained to address most issues that affect people.
Counseling psychologists naturally enough practice counseling psychology, one of the subfields of applied psychology. Unlike clinical psychology, counseling psychology is geared toward people who need help adjusting to problems and hurdles in their lives that are not primarily caused by psychological disorders. Although counseling psychologists are well-equipped to help those who are having significant issues in their lives because of mental disorders, they tend to address problems that are common to all people, with or without existing mental illness.
Counseling psychologists also integrate a client’s sociocultural context into treatment, making sure that cultural mores are respectfully treated in therapy. Both counseling and clinical psychologists are licensed psychologists.
The following are just a sampling of issues in which counseling psychologists treat:
- Work and career adjustment
- Changes in relationships and interpersonal issues, including family or marital problems
- Learning and skill deficits
- School issues, including adjustment and behavior
- Learning disorders
- Stress management
- Personal or social adjustment
- Adjusting to disease, chronic conditions or injuries
- Grief or end of life issues
- Identity development
- Psychological disorders
Counseling psychologists also teach clients more effective stress-coping skills, techniques for managing anxiety, as well as better listening and communicating skills.
Counseling Psychologists vs Clinical Psychologists
Counseling psychologists typically see clients who are having problems coping with significant life issues or adjusting to those issues. Just a few examples of these issues include divorce, job problems, the death of a loved one, or marital problems. Counseling psychologists typically serve clients who don’t have serious psychological or emotional problems. Thus, the problem is not one of pathology (the presence of a mental illness); rather, clients are having problems coping or adjusting to life problems. Counseling psychology focuses on helping people develop better coping abilities across their lifespans, as opposed to only learning to cope with mental illness.
Clinical psychologists identify, diagnose and treat psychological disorders. They focus on treating mental disorders, often within a hospital or inpatient behavioral health facility. It’s the job of counseling psychologists to help people with or without psychological disorders manage difficulties that arise in the course of living everyday life. Counseling psychologists have a strengths-based approach that uses a person’s existing positive abilities to grow new strengths and reinforce them.
Counseling and clinical psychology do have significant areas of overlap. There are no absolute rules found in differentiating between the two. Both counseling and clinical psychologists can diagnose and treat all degrees of mental illness; both can provide therapy for people having trouble adjusting to problems in their lives. One of the only hard and fast differences between counseling and clinical psychology lies in the choice of the practitioner’s focus and degree. Counseling psychologists have a terminal (Ph.D.) degree in counseling psychology; clinical psychologists have a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.
Becoming A Counseling Psychologist
Earning a degree in counseling psychology requires an individual completing a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s and Ph.D. in a APA-accredited counseling psychology program, or a combined master’s/Ph.D. program. It takes from 4 to 6 years post-bachelor’s to get a doctorate in counseling psychology. A counseling psychologist’s training includes a year or more of a supervised internship. The typical process looks like this:
- Earn a bachelor’s degree. While getting one’s bachelor’s degree, it’s helpful to get involved in activities that are similar to counseling. Working as a volunteer in a mental health setting is an example. Taking part in a mentorship program with a mental healthcare organization is also a good way to get experience and exposure to the world of counseling.
- Earn a doctorate. Counseling psychology students may obtain a traditional Ph.D. in Counseling (Doctor of Philosophy) or the Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) Ph.D. programs are focused on research, which works well for those who wish to work in an academic setting. Psy.D. counseling psychology programs teach students to understand and use research to help their clients, but do not teach students how to conduct research. It is essential to pick a program that is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Coursework takes 3 years to complete, which is then followed by a dissertation or terminal project, which can take another 2 to 3 years to complete. An internship is a part of all advanced degrees in psychology, which can take a year.
- Seek licensure. After earning their doctorate, graduates need to finish a post-doctoral placement. This allows doctoral students to get the experience required for licensure. Licensure is given at the state, national, and accrediting board levels. All psychologists must be licensed in the state in which they practice.
- Keep current with continuing education hours. All mental health professionals must have ongoing education and training to keep their licensure current. Continuing education hours are established by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) provides information on licensure in every state. Ethics training is usually a part of continuing education hours, but there are many areas in which counseling psycho
- Obtain specialization if desired. There are many licenses and areas of specialization that counseling psychologists may earn. These certifications speak to a psychologist’s expertise in more narrowly focused areas, like marriage and family counseling or substance abuse counseling.
Job Outlook For Counseling Psychologists
The job outlook for counseling psychologists is bright. The expected growth in the field is about 14 percent through the year 2026, which is above the national average. The mean salary for counseling psychologists, according to statistics from the Bureau of Labor is $85, 340.
Counseling psychology jobs can be found in many sectors of human service. School psychology, substance abuse rehabilitation counseling, sports psychology, forensic psychology, and private practice are just a few of the areas that call for counseling psychologists.
B.S. Psychology | Arkansas State University
M.A. Rehabilitation Counseling | Arkansas State University
M.A. English | Arkansas State University
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