Counseling Psychologist

Counseling psychology is a growing specialty within the field of professional psychology. It focuses on helping to improve personal and interpersonal reationships throughout the life span. Counseling psychology places particular emphasis on social, educational, emotional, vocational and development health of individuals and organizations.

In practice, counseling psychology strives to help individuals improve their mental and emotional well-being, reduce stress, adjust to challenging circumstances life may present, address crises in a healthy and productive manner, and improve ability to fuction. As a practice-based discipline, counseling psychology maintains a unique perspective within the field of psychology with respect to developmental issues and problems associated with emotional, mental and physical disorders.

Counseling psychologists treat individual patients of all ages and backgrounds as well as groups of people, including families and organizations. They seek to enhance the quality of life and effectiveness of those they counsel. Their work focuses on prevention, development and adjustment.

Counseling Psychology vs Clinical Psychology
It's not surprising that many people mistake clinical and counseling psychology as the same field. The fact is, professional psychologists often identify themselves a "counseling" psychologists, while others describe themselves a "clinical" psychologists. To make things more confusing, the term "clincical" psychologist is often used generically to refer to licensed psychologists that provide direct patient care in health care settings, irrespective of their specialty. Although there are some similarities between these two branches of psychology, they are not the same. Counseling psychologists spend more time working with people and organizations to overcome common problems that prevent them from fully enjoying their lives. Clinical psychologists focus on treating individuals struggling with serious mental health problems, such as bipolar disorder and severe depression.

Both counseling and clinical psychologists receive training in counseling and psychotherapy. However, the difference between the two specialties is rooted in their history. The word "clinical" is derived from the Greek work "kline", which beans bed. "Counsel" comes from the Latin word "consulere", which means to consult, deliberate or advise. Hence, clinical psychology has traditionally referred to care provided to ill patients at their bedside, while counseling pyschology referred to care provided to patients who were ailed emotionally or mentally, but not necessarily ill (of a physical nature) or bedridden. Traditionally, clinical psychologists addressed issues relating to mental health, while the role of counseling psychologists was to provide vocational advice and guidance. Today, there are perhaps more similarities than differences between these two disciplines - especially since counseling psychology has come to rely more on scientific psychology than it previously did.

The roles of both counseling and clinical psychologists converged following World War II with an influx of returning veterans. In order to reintegrate into society, veterans frequently had to overcome various mental health issues associated with their involvement in the war. An essential element of their reintegration into society was acquiring and maintaining gainful employment. In order to meet the demand for mental health and vocational counseling services, the U.S. government (Veterans Administration hospital system) hired large numbers of clinical and counseling psychologists. While clinical psychologists focused largely on treating veterans' psychiatric problems, counseling psychologists provided vocational and educational advisement services. However, since vocation is such an integral element of a productive life, and mental health is an intergral part of vocation, the roles of counseling and clinical psychologists often overlapped.

Thus, the role of counseling psychologists today often reflects that of post-World War II America. They continue to provide vocational guidance and advisement, but may also provide patient interventions and address various mental health issues that affect quality of life, as well as an individual's ability to integrate into society. Both counseling and clinical psychologists are licensed in all 50 states as professional psychologists, and as such can provide direct patient care, psychotherapy and counseling services. Often what determines the role a counseling or clinical psychologist will perform is based on his or her training, orientation and style of practice.

Counseling Psychologist Employment
Counseling psychologists work in a variety of settings. A counseling psychologist's work is determined by the type of services he or she provides and the clients they serve. A large number of couseling psycologists have jobs as researchers and teachers at universities, but the majority work as independent clinical practitioners offering direct patient care. As independent practitioners, counseling psychologists provide assessments, interventions, counseling, and psychotherapy services to individuals and groups. Counseling psychologists work at mental health clinics, family service centers, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, consulting firms, Veterans Administration Medical Centers, businesses, and independent practice offices.

The mean annual wage for counseling psychologists is $67,650.

Education and Training Requirements
Training to become a counseling psychologist begins by earning a four-year bachelors degree and ends with a four- to five-year doctoral level degree (usually PhD, Psy.D. or Ed.D.). Earning a bachelor's degree in psychology, or field of behavioral science, is recommended but not always required. Many graduate programs in psychology will accept candidates with degrees in non-psychology fields but prefer students who have completed a degree in psychology. Given the competitive nature of graduate school admissions, we recommend earning a bachelor's degree in psychology if you plan on pursuing a career in counseling psychology.

Upon completion of a bachelor's degree program, students can either complete a master's degree in psychology or apply directly to a doctoral level program in psychology. In order to practice as a counseling psychologist, a doctorate degree (PhD, Psy.D. or Ed.D.) is required for licensing. Some doctorate degree programs require candidates to have first completed a master's degree. However, many doctoral level psychology programs accept bachelor's degree candidates as long as they've completed all prerequisite courses and score well on the GRE.

Most graduate level psychology programs are accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Psychology programs accredited by the APA must meet specific criteria with respect to curriculum, faculty, and facilities. Accreditation is set up to ensure students receive the highest level of up-to-date and relevant training as possible.

Students who pursue a doctorate degree in psychology can expect the following with respect to their education program.

  • A curriculum that will include coursework in the main areas of psychology (history of psychology, psychology systems, cognitive psychology, individual differences, biological bases of behavior, etc.)
  • Specialized training in counseling and direct patient care, as well as instruction in theories of assessment and evaluation, supervision, ethics, research design, and consultation. Other areas of specialization may include psychopathology, psychotherapy, and vocational and personality psychology.
  • Supervised clinical experience and lab work focused on assessment, psychotherapy, and couseling.
  • A one-year full-time APA accredited psychology internship.
  • Completion of a specialty relevant dissertation.

A list of APA-accredited Counseling Psychology PhD and PsyD programs can be found at

Job Outlook
Job growth for psychologists from 2012 through 2022 is projected to grow an average of 12%. However, job growth will vary by specialty. Job growth for counseling psychologists is projected to grow by 11% over the same period. Demand for psychologists will be highest in mental health centers, hospitals, social services agencies and schools.

Demand for counseling psychologists will continue to grow as people continue to rely on psychologists to help them address mental and emotional problems, including depression, job stress, addiction, marriage and family issues, and mental disorders. Counseling psychologists will also be need to help an aging population of people deal with the mental and physical challenges of growing older. Counseling psychology are always in high demand to counsel and treat war veterans, the autistic and others who face trauma.

Psychologists with a doctoral or specialist degree, including counseling psychologists, will have the best job prospects.

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