The Difference Between a Counselor and a Counseling Psychologist

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Vida writes: "I'm a psychology student currently working on my bachelor's degree, but I'm a little bit confused about something. I've read descriptions of a counselor and a counseling psychologist, but I'm not sure how these differ. Is a counselor the same thing as a counseling psychologist?"

While counselors and counseling psychologists perform a lot of similar duties, there are actually a number of important differences between the two professions.

Let's start by looking at some of the key similarities between counseling and counseling psychology.

  • Both are mental health practitioners
  • Both can provide psychotherapy
  • Both may specialize in a particular area, such as working with children, adults, or couples
  • Both help clients improve well-being
  • Both work in diverse areas including hospitals, government offices, mental health clinics, academic settings, and private practice

So how exactly do counselors and counseling psychologists differ? Some of the major differences between the two professions include:

Education and Training Differences:

One of the major differences can be seen in the educational and training requirements for each profession.

Counselors generally have at minimum a master's degree in either counseling or psychology. Most masters programs require 60 credit hours of study. Those who become licensed professional counselors are required to pass a national professional exam and complete a specified number of supervised hours in the field.

One of the attractions of counseling programs is that they require less time to complete than a doctorate, allowing students to enter the workforce faster. Another reason why such programs appeal to students is that some allow for part-time study, making it possible for students to remain employed in their current jobs while they earn a master's degree.

Counseling psychologists, on the other hand, hold a Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D. degree in counseling psychology. Such programs tend to include a greater focus on research than is typically seen in master's level counseling programs.

Such programs usually take five years to complete. The first four years are complete required courses, research, clinical experiences, and a dissertation. The fifth year is usually spent doing a supervised internship in the field.

In many cases, both counseling psychology and counseling programs are housed within a university's College of Education (although not always). Counseling programs and counseling psychology programs also receive accreditation from different accrediting bodies. In the United States, counseling programs are accredited through the Counsel for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and counseling psychology programs are accredited through the American Psychological Association (APA).

Scope of Practice:

Another key difference between counselors and counseling psychologists can be seen in the type of duties they usually perform.

While counseling psychologists often conduct psychological assessments and administer diagnostic tests to clients, counselors are sometimes limited in terms of the tests they are able to administer. State laws may dictate which type of assessments a counselor can offer and may require that the administration of such tests be supervised by a psychologist.

Counseling psychologists may also work with individuals suffering from more serious forms of mental illness than counselors. More general emotional, relationship, social, and academic problems are often referred to counselors because they are sometimes able to offer more cost-effective treatments.

However, both type of professionals offer important mental health services designed to help people overcome problems and optimize their well-being. Counselors often choose to focus on a specialty area such as school counseling, career counseling, marriage and family counseling, mental health counseling, and addictions counseling. Similarly, counseling psychologists often elect to specialize in a particular area such as substance abuse, child development, health psychology, community psychology, crisis intervention, or developmental disabilities.

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