What’s the Difference Between Clinical and Counseling Psychology?

What’s the Difference Between Clinical and Counseling Psychology?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably heard of all the different types of counselors, therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, etc., and got confused as to what they all did that differentiated them from one another. I know some dispense medication, some have different types of degrees and education, and they all work with a person’s mental health in some way. But when it comes to clinical psychology and counseling psychology, what’s the difference?

Clinical psychology refers to a specific field in psychology that focuses on diagnosing and treating certain diseases that pertain to the brain, behavioral problems, and emotional instability. Its focus is on psychopathology – the analysis of mental disorders. Clinical psychologists do more work assessing, diagnosing, and managing a person’s specific mental illness.

On the other hand, counseling psychologists often work with clients who are psychologically stable and are seeking help with alleviating their everyday stressors in life. Their goal is to equip their patients with the necessary coping skills to help manage their symptoms.

What Education Is Needed to Become a Clinical Psychologist?

What Education Is Needed to Become a Clinical Psychologist?

To become a clinical psychologist, you first need to complete your undergraduate degree and acquire a doctorate. Some students will also complete a master’s degree in between earning the two. It can take between 8-12 years to become licensed.

Though you would think your undergrad degree should be in psychology, that isn’t necessarily true. To get accepted into a doctorate program, you can get your undergrad in any discipline. You just need to meet specific GPA requirements and have letters of recommendation.

During your doctorate program, you will need to complete a dissertation, a document you submit where you present your findings in whatever topic of interest you choose and conduct your independent research. After you have completed your research, you will present it to a board of professionals.

When you have obtained your doctorate, in most states, you will be required to obtain supervised clinical hours prior to being licensed. The number of hours will vary from state to state.

After completing your hours, you must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). This test has 225 multiple choice questions, and you will have four hours to complete it. In order to pass, you must receive a score of 70 percent or higher. This test can cost around $450.

What Careers Are Available for a Clinical Psychologist?

Clinical psychologists work in a variety of environments such as:

  • Clinics
  • Psychiatric facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Independent practices
  • The school system
  • Businesses and organizations

In all of these environments, a clinical psychologist may act as an organizational psychologist, marriage and family therapist, researcher, clinical psychology professor, or psychotherapist.

When working for various business organizations, clinical psychologists usually work as independent contractors. They may be found at:

  • Health Care Organizations: These can be hospitals, managed care companies, and rehabilitation treatment facilities. Their roles would be to provide psychological tests, counseling, and assessments and formulate a diagnosis and treatment plan for their clients.
  • Schools: This applies to public, private, colleges, universities, and technical schools. They would help students with their academics, social, and psychological problems by providing various assessments and referrals for further treatment.
  • Mental Health Clinics: These clinics are generally government-run and are for people who don’t have insurance or can’t afford to see a clinical psychologist in their private practice.
  • Other organizations: They can be corporations, legal organizations, governmental agencies, and the military.

What Education is Needed to Become a Counseling Psychologist?

What Education is Needed to Become a Counseling Psychologist?


You can earn an undergraduate degree in counseling psychology, or you can earn the degree in graduate school. In order to get into a master’s program, you will most likely need an undergraduate degree in counseling psychology or general psychology. Whatever your degree, it will usually need to have counseling classes included.

To be accepted to a master’s program, you may need to take the Graduate Entrance Exam (GRE), though some programs will accept you without it if you have a high GPA.

Some states will require you to have a doctorate, either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. If you were to get a Ph.D., you would be more prepared to do counseling psychology in the academic community. If your doctorate is a Psy.D., the program will carry an emphasis on practicing counseling.

Your doctorate can take around 3-5 years to complete, and that includes your doctoral thesis and internship, which takes place during your final year. While you are interning, you will be working directly with patients but under the supervision of a licensed counseling psychologist.

The licensing requirements will vary depending upon the state where you want to work. Most states will require you to have your doctorate though other states may only require a master’s degree plus two years of supervised practice. There are also a number of states that will require you to take a jurisprudence exam. This is an exam that shows you know the legal aspects of practicing psychology in your state. You will also need to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).

What Careers Are Available for a Counseling Psychologist?

Counseling psychologists work in most places where a clinical psychologist works. Their job functions are what vary. They can work as a:

  • School Counselor: They help students with career choices, mental health issues, social problems, and dealing with the pressures and stress of life.
  • Clinical Social Worker: They provide children, youth, and the elderly with the mental health services they need. They also help victims of trauma and abuse to improve their overall sense of well-being.
  • Organizational Counselor: Counselors who work in organizations to assist workers in achieving their highest levels of performance and efficiency.
  • Adult and Geriatric Counselor: Assisting the elderly with compassion and empathy, as well as preserving their mental health.
  • Group Counselor: Counselors who work specifically with group settings by facilitating discussions with members who share a common background or experience.
  • Sports Psychologist: These counselors help athletes to perform their best and aid them in achieving their goals.
  • Health Psychologist: These counselors usually aid people who have chronic health disorders, helping them to maximize their functional abilities.

Who Makes More Money, a Clinical Psychologist or a Counseling Psychologist?

Who Makes More Money, a Clinical Psychologist or a Counseling Psychologist?

Because psychologists are more of a social service field than a science field, they tend to be underfunded. Without a graduate degree, salaries can be quite low. So the salary will depend upon different factors such as where you work, i.e., in a hospital or private practice, and if you are in a management position. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) records the median annual salary for a clinical psychologist at $70,580 and counseling psychologists new to the field around $51,000. However, after working in the field between five and twenty years, the median goes up to around $65,000 annually.

However, the numbers change for psychologists who work in the top settings, such as for the government, hospitals, and ambulatory healthcare services. These workers made an average of $100,360 in government, $90,640 in hospitals, and $85,970 in the field of ambulatory healthcare services.

For those with graduate degrees, the demand for mental health counselors is anticipated to increase at a rate of 20 percent through 2024. Positions in counseling, clinical, and school psychology are expected to grow at a 19 percent pace.

8 Influential Clinical and Counseling Psychologists Alive Today

Below are eight influential clinical and counseling psychologists that are still alive today. They were selected from global leaders and dominant philosophers who shed light on the field of psychology.

  1. Martin Seligman: Known for his theory of learned helplessness and his study of depression. He has written twenty books and 250 scholarly publications.
  2. Philip Zimbardo: Psychologist and Stanford University professor emeritus who has researched and explored areas in shyness, madness, terrorism, and evil. He is most known for the Stanford Prison Experiment, in which he demonstrated how simple it was for high-achieving college students to blur the boundary between good and evil.
  3. Elizabeth Loftus: A cognitive psychologist known for her expertise in human memory. She conducted research on eyewitness memory and the misinformation effect – the way that receiving incorrect or misleading information after receiving true information might cause a person’s understanding to be distorted. She has received numerous honors and awards.
  4. Alison Gopnik: A prominent counseling psychologist who is recognized for her cognitive and language development studies. She frequently appears on television and is known for her appearances on the television show The Colbert Report.
  5. Barbara L. Fredrickson: A social psychologist counselor and professor who researches emotions, positive psychology, and social relationships. She has received numerous awards, including the American Psychological Association’s Templeton Prize in Positive Psychology.
  6. Aaron T. Beck: His work centered on diagnosing and treating depression, anxiety, and phobia disorders. He is mostly known for the cognitive approach to therapy for depression, which has a higher success rate in treating depression than other forms of psychotherapy.
  7. Richard J. Davidson: Davidson is known for embracing Buddhist mindfulness and meditation traditions to help achieve inner peace and spiritual growth. He has studied thoroughly the EEGs and fMRIs (functional magnetic resonance imaging) of the brains of Tibetan monks while meditating and believes their meditational practices are an invaluable aid in mind-training.
  8. Paul Ekman: Ekman’s area of experience is with nonverbal communication in people, especially how they communicate emotions through various facial expressions. He has created an “atlas of emotions” in which he links more than 10,000 discernable facial expressions.

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