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The Difference Between Clinical and Counseling Psychology


If you’re considering a clinical psychologist degree, counseling psychologist degree, or any other graduate degree in psychology, you have many choices ahead of you. From what type of degree to earn to which school to make your home. One of the most basic—yet most important—decisions you will make about an advanced degree in psychology is what type of psychology you want to study. While there is some overlap between different branches of psychology, there are also many differences, and the area of psychology you decide to study will determine your educational and career path for years to come.

People often struggle to understand the difference between counseling psychology and clinical psychology. This is why we would like to describe what clinical and counseling psychologists do.

Clinical psychologists and counseling psychologists share many functions. For example, both groups of psychologists provide psychotherapy and participate in research. They’re employed in similar settings, such as universities and college counseling centers, community health clinics, hospitals, and private practice. When it comes to licensure, there’s also no difference between the groups—clinical psychologists and counseling psychologists are both considered “licensed psychologists” in all 50 states.

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What Is The Difference Between Clinical and Counseling Psychology?

While both clinical psychology and counseling psychology shares many functions, they differ in origin, theory, and career paths. We can start to see the differences when we examine the root of both words. The term clinical derives from the Greek “kline,” which means bed, which may reference clinical treatment provided at a patient’s bedside. The term counseling derives from the Latin “consulere,” which means to advise or consul.

Knowing the minute differences between the two can help you choose the ideal psychology degree program. Let’s explore clinical psychology vs counseling psychology a little more in-depth.

Clinical counseling is a branch of clinical psychology that assists people as they navigate mental health challenges. Additionally, clinical counseling can be considered part of social work fields and professional counseling.

What Is Clinical Psychology?

As a clinical psychologist, you tend to work more with a serious mental illness. The work of a clinical psychologist often overlaps with that of a psychiatrist; after WWII, clinical psychologists began to treat soldiers returning from war for issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder—work that would previously have been reserved for a psychiatrist. Clinical psychologists today focus on a variety of serious mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depressive disorders, among others.

In terms of the theories that underlay their work, clinical psychologists focus on psychoanalytic and behavioral persuasions when treating their clients; their training tends to emphasize psychopathology. Clinical psychologists are often employed in more clinical “bedside” settings such as hospitals and medical schools, though many also work in private practice. Other areas of work include mental health counseling.

What Is Counseling Psychology?

In contrast to their clinical counterparts, counseling psychologists tend to work more with healthy patients who have fewer serious psychological problems. Their work focuses more on emotional, social and physical issues that arise from typical life stresses or more serious issues associated with school, work or family settings. Thus, their work is more client-centric, focusing on wellness and prevention rather than pathology. Counseling psychologists might see patients for relationship issues, substance abuse counseling, career advice, difficulty adapting to life changes and other such issues.

In addition to following humanistic traditions, training for counseling psychologists tends to emphasize multiculturalism and offers a more holistic education. Counseling psychologists are often employed at universities, especially in university counseling centers, but also as teachers, supervisors, and researchers. Many counseling psychologists are also employed in human service settings such as mental health centers, family services, and rehabilitation centers.

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Should I Be A Clinical Or Counseling Psychologist?

Your choice of graduate psychology program will depend upon your interests. Are you interested in studying psychopathology and working with patients with serious psychological and mental health disorders? Or are you more interested in providing emotional and vocational support for a healthier population base?

Whatever your career preference is, a doctorate program in either clinical psychology or counseling psychology will serve you well. In fact, in an informal study of counseling and clinical psychology programs around the country, researchers found a number of similarities between the two types of programs – and noted that there are so many differences in individual clinical or counseling psychology programs, that it was more important to select a doctorate program that offered specialized concentrations and faculty whose interests align with yours.

No matter where your career interests lie, Alliant International University’s California School of Professional Psychology can help you on your way. We offer Doctorate in Clinical Psychology Degree Programs at a number of campus locations throughout California. Each program also offers students a hands-on experience and a wide range of concentrations to further specialize your studies and guide your future career after graduation.

To learn more about Alliant’s PhD in Clinical Psychology degreePsyD in Clinical Psychology degree or our Master’s in Clinical Counseling degree contact us today 1-866-825-5426. Our PhD and PsyD programs also provide internship opportunities. 

Alliant International University offers many educational programs, master’s degree programs, PhD’s, and more at our campuses in California and online. Apply to a program today!


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