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If you're considering a clinical psychology degree, counseling psychology degree, or any other graduate degree in psychology, you have many choices in higher education ahead of you. From what type of degree to earn to which school to make your academic home, the end goal is to make you a professional psychologist qualified to pursue career paths in mental health counseling and more depending on the path you choose. 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 differences. The area you decide to study will determine your educational and career path for years to come.

A clinical psychologist and a counseling psychologist share many functions in mental health sciences. For example, both groups of psychologists have proficient counseling skills, 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 (Morgan & Cohen, 2008; Roger & Stone, 2020). There is, however, a difference in clinical vs counseling psychology.

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What Is The Difference Between Clinical and Counseling Psychology?

Knowing the differences between clinical vs. counseling psychology can help you choose the ideal psychology degree program. Let's explore clinical psychology versus counseling psychology and their range of mental health conditions a little more in-depth.

What is Clinical Psychology?

Clinical psychologists receive a wealth of training in theoretical orientations, including psychoanalytic, behavioral, and cognitive-behavioral theoretical foundations, among others (Norcross, 2000). Clinical psychologists work in a variety of settings, such as, but not limited to, universities, community mental health centers, private practice, hospitals, inpatient settings, primary care settings, and academic medical centers (Brems & Johnson, 1997; Norcross, 2000). Is a clinical psychologist a therapist? While clinical psychologists work with a broad range of psychopathology and clinical diagnoses, they also receive more extensive clinical training with serious psychopathology and mental disorder studies, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, extreme mental illness and major depressive disorders, among others (Morgan & Cohen, 2008).

Work settings: They find opportunities for clinical practice in schools, courtrooms, and corporations, addressing a range of psychological needs. They also work closely with hospitals and play a pivotal role in patient mental health. 

Expertise: A clinical psychology program is not just about the clinical practice; it also involves significant research and academic work. Many clinical psychologists become professors and go into research on mental health disorders. This means that their expertise gives them a dual role in advancing our understanding of mental health while also providing practical therapeutic interventions.

Education: 5-6 years of professional training. Complete a supervised internship to acquire proficiency in therapeutic techniques while pursuing graduate studies.

Licensure: Clinical psychologists who successfully finish and pass a licensure examination are often qualified to go into private practice.

What is Counseling Psychology?

To define counseling psychology, one can only wonder, what does a counseling psychologist do? In contrast to their clinical counterparts, professional counseling psychologists tend to ascribe to humanistic and person-centered theoretical orientations and are often employed at universities and university counseling centers and in human service settings, such as mental health centers and family services (Brems & Johnson, 1997; Norcross et al., 1998; Norcross, 2000). A psychologist counselor tends to work with healthier patients who have less severe mental illness or psychological problems. After completing a counseling psychology program and becoming a licensed professional counselor, 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 (Norcross, 2000). Counseling psychologists might see patients for relationship issues, substance abuse counseling, career counseling, difficulty adapting to life changes and other such issues.

Work settings: They often engage in community-oriented roles. A mental health counselor participates in crisis hotlines, diversity initiatives, and supports mental health nonprofits. 

Expertise: Counseling psychology emphasizes the science behind therapeutic effectiveness. It investigates which treatments are evidence-based and why certain therapies, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for PTSD, work. This focus on evidence-based practice ensures that they are equipped with the most effective tools to support their clients whether as a school counselor, a social worker, or a mental health counselor in general.

Education: 2-3 years of professional training. Complete a supervised internship to acquire proficiency in therapeutic techniques while pursuing graduate studies.

Licensure: Some counseling occupations, such as MFTs, LPCCs, and LCSWs, can undergo a licensure exam to qualify for independent practice. Mental health counselors without a license must operate under the guidance of a licensed therapist.

Advance Your Career

Should I Be a Clinical or Counseling Psychologist?

The American Psychological Association (APA) accredits doctoral programs in clinical, counseling, and school psychology, as well as internships and postdoctoral residency programs. Accreditation demonstrates that the graduate program has satisfied the Standards of Accreditation in Health Service Psychology (SoA) and that graduates are competent in providing psychological services to the public ( Also, some licensing boards require candidates to have graduated from an APA-accredited doctoral program, so ensuring that you select an APA-accredited graduate program has multiple benefits following graduation. All APA-accredited doctoral programs have been found to be consistent with the Standards of Accreditation; however, each program has aims that are unique and define the training goals for their graduates. 

Your choice of graduate psychology program will depend on your interests as a licensed psychologist or mental health professional. 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 with psychology counseling?

Whatever your career preference in professional practice, a doctoral program in either clinical psychology or counseling psychology can serve you well. In fact, a peer-reviewed study of counseling and clinical psychology programs around the country found a significant number of similarities between the two types of programs, and noted it was more important to select a doctoral program that offered specialized concentrations and faculty whose interests align with yours (Morgan & Cohen, 2008).

No matter where your career interests lie, Alliant International University’s California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP) can help you on your way. Our psychology graduate school offers Doctorate in Clinical Psychology degree programs at a number of campus locations throughout California. Each program also offers hands-on experience and a wide range of emphasis areas to further specialize your studies and guide your future career after graduation.

To learn more about Alliant’s PhD in Clinical Psychology degree programs, PsyD in Clinical Psychology degree programs or our Master’s in Clinical Counseling degree program, call us today at (866) 825-5426

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


  • American Psychological Association (n.d.). Why APA accreditation matters. Retrieved December 8, 2020 from
  • Brems, C., & Johnson, M.E. (1997) Comparison of recent graduates of clinical versus counseling psychology programs, The Journal of Psychology, 131(1), 91-99, doi: 10.1080/00223989709603507 
  • Morgan, R. D., & Cohen, L. M. (2008). Clinical and counseling psychology: Can differences be gleaned from printed recruiting materials? Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 2(3), 156-164.
  • Norcross, J. C., Sayette, M. A., Mayne, T. J., Karg, R. S., & Turkson, M. A. (1998). Selecting a doctoral program in professional psychology: Some comparisons among PhD counseling, PhD clinical, and PsyD clinical psychology programs. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 29, 609–614. doi:10.1037/0735-7028.29.6.609 
  • Norcross, J. C. (2000). Clinical versus counseling psychology: What’s the diff. Eye on Psi Chi, 5(1), 20-22.
  • Roger, P. R., & Stone, G. (2020). Counseling psychology vs. clinical psychology. Society of Counseling Psychology: American Psychological Association Division 17.

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