What is the Difference Between Counseling and Clinical Psychology Graduate Programs?

Have you recently graduated from an undergraduate program in psychology or a similar field, and would like to pursue an advanced degree? Or, have you been out of school (college) for a while and have the “itch” to return to school for a graduate degree in a psychology program? Maybe you want to enroll in a graduate psychology program, so that you can receive “better” employment opportunities, and a higher salary. If the answer to one or more of these questions is “Yes,” you are not alone. Lots of people enroll in graduate programs every semester. If you are interested in psychology, or you have an undergraduate degree in a psychology field, you can earn an advanced degree in psychology.

It is important to note that you do not have to earn an undergraduate degree in psychology, in order to enroll in a graduate psychology program; in fact, an undergraduate degree in any field will suffice. Now that you know that you want to enroll in a psychology graduate program – which one? If you are leaning towards counseling psychology or clinical psychology, you have come to the right place. These two types are the most popular areas of psychology. In addition, both fields of psychology focus on the study of the mind, and how it influences behaviors.

What are the Major Differences Between Counseling and Clinical Psychology Graduate Programs?

According to American Psychological Association (APA) (2015), there aren’t any “significant” differences between clinical and counseling psychology graduate programs and internships. The APA (2015) asserts that these two sub-fields of psychology have merged together within the last decade, so that most of the courses are similar, if not the same. If any differences exist between the two psychology sub-fields, they rest in the area of patient/client populations.

A noticeable difference between clinical and counseling psychology graduate programs is that clinical psychology graduate programs typically prepare students to “treat” or counsel more advanced/disturbed mentally ill individuals, while counseling psychology graduate programs tend to prepare students to “treat” or counsel individuals, families, and couples on a variety of issues (mostly adjustment issues). In other words, general counselors tend work with less pathological populations. General counselors also spend more time administering vocational, career, and personality assessments. Both clinical psychology graduate programs and counseling psychology graduate programs require advanced coursework, a graduate degree, and a license to “practice.”

Another difference between the two psychology graduate programs is that a counseling psychology program teaches students how to counsel clients and patients primarily with words, suggestions and tips (dialogue), while a clinical psychology program teaches students how to effective use a variety of psychological methods, strategies, and techniques to assess, diagnose and treat those with severe mental illnesses. This program also teaches students how to research various psychological disorders and treatments.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015), master-level counselors (including clinical counselors) typically make $42,000, per year, depending on location, education, licensure, and experience, while clinical psychologists (Ph.D. level) have the potential to make up to $100,000 (or more a year), depending on those same factors. The top 10% of master-level counselors (including clinical counselors) typically make $60,000 (or more), per year, while the top 10% of clinical psychologists typically make $125,000 (or more), per year, depending on location, experience, and education (bls.gov). The career outlook for both careers is positive.

What Does a Clinical Psychology Graduate Program Consist of?

While in your program, you may learn how to accurately observe, assess, interpret, diagnose, document, and treat clients and patients. You may also learn how to predict future behaviors based on past behaviors. This program focuses on research principles, methodologies, procedures, and practices. It will take you between 2.5 and 3 years to earn a graduate degree (master-level) in clinical psychology/counseling. It can take you up to 7 years to earn a doctorate (Ph.D.) in clinical psychology. During this time, you might be required to complete coursework and an internship (6 months to 1 year). Coursework may include: abnormal psychology, research methodologies, psychological methods, counseling practices, sociology, research methodologies, ethics, etc

What is a Clinical Psychologist?

Well, to be titled as a clinical psychologist, you will need to earn a master’s degree and doctorate in clinical psychology. You will also need a license as a clinical psychologist. At the master-level, you will be referred to as a clinical therapist or clinical counselor. You will also need a license at this level. Your main function will be to provide counseling services to seriously ill mental health patients (i.e. schizophrenic, clinical depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD), psychopathology, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), manic depression/bipolar disorder, etc.). In other words, your primary goal will be to “treat” mentally ill individuals. A clinical counseling graduate program (at the master-level) will prepare you to counsel diverse populations..

What Does a Counseling Graduate Program Consist of?

Well, it is very similar to a clinical psychology graduate program, just a little less intense. There are numerous counselor sub-fields (i.e. sports counselor, health counselor, child counselor, family counselor, clinical counselor, group counselor, marriage/couples counselor, general counselor, mental health counselor, school counselor, etc.). Most counselors have a master’s degree in a psychological field or related field (i.e. social work, marriage and family therapy, counseling, psychology, etc.), although in some cases, a bachelor’s degree in a counseling field will suffice when seeking employment. A counseling graduate program (master-level), will teach you how to recognize the signs and symptoms of psychological disorders and mental illnesses.

It will also teach you how to effectively employ a variety of counseling techniques and methods. If you decide to pursue this career path, you will need to graduate with a master’s degree and obtain a license in the counseling field. It is important to note that you may be required to complete between 2,000 and 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience (post-degree) (bls.gov). In addition, you may be required to complete continuing education classes every couple of years to maintain your license. Similar to a clinical psychology graduate program, this program also takes approximately 2 to 3 years to complete. It also requires an internship. Coursework may include: ethics, human development, research methodologies, child development, couples counseling, child counseling, individual counseling, group therapy, family counseling, sociology, and client assessments.

What is a Counselor?

As a counselor, your main goal will be to provide counseling services to those primarily with adjustment issues (i.e. relationship problems, workplace stress, family dysfunction, divorce, child abuse, blended family, bullying, low self-esteem, etc.), although you may also provide counseling services to those with mild depression and anxiety. Your primary functions will consist of: helping clients and patients recognize, address, and resolve their issues, and helping individuals effectively manage their mental and physical health conditions. In fact, you will not only counsel clients and patients, you will also help them improve their lives, and provide unconditional support for them as they address their issues.

Most counselors are employed as: teachers/college instructors, customer service representatives, mental health intake workers, social workers, child and family caseworkers, practitioners, retail representatives, school counselors, researchers, sports counselors, etc. It is important to note that counselors are not considered “medical doctors,” therefore they cannot prescribe medications to clients and patients. Although counselors are able to help these individuals with personal issues, problems and concerns, their primary role is as a “supporter.” If you are interested in more in-depth counseling services, you will need to earn a doctorate in counseling psychology.

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