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?

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.

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.

Counseling and Clinical Psychology Graduate Programs Differences

Difference Between Counseling and Clinical Psychology Graduate Programs

Counseling psychology graduate programs typically focus on emotional, social, vocational, and health-related issues, working with people of all ages. Clinical Psychology graduate programs delve into diagnosing and treating severe psychological disorders, often working in mental health clinics and hospitals.

Another 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, counselors tend work with less pathological populations. Counselors also spend more time administering vocational, career, and personality assessments.

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 (i.e. talk therapy), 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.

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 and 3 years to earn a graduate degree (master-level M.S or M.A) in clinical psychology. 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 become 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, 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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