Mental Health Counseling & Clinical Psychology: What is the Difference?


Choosing to seek out help for the myriad of issues life can throw at us is something that many people face during the course of their lives. Some choose to seek out someone to talk to and straighten themselves out, while others seek help for mental illness. Either way, the process can be overwhelming, as the vast array of professionals available can make the average person’s head spin. But this need not be discouraging. There is ease in understanding the differences between all of these services that are available, and specifically what they can offer you as a client. Furthermore, with the plethora of information available, finding the right professional for all of your cognitive needs has never been easier.

There are two common types of mental health professionals that are typically sought after; mental health counselors and clinical psychologists. While they do have similarities, they have many differences that are often misunderstood and merit further analysis. Clinical psychologists and counselors are both state licensed, mental health practitioners and while they do have overlapping duties, there are different distinctions, especially when it comes to their training.

Related: Difference Between General Psychology and Clinical Psychology


The training of mental health counselors typically involves a master’s level education in a myriad of concentrations, which follow strict curriculum standards that have been previously set by the CACREP. They typically focus on the practical skills needed to help individuals through their life challenges. These programs typically offer courses, which focus on human growth and development, diversity and multicultural issues, and career development as its core concepts. One thing counseling programs do not include is courses in statistics and/or research, and that is one of the several differences in comparison to a clinical psychologist’s training.

All clinical psychologists have pursued their educations on a doctoral level, and are required to sit down and work one on one with clients on a clinical and counseling level during their residencies. Their education often places a strong emphasis on psychopathology, which typically varies by specialty, and takes on the predominant services offered in practice. Along with educational training, both professionals also differ in regard to the overall services offered in practice.

Related: Difference Between Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry

Scope of Practice

Responsibilities of a mental health counselor and a clinical psychologist vary, but can also intersect. While both can typically offer counseling on a basic level, their overall scope of practice typically is aligned with their training.

For starters, a clinical psychologist devotes a majority of sessions with their clientele to the administration of an array of cognitive testing including IQ tests, aptitude tests, and those, which conclusively assess basic neurological function. This facet of psychology entails administering these tests to patients that are not seen on a regular basis as well, and is an important assessment in treatment. These tests and assessments are tools that doctoral professionals are typically only trained to use, which is another difference in the practice of mental health counselors.

Mental health counselors are limited in the assessments they use and the tests they can legally perform, especially cognitively. In many jurisdictions, mental health counselors have to pursue additional training to administer these psychometric assessments in practice. Mental health counselors are typically prohibited from cognitive testing, or generally limited to only performing certain assessments in certain, strict conditions. Other states also allow mental health counselors to perform cognitive testing under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. Along with differences in administration, counselors and psychologists also differ in the type of clientele that they service as well.

Clinical psychologists focus their practice on the mentally ill population, mostly due to the fact that their training is geared toward psychotherapy. Many clinical psychologists however, do have the option of choosing to focus on counseling if they are in private practice. Individuals who opt for this type of private counseling do have the option of choosing either type of professional to meet their needs. All in all, it often comes down to their perceptions and associations of the entire concept of therapeutic intervention, and how a patient feels they can ultimately benefit. A patient may have more options with clinical psychologists however, as they can choose to specialize in a myriad of sub-specialties, while mental health counselors can be generally limited.

Some clinical psychologists choose to pursue licensing as professional counselors, while others choose to frequently immerse themselves in research. Furthermore, some mental health counselors can also choose to pursue a PhD and move into the typical arenas of a clinical psychologist, which is however, not the norm. All in all, regardless of what the specialty, it is indicative that both mental health counseling and psychology can lead to a strong career with excellent employment prospects.

Salary and Outlook

Both fields of counseling and clinical psychology are currently trending strong growth, but counseling is growing faster. Employment prospects for mental health counselors are projected to grow 22% between 2018 and 2028. Furthermore, jobs for clinical psychologists are projected to increase by 15%. Employment prospect growth is also aligned with projected salary growth in the same decade. The mean salary for clinical psychologists was $87,450 in 2019. The mean salary for mental health counselors was $46,240 [BLS]. This ultimately shows that whatever profession one decides to pursue, there is definitely excellent job and salary prospects.


Clinical psychology and mental health counseling are different therapeutic interventions that are typically sought, and should not be confused when taking on a mental health professional. Conclusively, mental health counselors pursue a more humanistic approach in therapy, typically using the community as a resource in treatment, while clinical psychologists deal with mental illness and behavioral problems. While some clinicians have found ways to intersect their practices, the two can also be very compartmentalized. However, as we’ve typically seen, mental health counseling and clinical psychology have crossed paths historically, and can definitely do so again one day, ultimately making seeking mental help a simple, one stop approach in therapeutic intervention.

Related Reading


  • Newberry, D. E., & Tyler, J. D. (1997). Mental health value differences between psychologists and counselors. Counseling & Values, 41(2), 155.
  • Riordan, R. J., & Martin, M. H. (1993). Mental Health Counseling. Journal Of Mental Health Counseling, 15(4), 373-83.
  • Pope-Davis, D. B., Coleman, H. K., Liu, W., & Toporek, R. L. (2003). Handbook of Competencies in Counseling & Psychology. Handbook Of Competencies In Counseling & Psychology, 1. doi:10.4135/9781452231693
  • BLS – Psychologists (
  • Psychologist vs. Counselor (
  • 5 Core Differences between Clinical Psychology and Counseling Psychology (
Campus Type:
Matching School Ads
Copyright © 2020 All Rights Reserved. Program outcomes can vary according to each institution's curriculum and job opportunities are not guaranteed. This site is for informational purposes and is not a substitute for professional help.