Mental Health Counseling Vs. Clinical Psychology: What is the Difference?

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.

Mental Health Counseling Vs. Clinical Psychology

Mental health counseling involves assessing and treating emotional, behavioral, and mental disorders using psychotherapy and other counseling techniques. Clinical psychology focuses on diagnosing and treating psychological disorders through research, assessment, and clinical intervention.

Mental health counselors focus on providing psychotherapy, support, and daily life coping strategies for clients, while clinical psychologists conduct psychological assessments, diagnose and treat mental disorders, and employ a wider range of therapeutic interventions. Additionally, clinical psychologists are more likely to engage in research and academic pursuits.

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 and assessments including IQ tests, behavioral tests, and psychological tests, which conclusively assess overall neurological function of patients. Clinical psychologists use these tests to diagnose various mental disorders and treat symptoms.

Clinical psychologists can administer 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 the tools that clinical psychologists are typically trained to use, which is one of the differences in the practice of mental health counselors.

Clinical psychologists focus their practice on the mentally ill population, mostly due to the fact that their training is geared toward clinical assessment and intervention. Many clinical psychologists however, do have the option of choosing to focus on counseling if they are in private practice.

Mental health counselors are limited in the assessments they use and the tests they can legally perform, especially cognitively. They typically work with clients to manage issues like anxiety, depression and stress.

Mental health counselors generally focus on general therapy, helping clients navigate a wide range of emotional and psychological issues. Their role includes assisting individuals in managing day-to-day life challenges, such as coping with stress, improving communication skills, and enhancing relationships.

Mental health counselors place a strong emphasis on “talk therapy,” which involves open and supportive conversations to explore feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, ultimately promoting personal growth and well-being.

In many jurisdictions, mental health counselors have to pursue additional training to administer psychometric assessments and tests 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 clinical psychologist.

A patient may have more options with clinical psychologists, as they can choose to specialize in a myriad of sub-specialties, while mental health counselors can be generally limited.


A Masters in Clinical Psychology and a Masters in Mental Health Counseling are both advanced degree programs that prepare students for careers within the mental health care field. Despite the similarities between the two, they have distinct focuses, training approaches, and potential career trajectories.

Masters in Clinical Psychology

The Masters in Clinical Psychology program delves into the scientific understanding of human behavior and mental health, emphasizing the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of psychological disorders.

Students enrolled in this program receive training in research methodologies, psychological assessment, and evidence-based treatment methods. They also explore various theoretical perspectives and gain practical experience through internships or practicums.

Upon completing their degree, graduates often work in hospitals, mental health clinics, private practice, or research institutions. Some may choose to pursue a doctoral degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) in clinical psychology, ultimately becoming licensed clinical psychologists.

Masters in Mental Health Counseling

On the other hand, the Masters in Mental Health Counseling program centers around the practical application of counseling techniques to support individuals, couples, and families facing emotional, social, and behavioral challenges.

The curriculum covers counseling theories, psychotherapy techniques, group therapy, crisis intervention, multicultural counseling, ethics, and professional development. Students also engage in clinical practice through internships or practicums.

Graduates typically work in community mental health centers, hospitals, substance abuse treatment facilities, schools, and private practice, pursuing licensure as Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) or Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC).

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.

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 18% between 2022 and 2032. Furthermore, jobs for clinical psychologists are projected to increase by 10%.

Employment prospect growth is also aligned with projected salary growth in the same decade. The mean salary for clinical psychologists was $102,740 in 2022. The mean salary for mental health counselors was $56,230. This ultimately shows that whatever profession one decides to pursue, there is definitely excellent job and salary prospects.

Final Thoughts

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, 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.

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