Counseling vs Clinical Psychologist

By Staff Writer

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If you’re interested in pursuing a psychological career, it’s easy to get some of the job types confused — especially when it comes to Counseling and Clinical Psychologists.

While there is major overlap for these specialties, these professionals have unique job duties.

Counseling and Clinical Psychologists both focus on helping patients and can work in the same kinds of environments but each of these practitioners offer distinct types of therapy. And there are also differences in the types of patients they see.

If you’re interested in Counseling or Clinical Psychology, there are a few key differences for each occupation. Want to know which one is perfect for you? We’ve broken down each profession below.

What is a Counseling Psychologist?

Counseling Psychologists work with patients at all ages and stages of life. Their work brings them in contact with people who are experiencing mental and emotional duress.

Their patient’s stress may center around mistreatment due to something out of their control, like being bullied for their sexual orientation. Or they could be facing a life upheaval, such as moving across the country, and seek out a counselor. It depends on the person and their needs.

These workers always consider other factors in their patient’s life that may be impacting their behavior including psychological, physical, or spiritual issues. They also take the person’s environment into account, meaning examining their relationships with family and friends, and their feelings about society.

The goal of Counseling Psychology is using a culturally aware and judgement-free approach to help their patients process their pain and navigate the stresses of life.

Besides providing therapy, Counseling Psychologists also conduct psychological research and share their findings with others.

At Work, a Counseling Psychologist Can:

  • Give their patients psychological tests to assess their mental wellbeing and interpret the results
  • Provide counseling for patients to help them experience a more fulfilling side of life
  • Work with their peers to discuss the best treatment options and resources for patients
  • Research new methodologies for treating patients and conduct experiments to test their theory

What is a Clinical Psychologist?

Clinical Psychologists work with people who are diagnosed with mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. Their patients may have personality disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or another mental health condition.

These psychologists help assess, diagnose, and treat their patients. Practicing Clinical Psychologists often choose a specific segment of the population to work with like veterans, the elderly, children, or the LGBTQ communities. Even within a smaller, focused group, their patients can have an assortment of unique issues.

When they meet with their patients, Clinical Psychologists help them process the difficulties of their lives and alleviate some of their stress. They may work with someone who has PTSD and is suffering from flashbacks, or their patient may be struggling with a major depressive episode and is searching for healthy coping strategies.

No matter the patient, it’s a Clinical Psychologist’s job to use their psychological knowledge to assess their patients and diagnose them, create and carry out treatment plans, and, if their patient is experiencing a mental health episode, get them the help they need. This sometimes results in an inpatient admission.

Besides therapizing their patients, these practitioners complete psychological studies to learn more about the field and providing consulting to community organizations and government agencies.

At Work, a Clinical Psychologist Can:

  • Administer psychological tests to assess their patient
  • Check their patient’s progress in treatment and update the care plan to reflect their current state
  • Serve as crisis intervention if their patient is having a mental health episode
  • Maintain their knowledge of Clinical Psychology by attending continuing education classes

How Do Clinical and Counseling Psychologists Differ?

Now that you have a better understanding of what Clinical and Counseling do, let’s better explore their key differences.

Populations Treated

Both Counseling and Clinical Psychologists can choose if they want to focus on a specific population or not. Those with a focus might select college-aged students or couples. And those without a focus can work with people at all stages of life.

The difference is in the type of patients they see. Clinical Psychologists treat people who have mental disorders, while Counseling Psychologists don’t. There can be overlap in which patients are attending sessions with which therapist, but this is the general distinction.

Where They Work

Clinical and Counseling Psychologists are found in many of the same work environments. Colleges, K-12 schools, addiction facilities, jails and juvenile detention centers, local and federal government agencies, corporations, and hospital systems are all likely to have Clinical and Counseling Psychologists on staff.

Both professions also have the option of starting their own private practice, especially if they want more freedom in their job.

The major difference is that Clinical Psychologists are much more likely to be hired by law firms, research organizations, and the government. If you choose Clinical over Counseling Psychology you’re more likely to be hired for consulting roles too.

Types of Therapy

In school, both Clinical and Counseling Psychologists receive a deep education on treating the human psyche. Each side has a slightly different learning focus though.

On the clinical side, students learn about psychoanalytic theory and behavioral issues. Counseling students focus more on humanistic analysis and traditions that are client-centered. For their therapy approach, Clinical Psychologists study psychodynamic research while Counseling Psychologist preferred cognitive behavior.

Types of Jobs

Both types of mental health professionals can pursue a variety of different jobs after earning their psychological certifications.

Common Job Titles for Counseling Psychologists:

  • Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC)
  • Rehabilitation Counselor
  • Crisis Counselor
  • School Counselor
  • Family Therapist

Common Job Titles for Clinical Psychologists:

Which Path Should I Choose?

While both paths lead to well-paying, stable careers, it’s about following what interests you. If you’re more interested in treating mental disorders, then you may be better suited for Clinical Psychology, but you liked the idea of assisting more of the general population, you may want to pursue Counseling Psychology.