Counselor and a Counseling Psychologist Differences

counselor with couple
Tetra Images/Getty Images

While counselors and counseling psychologists perform a lot of similar duties, there are actually a number of important differences between the two professions. Both professions are focused on helping people live better lives, but counselors and counseling psychologists have different educational backgrounds and often work in different settings.

Key Similarities

There are a number of important similarities between counselors and counseling psychologists:

  • Both are mental health practitioners
  • Both can provide psychotherapy
  • Both may specialize in a particular area, such as working with children, adults, or couples
  • Both help clients improve well-being
  • Both work in diverse areas including hospitals, government offices, mental health clinics, academic settings, and private practice

Differences

So how exactly do counselors and counseling psychologists differ? Some of the major differences are in educational levels, the scope of practice, and work settings.

Counselors

  • Usually have a master's degree
  • Often address emotional and relationship issues
  • Often work in school or career settings
  • Are not trained to provide psychological testing
  • Treat clients by providing talk therapy

Counseling Psychologists

  • Have a doctorate degree
  • Tend to treat more serious forms of mental illness
  • Often found in medical and mental health clinics
  • Trained to provide diagnosis and psychological testing

Education and Training Differences

One of the major differences can be seen in the educational and training requirements for each profession.

Counselor Educational Requirements

Counselors generally have at minimum a master's degree in either counseling or psychology. Most master's programs require 60 credit hours of study. Those who become licensed professional counselors are required to pass a national professional exam and complete a specified number of supervised hours in the field.

One of the attractions of counseling programs is that they require less time to complete than a doctorate, allowing students to enter the workforce faster. Another reason why such programs appeal to students is that some allow for part-time study, making it possible for students to remain employed in their current jobs while they earn a master's degree.

Counseling Psychologist Educational Requirements

Counseling psychologists, on the other hand, hold a Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D. degree in counseling psychology. Such programs tend to include a greater focus on research than is typically seen in master's level counseling programs.

Such programs usually take five years to complete. The first four years are complete required courses, research, clinical experiences, and a dissertation. The fifth-year is usually spent doing a supervised internship in the field.

Accreditation and Licensing

In many cases, both counseling psychology and counseling programs are housed within a university's College of Education (although not always).

Counseling programs and counseling psychology programs also receive accreditation from different accrediting bodies. In the United States, counseling programs are accredited through the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and counseling psychology programs are accredited through the American Psychological Association (APA).

It is important to note that both counselors and psychologists must be licensed to practice within the state where they work. In order to become licensed, counselors and psychologists must meet specific education, training, and testing criteria established by the state. This includes meeting a minimum education level, completing required supervised experience hours, and passing state certification exams.

Scope of Practice

Another key difference between counselors and counseling psychologists can be seen in the type of duties they usually perform.

While counseling psychologists often conduct psychological assessments and administer diagnostic tests to clients, counselors are sometimes limited in terms of the tests they are able to administer. State laws may dictate which type of assessments a counselor can offer and may require that the administration of such tests be supervised by a psychologist.

Counseling psychologists may also work with individuals suffering from more serious forms of mental illness than counselors. More general emotional, relationship, social, and academic problems are often referred to counselors because they are sometimes able to offer more cost-effective treatments.

However, both types of professionals offer important mental health services designed to help people overcome problems and optimize their well-being. Counselors often choose to focus on a specialty area such as school counseling, career counseling, marriage and family counseling, mental health counseling, and addictions counseling.

Similarly, counseling psychologists often elect to specialize in a particular area such as substance abuse, child development, health psychology, community psychology, crisis intervention, or developmental disabilities.

A Word From Verywell

While counselors and counseling psychologists perform many similar job duties in the field of mental health, it is important to be aware of the differences between the two professions. If you are thinking about entering one of these fields, you will need to determine which one is right for you and adjust your educational plan to meet those expectations.

If you are looking for mental health services, you should talk to your doctor about what type of mental health professional might be right for your needs. Seeing a counselor might be a great choice in some situations, while in other cases, such as if you need treatment for a more serious mental health condition, you might need to see a psychologist or psychiatrist.

Was this page helpful?