Counseling Psychology Careers and Training

female counseling psychologist talking to couple

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Counseling psychologists help people of all ages deal with emotional, social, developmental, and other life concerns. These professionals use a variety of strategies to help people manage behavioral issues, cope with stress, alleviate anxiety and distress, and deal with the issues associated with psychological disorders.

Counseling psychology focuses on providing therapeutic treatments to clients who experience a wide variety of symptoms. It is also one of the largest specialty areas within psychology.

The Society of Counseling Psychology describes the field as "a specialty within professional psychology that maintains a focus on facilitating personal and interpersonal functioning across the life span. The specialty pays particular attention to emotional, social, vocational, educational, health-related, developmental and organizational concerns."  

What Do Counseling Psychologists Do?

Many counseling psychologists provide psychotherapy services, but other career paths are also available. Research, teaching, and vocational counseling are just a few of the possible alternatives to psychotherapy.

Whether they are working with clients in a hospital setting or counseling students in an academic environment, these psychologists rely on a broad range of psychological theories and therapeutic approaches to help people overcome problems and realize their full potential.

Where Do Counseling Psychologists Work?

Counseling psychologists work in a variety of locations, including private businesses, the military, government agencies, consulting practices, and more.

  • Some professionals work in academic settings as professors, psychotherapy providers, and researchers.
  • Others work in hospitals and mental health clinics, often alongside physicians and other mental health professionals including clinical psychologists, social workers , and psychiatric nurses.
  • Still, other counseling psychologists are self-employed in independent practice and offer psychotherapy services to individuals, families, and groups.

Required Education and Training

A Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D. degree is required to become a counseling psychologist. Some students start by earning a bachelor’s degree in a subject such as psychology or social work and then receive a master’s degree in counseling or psychology before entering a doctorate program. In other cases, students can bypass the master’s program and go straight from their undergraduate degree into a five- or six-year doctoral degree program.

A Doctor of Philosophy or Doctor of Psychology degree will typically be offered through a university's psychology department, while the Doctor of Education in counseling psychology can be found at a school's college of education. Most of these programs receive accreditation through the American Psychological Association (APA).

If you are looking for a program in counseling psychology, start by checking out the list of accredited programs in professional psychology maintained by the APA.

Counseling Psychology vs. Clinical Psychology

Out of all the graduate psychology degrees awarded each year, 56% are in the health service provision subfields: counseling, clinical, and school psychology.   Counseling psychology shares many commonalities with clinical psychology , but it is also different in several different ways.

Some of the key similarities between counseling and clinical psychology are:  

  • Both are trained to provide psychotherapy
  • Both often work in hospitals, mental health clinics, academic settings, and independent practice
  • Both can be licensed in all 50 states as licensed psychologists and can practice independently

Some of the key differences between the two professions include:  

  • There are differences in training and education between the professions
  • Clinical psychologists tend to focus on psychopathology
  • Counseling psychologists tend to concentrate on overall well-being through the lifespan

While both clinical and counseling psychologists perform psychotherapy, those working as clinicians typically deal with clients experiencing more severe mental illnesses. Counseling psychologists often work with people who are experiencing less severe symptoms. The treatment outlook can also differ between clinical and counseling psychology.

Clinicians often approach mental illness from a medical perspective, while counseling psychologists often take a more general approach that encompasses a range of psychotherapeutic techniques.   Of course, the individual approach a therapist takes depends on a variety of factors, including their educational background, training, and theoretical perspective.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Society of Counseling Psychology. What is counseling psychology?

  2. American Psychological Association. A career in clinical or counseling psychology .

  3. Clay RA. Trends report: Psychology is more popular than ever . Monitor on Psychology. 2017;48(10):44.

  4. Society of Counseling Psychology. Counseling psychology vs clinical psychology .

Additional Reading

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is the author of the "Everything Psychology Book (2nd Edition)" and has written thousands of articles on diverse psychology topics. Kendra holds a Master of Science degree in education from Boise State University with a primary research interest in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science in psychology from Idaho State University with additional coursework in substance use and case management.