Counseling Psychology Versus Clinical Psychology

Updated June 17, 2024by MyTherapist Editorial Team

Psychology is by no means a monolith. There are many different types of psychology out there, and it's interesting to learn about them. Whether you need to talk to a psychologist, or you want to have a degree in psychology, it's worth noting the differences. Today, we will be looking at clinical psychology and counseling psychology. What are the differences between the two? In this post, we will explain all about them.

There is no shame in going to a psychologist if you need help

The similarities between counseling and clinical psychology

It's easy to see why some people would be confused when it comes to the difference between counseling and clinical psychology. Both of them involve psychotherapy, which involves treating mental disorders through mental techniques rather than, or in addition to taking medicine.

Licenses are also quite similar. Both types of psychologists are licensed under the same psychology license, and this just makes it even more confusing. Despite all the similarities, however, they are quite different. 

The differences between counseling and clinical psychology

The origins of the words

To find the differences between the two professions, we should look at the names and their origins.

Let's look at clinical first. The word comes from the Greek word "kline." This means bed. How does a bed correlate to clinical psychology? Because the treatment may be given at the bedside of the client.

The word counseling makes sense. It comes from the Latin word "consulere," which is an advisor. The word is quite similar to a counselor, and we can see its origins.

You can probably figure out a difference between the two already, but let's dive in further and explain more.

Clinical psychology

These are psychologists who deal with more serious mental illnesses. These are often people who work with psychiatrists. During World War II, they often would help soldiers who had PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, or forensic psychiatrist if they need someone that dealt with mental disorders and their treatment of them, and their treatments were a softer alternative to psychiatric work.

Other disorders clinical psychologists treat include:

  • Bipolar disorder. For those who are having mood swings, a clinical psychologist can help those who are having trouble coping with them.
  • Those who are having schizophrenic thoughts can benefit from some psychology.
  • This isn't talking about situational depression, but instead more severe forms of depression that can cause people to lower their self-worth.

Other tasks that a clinical psychologist does.

  • Helps identify behaviors that are a sign of changes in emotions or psychological.
  • Helps to create plans and therapy to help those people recover.
  • Can help a client be able to make goals and be able to move on with their life. Living with a severe mental disorder can be hard, but a psychologist can fix this by creating a goal that goes around their problems.
  • Be able to monitor the progress of the client with sessions or meetings on the regular.
  • Help educate other future psychologists by teaching them courses and offering them advice.
  • Research, research, research. A good amount of research is needed to succeed and find solutions to life's issues.
  • They can make findings and publish them in journals, telling people all about the results.

Counseling psychology

With that said, what is counseling psychology? Counseling psychology involves working with people who have less severe problems. Often, it can involve people who are trying to stay well and prevent any serious mental health conditions from happening. Their work involves the client more.

Some things a counseling psychologist can treat include:

  • Relationship issues. A client might come in because they feel like they are having difficulties in their relationships, be it a friendship, a working relationship, business, partner, or anyone else they talk to.
  • Substance abuse. Those who have mild addictions to substances or any other addictive personalities may talk to a counselor to receive help. A counselor can offer them advice on how to avoid relapse and prevent any triggers should they happen.
  • Advice on their careers. Sometimes, finding a job is hard, and a counselor can help you be able to get the motivation to find one. They can offer tips, tricks, interview techniques, and help you realize that finding a job is not as hard as you think. If you already have a job, a psychologist can help you with promotions, work drama, or anything else. If you're looking to improve your career, a counseling psychologist can help you.
  • Life changes. Some people want change, while others do not like change. Once life hands a change, it can be difficult to manage. For example, someone you knew moved away, and now you feel upset because of that. Or you may have been the one to move. You may have a new school, a new location, and have other anxieties about change in your life. A psychologist can be there to help you.
  • Situational anxiety or depression. Sometimes, there may be a life situation that gives you temporary depression, anxiety, insomnia, or so on. A psychologist can find the root of these problems and allow you to live a better life.
  • A child who is going through a delinquent phase. For example, if your child is having trouble with their grades, there may be an underlying issue, or they need someone to talk to. A psychologist can be someone who can empathize with the child and find ways for them to succeed rather than have them wallow in sadness or rebellion.

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.

Counseling psychology has more empathy than clinical psychology. A psychologist in counseling needs to be put themselves in the shoes of all their clients, many of whom may have a different background than the client. A psychologist in counseling needs to put themselves in the shoes of all their clients and be able to help them with their life decisions. This is why counseling psychologists help families and those who are addicted. People like that need to have a clinical counseling professional who can empathize and be able to provide solutions to all their problems.

There is no shame in going to a psychologist if you need help

Education of a counseling and clinical psychologist

To have the best experience, you need to find a counselor who is well-educated. A good counselor is someone who has a master's degree in counseling or a Ph.D. If a university offers an internship, this is usually recognized by the APA.

If a counselor is providing outpatient care, a psychologist needs to have a license. The requirements for a license may vary depending on what state you're in. In most states, a counselor needs to have a Ph.D., internship, and have a few years of work experience to cut.

A clinical psychologist or a counseling psychologist is a long journey, but it's worth it. Most psychologists gladly sacrifice the time to become a licensed psychologist. It's a career that is always rewarding, and it never stops being interesting. If you're interested in becoming a psychologist, there are many ways to pursue the career.

Which degree should you pursue?

If you are pursuing a degree in psychology, you may wonder which degree you should pursue. Should you go for clinical or counseling? It may be hard for you to decide which degree is right for you, and it can depend on your interests. You may be someone who wants to treat those who are the most unfortunate. Those who have severe mental disorders that make every day of their life awful. You hope you can find a cure and one day be able to treat them properly.

On the other hand, you may want to help people who you can empathize more with and who don't have severe mental disorders, but life problems that you can deal with. Counseling psychology is a great career to take in this kind of situation. It just all depends on what you want. Both programs are similar yet different at the same time. You need to choose a career whose interests align with yours. Don't go into clinical psychology if you aren't prepared to deal with severe mental disorders.


There is no shame in going to a psychologist if you need help. A therapist is designed to empathize and provide treatment options for your situation, no matter what it is. It's understandable why some are skeptical about psychology therapy, but once you try it, you'll wonder why you ever were skeptical. A therapist can provide you with solutions, plans, and other ways to succeed. By seeking help, you're admitting that you want to grow and that you want to succeed. So, talk to a therapist today and see what they can do.

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