Should You Earn a Degree in Clinical Psychology or Counseling Psychology?

Man in suit with face in hands sitting across from woman counselor

When you commit to earning an advanced degree in clinical psychology or counseling psychology, you have several options that will help you narrow down your studies and prepare to translate your theoretical knowledge into practice. One of the most important decisions to make before enrolling in an advanced degree is deciding on which area of practice you want to pursue.

Counseling and clinical psychology are broad fields with many areas that focus on different patient populations and specialize in different objectives. Some of the content of academic research in these fields overlap, but there are significant differences between them. Understanding these differences will help you develop a clear understanding of what degrees you might want to pursue.

What Is Clinical Psychology?

Clinical psychology centers around the care for individuals and families in a variety of diverse backgrounds. According to the American Psychological Association, clinical psychologists provide mental and behavioral health care, performing assessments on clients, consulting with organizations and interacting with research. Clinical psychologists may work with clients struggling with minor adjustment issues or with more severe conditions such as schizophrenia or major depression.1 Clinical psychology is often associated with psychiatry, and this discipline often favors involvement in therapy groups, academic research, education and other areas that benefit from the expertise of clinical psychologists.

What Is Counseling Psychology?

Clinical counseling centers around the practical resolution of mental difficulties relating to self-perception and relationships for clients. This discipline of psychology is closely associated with social work, especially where counseling psychologists may advocate for reforms that impact the environment of students, employees and others. This discipline takes on a different focus from clinical psychology for its focus on the overall well-being of clients in crisis intervention, clinical settings and other environments rather than the treatment of specific mental health issues.2

Both clinical psychologists and mental health counselors require earning an advanced degree and licensure in order to practice. In many cases, earning a degree in one area does not exclude the psychologist from practicing in the other because of the amount of overlap between the two fields. However, those who want to pursue specialized roles in education and practice should have a sharp understanding of what they might like to pursue.

Making a Choice

Another important factor to consider is job growth potential. The Occupational Network projects that Clinical psychologists have an outlook of 11 percent or higher for clinical psychologists through 2028.3 The outlook is the same for counseling psychologists.4 As both require earning an advanced degree and licensure, the major factor for deciding which degree to pursue is deciding which one aligns with your career goals.

If you are interested in specific mental issues and are interested in the academic research involved in mental and behavioral health care, then clinical psychology may be the best choice for you. However, you may consider pursuing a career as a counseling psychologist if you are interested in the more general aspects of mental and behavioral care like the self-image and relationships of a patient. Take the next step in your education and pursue an advanced psychology and counseling degrees at Grand Canyon University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Among our advanced degree programs, you may be interested in our Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with an Emphasis in Trauma or our Master of Science in General Psychology degrees. To learn more about the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, visit our website or click on the Request Info button on this page.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.