Many aspiring psychologists are interested in the field because they want to work directly with patients or clients and help them cope with and resolve their problems. There are two branches of psychology that can fit this description: counseling psychology and clinical psychology. Though counseling and clinical psychology share many similarities, they are distinct disciplines that entail different job duties and educational paths.
A counseling psychologist is a psychology professional who helps patients or clients deal with life problems. Often, this means providing advice on how to resolve issues effectively, improve communication and enhance the health of social relationships. A counseling psychologist may teach a client new coping strategies and help him or her determine what resources, such as personal support systems and community services, they can use. Counseling psychologists may help people struggling with psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety, but often they primarily work to address life changes, stresses and traumas that trigger these issues. While counseling psychology degree programs cover psychotherapy as do their clinical psychology counterparts, counseling programs often seek to utilize multicultural training methods to prepare aspiring counselors to work with clients of varied backgrounds, the American Psychological Association reported.
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The field of clinical psychology approaches psychotherapy from less of an educational perspective and more of a healthcare perspective. Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat psychological conditions similar to how healthcare workers would diagnose and treat physical medical conditions. These professionals use diagnostic tests and inventories to identify psychological conditions, including emotional and behavioral disorders.
While they may help patients with life changes that contribute to or exacerbate psychological disorders, clinical psychologists are more likely to work with individuals who have a severe diagnosable mental illness rather than those who suffer from less serious symptoms or simply need guidance in handling stressful life events. Some subspecialties of clinical psychology include health psychology and neuropsychology, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Clinical psychology programs tend to be more research-oriented than counseling psychology programs, and they often stress the importance of hands-on practicum or internship experience.
Though counseling and clinical psychology approach the field from different perspectives and though these professionals work with patients with different degrees of severity of conditions, they share common goals. Many counseling and clinical psychologists find that their actual job duties involve an overlap of both advisor and healthcare professional roles. Counseling and clinical psychologists also work in many of the same settings, including private practices, hospitals and mental health centers.
If you're trying to decide whether the counseling psychology or clinical psychology path is right for you, take the time to evaluate individual degree programs. The difference between particular programs can be as significant as, or even more significant than, the overall differences between counseling and clinical psychology, the American Psychological Association reported. By delving deeper into the missions and curriculum requirements of various programs, you can determine which one most closely aligns with your career goals.