Counselor vs. Psychologist

If you are trying to decide whether becoming a counselor or psychologist would be best fitting for you, you should take a look at what each of these career options means for you after your educational experience.

The roles and responsibilities of both the counselor and psychologist vary distinctly based on the methods used for interpreting and utilizing psychology, as well as how work with clients in the field is conducted.

Graduates that move on into the field of counseling may work one-on-one with clients or with small groups during their daily career. Counseling is a method used to help others identify their problems and develop personal action plans for working through them.

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Counseling can be beneficial for individuals that have experienced loss in their personal lives, but otherwise have no mental health concerns. These acute needs for therapeutic services may best be filled by licensed Counselors in specific specialized areas.

Psychologists on the other hand may be more focused on helping people through their use of research into the science-based ideas of psychology. Psychologists may utilize psychological tests, such as personality tests or ranking scales to diagnose clients and help them find meaningful services.

A Psychologist may be called upon to assess individuals that may be showing symptoms of more serious mental health disorders rather than just general concerns about emotion or behavior management. Psychologists can also be utilized when strategizing more intensive therapeutic options for complex mental health disorders in the counseling setting.

One of the most profound differences between counselors and psychologists can be found within the client base of each field. Counseling professionals can work with clients having minimal interference within their daily lives or people with serious diagnosed mental illnesses.

Psychologists may work primarily with people that have been diagnosed with serious mental illnesses or those that are showing symptoms of said mental illnesses. The sophisticated tools used by psychologists can be beneficial when attempting to diagnose complex psychological symptoms.

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Upcoming students that are intrigued by the field of counseling may be interested to learn that this field offers a wide array of different specialization options for interested learners. Counseling can be an incredibly helpful tool for people that are working through normal life circumstances and even for people that are unsure how to balance the symptoms of a serious mental illness while maintaining a normal life.

Concentration options like Mental Health, Addictions, Career Counseling, School Counseling, and Sports Counseling are just a few of the many options that learners can choose from during their educational training. If there are particular areas of interests or populations that you would most like to be involved with, you can seek out degree programs that provide focus in these areas.

While choosing a degree concentration can help you narrow down the client base you work with, you can also receive specialized training as a counselor to perform even more levels of assessments and treatments in the field. Counseling can be an incredibly diverse career field to choose since you can customize your qualifications based on the amounts and types of training you take on as a professional.

The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredits masters-level degrees in the field of counseling. If you are seeking out accredited degree programs to help you pursue a career in this field, you should choose programs that have received approval from this agency.

One benefit of choosing a degree in counseling for your career is that it can be completed in half of the time it takes to become a psychologist. Popular and accredited online Master of Counseling programs typically take around 2 years to complete, with a supervision requirement prior to professional licensure.

The field of counseling can be a preferred option for students that have an inert desire to help others during their career. A lot of students may have chosen this field due to their need to help others work through personal circumstances that are holding them back.


Becoming a psychologist may involve completion of a doctoral level degree program through a university accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Since the APA only accredits doctoral level degree programs, this is the minimum degree level in psychology that can lead you into licensure.

Rather than working one-on-one with clients that are struggling with managing the stresses of life or with common mental health disorders, psychologists often work with individuals with serious or complex psychological diagnoses.

In some cases, psychologists may be called upon to assess and diagnose clients that are showing a broad range of symptoms that could be related to uncommon psychological dysfunctions. As a psychologist, you may use accurate and tested psychological testing tools to score clients and diagnose based on your findings.

While both counseling and psychology can be used to help others with mental illness, psychology may use a more science-focused method for assessing those in need. Psychologists can also perform counseling techniques and various forms of psychotherapy, but most clients prefer to take advantage of these services through counselors since it can be most cost effective.

Some psychologists may also choose to work in fields that focus on research related to mental illness, psychotherapy, and psychopharmacology. Psychologists working in research can help to create realistic treatment conditions and observe the effects of certain variables on subjects during their studies.

The work produced through psychological research can be used to develop more effective treatment programs, more informed knowledge with mental health diagnoses, and even more sophisticated assumptions about psychopharmacology and its use during mental health treatment.

One of the most well-known differences between Counselors and Psychologists is that Psychologists can work as educators as the collegiate level. Having this higher level of knowledge can qualify you to educate others in the philosophy and practice of psychology in the field.


Counseling and psychologists have many differences that set them apart from one another in the treatment field. However, these specialty areas also have some similarities that can classify them into the same degree fields, based on history and development of each field.

For instance, neither Counselors or Psychologists have the ability to prescribe medications to their clients. The tools these professionals use may be based on well-known counseling methods or psychotherapies, which can be used alongside psychotropic medication.

Both degree fields can provide students with skills related to the assessment and diagnosis of mental illness. While the methods for diagnostics may differ from field to field, the outlined process for assessing the client and developing a treatment plan may essentially be the same in both fields.

The root of both fields can be found in the basic field of psychology. Both fields begin with a look into general psychology and what is known about the brain and its processes. Since both fields are concerned with normal and abnormal functioning in mental health, the first few classes in each program may be remarkably similar.

The theoretical foundations of counseling and psychology may focus on cognitive processes, memory, and natural brain development. Since it is crucial to have a baseline for consideration when developing treatment plans for clients with mental illnesses, both practitioners must understand what commonly found normal functioning is in the general population.

Counselors typically work with clients that are showing difficulties with coping during normal life struggles or those that are managing the symptoms of common mental health disorders. While Psychologists tend to work with clients with serious mental illness, they are also qualified to work with clients showing minor signs of mental illness.

Psychologists and Counselors can also perform similar therapies during their work in the field. Psychologists may be qualified to perform more intensive psychotherapies, but counselors can also receive specialized training in order to undertake a wide range of therapeutic processes throughout their career.

Degree Requirements

If you were to decide on becoming a counselor through your degree program, you might engage in a different type of learning experience that your psychologist counterparts. Counseling degree programs require around 2 years of educational courses, as well as engagement in a supervised clinical component that is required for licensure.

A common online Master of Counseling program requires that students complete a bachelor’s program in psychology, counseling, or social work prior to being accepted. Once in the program, students can begin their progress towards a goal of 2 years of educational courses, which includes specialization options in Clinical Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and School Counseling.

Some programs offering the Master of Counseling may require that students complete 35-60 credit hours during their program, which usually includes courses in Individual Counseling, Group Counseling, and Assessment and Treatment of Common Mental Health Disorders. The courses you take during your program can be diverse depending on the type of specialization you choose for your degree.

Psychology-focused students may be accepted into Doctoral Psychology programs after completion of bachelor’s or master’s level psychology degree programs. Most APA-accredited psychology programs consist of around 4 years of course work for students that are entering from the bachelor’s level.

Courses in this program can include a look at the scientific analysis of behavior and emotion from a psychological point of view. Students in this degree program may take courses that allow them to make assumptions based on psychological testing and create effective treatment packages that align with treatment standards for common and uncommon psychological disorders.

As part of a Doctoral Psychology degree program, you may also take part in a doctoral dissertation or research project that can spotlight your knowledge and expertise in your field. This can include developing a unique research question, creating a study or project that tests certain hypotheses regarding your question, and organizing your process and results according to research expectations.

Most Doctoral Psychology programs require students to participate in a residency or on-campus research seminar as part of their degree requirements. These experiences can provide students with more opportunities for growth and learning through involvement with licensed psychologists in the field.

Career Options

One of the factors that truly sets counseling apart from psychology is the type of careers that can be obtained through the different educational programs. When researching the courses associated with each program, you can quickly see some of the similarities of each program as well as notice that the foundations for both fields are in the same generalized area.

If you were to pursue a career in Counseling, you might be able to find specific careers based on the type of specialization you choose – if any. Counselors can work with individuals and families struggling with traumatic life events or even those that are struggling through normal life changes.

Counseling professionals can also work in schools, providing counseling services to students as they work through the normal developmental stages of life, or in rehabilitation facilities with adults that are struggling with addiction.

Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs) can also work in private practice, providing care to clients within their communities based upon their individual needs. Receiving a license to practice counseling can open up more opportunities for you to work with specific groups of clients during your career.

Psychologists can pursue careers related to the diagnosis and treatment of serious mental health disorders in private practice or with mental health agencies across the U.S. Psychologists can also be found in hospitals or other acute care settings where mental health assessments may be administered when needed.

Licensure in psychology can also allow professionals to work in private practice, which can be a great advantage to professionals looking for unique and customizable career options. In some areas of social services, Psychologists can be hired as experts in mental health to help make informed decisions regarding the treatment of clients involved with social services.

Pursuing a career as a Psychologist can also help you obtain careers in education. Doctoral-level professionals can be valuable tools for teaching upcoming psychological professionals the ropes in the field of psychology.

Each field provides it own unique take on psychology for the benefit of society. Whether you choose to become a Counselor or Psychologist through your educational degree program, you can look forward to helping those struggling with emotional, behavioral, or relationship-focused mental health problems.

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