Master’s in Counseling vs. Psychology: Which Degree Is Right for You?

If you have a keen interest in psychology and mental health, you might benefit from exploring counseling or psychology degree programs.

Counseling involves helping others by using therapeutic methods, such as psychotherapy, in clinical settings. Master’s programs focus on how to work with patients on healthy communications, coping mechanisms, and interrupting trauma cycles.

Master’s in psychology programs take a more scientific approach to psychology. Coursework in these programs focuses on scientific tests and measurements in psychology, specialized fields that include studying a person's frame of mind, and aspects of normal and abnormal psychological development.

As you consider master’s in counseling vs. psychology degree programs, you may notice that there are many degree options and specializations available for you to choose from. Each of these paths was created to provide you with structured learning that is specific to the career you plan to engage in after graduation.

Consider an online counseling program: Bachelor's holders can prepare to become a licensed professional counselor online. With no GRE scores required to apply, the 24 month online MA in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine allows you to advance your career and be a catalyst of change. Learn more.
MA in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine
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Master’s in Counseling vs. Master’s in Psychology: Educational Requirements

Doing your research into career options in mental health and psychological science can help you determine the best learning path for you to pursue. Both the online master’s in counseling and master’s in psychology can be beneficial to learners who are intrigued by the human mind and how it processes daily stimuli from the environment.

Most careers in counseling and advanced psychology require that you go through the steps required to become licensed. As a general rule of thumb, you should keep in mind that the minimum degree requirement for licensure in most states is a master’s degree.

Your chosen school should have the right type of accreditation for your field, which can help you rest assured that your involvement in a master’s program could potentially lead to licensure. Accreditation for the fields of counseling and psychology is often provided by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and the American Psychological Association (APA).

As you consider a master’s in counseling vs. psychology, you should definitely research the specific accreditation of your program against the requirements of licensure in your state. Most universities offer this information to you on the program's web page.

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☰ For detailed degree information, view the guides to:
Online CACREP Accredited programs | Online MPCAC Accredited programs

What Is a Master’s in Counseling?

While you review online institutions offering degree programs in counseling, you should look closely at the curriculum provided by each one. The courses that you take during your program can influence your focus areas and career interests going forward.

A master’s in counseling involves coursework that covers the signs and symptoms of mental health disorders, methods for conducting assessments on your clients, and the step-by-step process of developing an individualized treatment plan.

A graduate counseling program can also include a specialization that can better prepare you for working with a certain population in society. Marriage and family counseling, school counseling, and career counseling are just a few of the many different concentration options you might see during your initial search.

What Is a Master’s in Psychology?

For students who are more focused on the scientific and experimental aspects of mental health, a master’s in psychology may be a viable option to consider. This online program can help you develop effective treatment programs for individuals with simple to complex mental health disorders, and even help you gain expertise in the development-specific aspects of psychology.

A master’s in psychology can be an excellent program for learners interested in helping people by further advancing understanding in the field of psychology. Students may be trained to conduct psychological tests in different professional environments in an effort to diagnose and recommend treatment for their clients.

This degree program may also offer the option of choosing a secondary field to add to your degree, such as forensic psychology, counseling psychology, or developmental psychology.

Online Programs to Consider

If you choose to pursue a career in professional counseling, your minimum degree requirement for licensure is a master’s degree. When looking at either master’s in counseling or psychology programs, it’s important to prioritize accreditation status as well as areas of focus or specialization.

CACREP provides students with an updated list of accredited schools on its website. Take a look at a few example schools that can be found through your search.

  • Messiah College: Online Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling, and School Counseling
  • North Carolina State University: Online Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Students Affairs and College Counseling, and School Counseling

At the master’s level, many psychology programs may require additional certification in order to gain licensure. Generalized online degree programs in psychology at the master’s level can be found at a large number of schools all over the U.S. Some schools offering this program online can be found below.

  • Arizona State University: Online Master’s in Psychology
  • Purdue University: Online Master’s in Psychology — Applied Behavior Analysis, Addictions, Forensic, and I/O Specializations Available

Master of Science in Counseling Pros and Cons

When considering your educational path, it’s important to look at the master of science in counseling pros and cons. The benefits of the master’s in counseling include:

  • Learning more about effective counseling techniques
  • Exposure to different career options — such as family therapist or school counselor careers

While master’s in counseling graduates can specifically focus on the needs of their clients, they lack the training to influence their field through further research and development. To play more of a leadership role within this field, you may benefit from a Master of Education in Counseling degree, which will allow you to both practice and teach.

Master of Education in Counseling Pros and Cons

In terms of the Master of Education in Counseling pros and cons, you can expect a more rigorous educational experience, but also more opportunities to work in an academic setting and to conduct research within your field.

Master of Science in Psychology Pros and Cons

A master’s in psychology could be the ideal choice for learners with the desire to break apart complex problems and determine effective and meaningful solutions. The benefits of the master’s in psychology include:

  • In-depth scientific knowledge that can be applied to several different professional fields including business, education, and even healthcare
  • Technical knowledge for conducting tests and diagnosing patients

A shortcoming of a master’s in psychology is its focus on more scientific aspects of behavior, which may mean leaving out some of the training in relationship and communication issues found in the counseling program. Your decision to pursue either a master’s in counseling or psychology degree program should include a look at both the positive and negative aspects of each.

Classes to Take

Those deciding between a graduate counseling or a graduate psychology program should consider some of the available courses.

  • Intro to Counseling: Students enrolled in counseling programs may begin their experience with a course that outlines the history and development of this field at the start of their classes. This course can introduce students to the general mission of this field, as well as founding professionals that aided in its growth.
  • Research Methods: Students in both counseling and psychology may spend some time training to plan and implement relevant research projects during their studies. This course leads students through the conceptualization of a hypothesis, planning the research project, collecting data, and reporting results.
  • Working with Diverse Populations: Both counseling and psychology professionals alike should be able to work with people from all walks of life. Since these fields are based on the needs of all people, learning about different cultures, beliefs, and religions in this course can be beneficial to all professionals who want to provide the best quality of care to everyone they serve.

Can You Become a Counselor with a Master’s in Psychology?

If you’re drawn to the counseling profession but also have an intellectual interest in psychological principles, you may wonder if you can become a counselor with a master’s in psychology.

Generally speaking, a bachelor’s degree in psychology can provide a good foundation for further study in counseling. However, a psychology degree may not furnish you with the specific skills needed to build rapport and communicate with clients in a therapeutic setting. As such, a master’s or doctorate degree in counseling is usually necessary for licensing and practice.

Counseling vs. Clinical Psychology: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to counseling vs. clinical psychology, the difference mainly has to do with the clients or patients you treat. Counselors generally see patients who may be dealing with circumstantial mental health issues. Alternatively, clinical psychologists treat patients with diagnosable mental health conditions or other underlying pathologies, many of which may require medication to fully address.

Master’s in Counseling vs. Psychology: Still Deciding?

Both psychologists and counselors provide invaluable services to those who need mental health support or treatment. However, a close look at master’s in counseling vs. psychology programs reveals that there are some important distinctions between the two, and they each can lead to different career paths. Explore some resources that explain program specifics, available courses, and schools that are currently accepting applications, and discover which program is right for you.

Licensure for Counseling and Psychology

Most people enrolled in counseling degree programs intend on pursuing their license once they complete their studies. In order to meet all of the requirements for licensure in your state, you may need to spend some time reviewing the requirements.

Many states require that students earn a minimum of a master’s in counseling from a program that has been accredited by the CACREP. In addition to the educational component, aspiring counselors must also work under the supervision of a licensed counselor for up to two years in a clinical setting.

Once these conditions have been met, students are eligible to sit for the National Counselor Examination, which is the final step before applying for licensure. You are encouraged to find your state's guidelines prior to enrolling in a program.

In psychology-based fields, different certifications may have different paths to licensure. If you plan to work in a research field or in a specialized area such as forensic psychology, licensing may not be required. Some fields may require a doctorate education.

Other fields such as applied behavior analysis and school psychology may require you to receive higher certification and engage in other types of supervised clinical experience before applying for licensure.

Careers Available to You

Assessing master’s in counseling vs. psychology degree programs means assessing different career options. Each degree leads to different careers with different patient populations and services.

As a counselor, you can choose to work in any of several different specialized areas such as child and adolescent counseling, school counseling, clinical mental health counseling, or even marriage and family counseling. Each provides its own standard of care to the population it focuses on, making it important for you to explore the type of people you would like to work with in the field.

Psychology careers can be found in education, research, or even partnered with law enforcement and social services. Careers in behavior analysis, school psychology, and clinical psychology are also available to students who are willing to pursue additional training and licensure in the future.

List of Programs

Capella University 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters 🗗 Doctorate

Our Lady of the Lake University 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

Pepperdine University 🗹 Online

Purdue University Global 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

National Louis University 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology 🗹 Online

Lamar University 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

Liberty University 🗹 Online

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

MS Psychology
NECHE Accredited

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters 🗗 Bachelors

Our Lady of the Lake University 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

National Louis University 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters 🗗 Doctorate

Colorado Christian University 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

Colorado Christian University 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

Colorado Christian University 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

Colorado Christian University 🗹 Online 🗗 Masters

Counseling Career Guide

Still Looking for a Counseling Degree?

Here are some of the most popular online counseling programs. On each page you will find a detailed write-up of the program, specific courses, and schools that offer that program that are currently accepting applicants.