What is the Difference Between a School Guidance Counselor and a School Psychologist?

School Guidance CounselorAlthough school psychologists and school counselors often overlap in their duties, there is a difference between a school guidance counselor and a school psychologist. They both serve the K-12 population and the school staff supporting them, and work in colleges. While they sometimes serve the same children, and (especially in small school districts) serve in similar capacities, their intended primary responsibilities are different.

What Does a School Psychologist Do?

School psychologists are funded by special education programs. That means their primary duties lie with at-risk students. Some of these students have disabilities or are delayed, but “special needs” also covers students from at-risk families. These students may be in the foster care system or they may have institutionalized parents (for instance in penal institutions or treatment facilities). Psychologists consult with teachers and parents to identify issues and to devise interventions. They also may serve on commissions and boards dealing with educational issues for at-risk students, including the development of educational programs and materials. Often, school psychologists involve themselves in research programs aimed at developing more effective teaching systems. Psychologists in small school districts may serve several schools, and so maintain a schedule that gives them limited availability to individual schools for crisis intervention.

What are the Duties of a School Counselor?

School Counselors work with the general student population, not primarily the special needs children. According to Grad Schools.com, they deliver direct services such as counseling to students. Counselors at the K-12 level often hold educational programs or assemblies to teach social skills to classes. In secondary schools, counselors help students plan for ACT or SAT testing and apply for scholarships. They assist in selecting appropriate colleges and in deciding on majors and areas of concentration. They also may offer staff development and training programs.

What is the Difference in the Training Needed?

School psychologists generally need a Ph.D. That requires five to seven years of education, a research project and a thesis to defend it. In addition, they must serve internships. Because the doctorate degrees demand original research, these professionals are more apt to conduct research in the schools they serve, leading to developing more efficient programming. School counselors need master’s degrees, which require an additional two years of school beyond the undergraduate degree. The school psychologist usually has a concentration in special-needs children but the counselor does not.

Related Resource: Clinical Psychologist

Salary and Job Outlook

Both positions are considered as counseling professions and, as such, fall under the same employment outlook. Get Educated, statistics say that the counseling profession is expected to grow by 11 %, which is a little better than average. There is a difference in salaries, though. The median salary of school psychologists in 2012 was $64,140. School counselors earned a bit less at $51,050.
Students considering counseling careers in schools should decide if they want to work with the special needs population and whether they are research-oriented. Another consideration may be the cost of the additional education required to become a psychologist. The curriculum for both professions is demanding, and the last and most important difference between a school guidance counselor and a school psychologist may be in the career goals and the aptitude of the students entering college programs.