What’s the Difference Between a Master’s in Counseling and a Master’s in Counseling Psychology?

Many people use the terms “counselor” and “psychologist” interchangeably because they assume that these professional provide the same level of care to their patients. However, while both counselors and psychologists offer similar treatment, each actually has a different set of skills and expertise for different areas of mental and emotional health. Because they differ in occupational skills and methodology, they also each earn separate degrees. A master’s in counseling differs from a master’s degree in psychology. Psychologists might choose to focus on counseling, but their master’s degrees actually differ in content. The following will help further differentiate the two degrees.

Master’s Degree in Counseling

Counselors must earn a master’s degree in the field of counseling with a focus on a practice area. The American Counseling Association outlines the specific procedures for becoming a licensed counselor and the specialties one can explore with this degree. In general, those interested in becoming a counselor should have a bachelor’s degree in a liberal arts subject and seek a master’s or doctoral degree in a counseling specialty. Subjects such as marriage and family, mental health, occupational and other areas make up the basis for a counselor’s master’s program. Because counselors specialize in one subject, they must choose a specific course of study for their master’s programs.

Master’s Degree in Psychology

Psychologists, on the other hand, usually possess a doctorate degree in order to practice psychology. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that psychologists must earn a doctorate in order to practice clinical psychology. Other areas of psychology may only require a master’s degree. For example, school psychologists may practice their field with a master’s degree. In this case, their course of study would involve an education background as well as the fundamental principles of child development. Those with a master’s in psychology can also work as industrial-organizational psychologists or assist licensed practitioners with research and other assistant-type work.

Practice Areas

The major difference between a counselor and a psychologist comes in their methodology. Psychologists treat emotional, mental and behavioral issues on a deep, medically-based level. Counselors help treat patients with emotional or mental issues, often solving short-term problems as opposed to the long-term situations that psychologists face. A master’s degree in psychology focuses on research methods and often serves a beginning step in a doctoral program, whereas a master’s degree in counseling serves as a comprehensive program for most practicing counselors.

Psychologists may choose to focus their practice on counseling, but their master’s degree is not counseling-specific. Instead, it focuses on research. Counselors, on the other hand, specifically learn how to deal with things like grief, financial burdens and marital trouble rather than on research-based clinical studies. The difference between a master’s in counseling and a master’s in psychology is more than a simple matter of terminology. Because both of these professionals address complex human emotions and mental struggle, they often get lumped into the same category. However, they each treat different issues using different methods, and their educational programs cater to their specific areas of focus.