5 Differences Between Counseling and Psychology Degrees

5-differences-between-counseling-and-psychology-degreesAs studies focused on human behavior, counseling and psychology share several commonalities. Among them are an understanding of human development, treatment of individuals and groups, strong listening skills and the application of a variety of therapies. Because of these similarities, people interested in pursuing either of the two degrees may find it difficult to distinguish between them. Since the differences are worth noting, here are five that clearly delineate their distinct features:

Undergraduate Preparation

While a bachelor’s degree in psychology often provides entrée into the study of counseling — in fact, it is the most common route — a variety of social science undergraduate degrees, from sociology to anthropology, facilitates entry into advanced study for many.

Offering a solid academic foundation for counseling, this background also covers the commonalities mentioned earlier as well as basic social science concepts needed in this profession. By contrast, those for whom a graduate degree in psychology is the objective naturally find that an undergraduate degree solely in psychology is both necessary and beneficial, undergirding their graduate studies on both the masters and doctorate levels.

Postgraduate Time Investment

In counseling, a master’s degree is generally the terminal degree, lending itself to careers that do not necessitate a doctoral degree. As a result, two to three years of study, including coursework along with a supervised practicum under the auspices of a licensed counselor, usually represent the entire time investment for a counseling degree. Likewise, two to three years are required for a masters in psychology. However, this is often a precursor to the additional four to seven years needed to earn a doctorate in the field — a necessary achievement for psychologists — with the overall length of study time determined by the specialty area chosen. Clinical psychologists or child psychologists, for instance, generally require a longer time investment than a forensic or criminal psychologist, among others.

Program of Study

Human development and mental health as well as counseling techniques, particularly group counseling, are among the key components of the course requirements for a counseling degree. Encompassing the specific practices of the profession, including clinical experience in addition to 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised work, this course of study prepares students to counsel in a variety of settings upon graduation and includes diverse types of counseling, from marital and family to addiction and rehabilitation, just to name a few.

In contrast, psychopathology, behavioral assessments, a comprehensive analysis of the range of psychological disorders and perspectives as well as assessment techniques comprise a fundamental part of the training for a psychology degree. Entailing clinical training and licensure, like counseling, the training and study for a psychologist tends to be more extensive and, unlike that of a counselor, incorporates scientific research and experimentation, especially in doctoral programs.

Variety of Specializations

With an emphasis on therapies that treat the symptoms experienced by an individual or group, counselors specialize in assisting individuals with specific life problems. While narrow in scope, these wide-ranging counseling specializations include marriage and family, school and careers, among others.

Often going beyond treatment of symptoms to delve more deeply into both the cognitive and behavioral causes of the symptoms and to seek ways to illuminate these underlying causes as a means of alleviating symptoms, psychologists specialize not only in the types of situations handled by counselors but also in affective rehabilitation, criminology and even such disparate areas as sports and engineering in addition to traditional clinical care, among many others.

Career Paths

The career paths of both a counselor and a psychologist may lead to private practice as a therapist or to work in mental health facilities. However, their paths diverge as the additional years of study required to become a psychologist are usually reflected in higher pay and more extensive career opportunities. Although counselors enjoy a diversity of professional options, including employment as substance abuse counselors, school guidance counselors or even as parole officers, those with a master’s degree in psychology have the same opportunities along with myriad industrial-organizational psychology placements in corporations or government agencies. Additionally, a doctorate confers the designation of “psychologist,” bringing with it eligibility to work as a clinical psychologist in hospitals and clinics, for instance, as an educational psychologist in colleges and schools or as a host of other types of psychologists, from environmental to those within other professions such as legal, consumer and political.

While not exhaustive, this overview of basic differences underscores both the considerations and the alternatives. Understanding them is a preliminary step in determining which degree is most suitable to a student’s career goals and the settings in which the student seeks to work.