From Jim Nolan’s 16 Things You Really Need To Know About Going To Graduate School In The Helping Professions
(That Graduate Schools Do Not Tell You)
What is the Difference Between Clinical Psychology and Counseling Psychology?
The difference is not black and white, but falls more along a continuum. In graduate school, I shared many classes with “Clinical Psych Types”, although I was a “Counseling Psych Type.” “Clinical” Psychology tends to train people to work with what the field calls greater levels of “psychopathology.” People in hospitals, people with “deeper problems” like schizophrenia, and significantly disruptive and disabling issues. Counseling Psychology tends to train people to work with “problems in living”, with relatively “normal” populations who are looking to get their lives on track toward more meaning and satisfaction. Of course Counseling Psychologists work with depression, anxiety, trauma and the like too (everybody in mental health does), but it is more a matter of emphasis, or levels of psychopathology. In-patient hospitals are more likely to have Clinical Psychologists than Counseling Psychologists. Outpatient mental health clinics might have either Counseling or Clinical Psychologists, and both specialties are found commonly in private practice.
Counseling Psychology also historically has covered “Career Counseling”, which has its roots in the post WWII days when a lot of soldiers were coming home and needed help figuring out what kind of work to go into after surviving the insanity of the war. Counseling Psychology was the home for this kind of work. Clinical Psychologists are more likely to study neuropsychology, forensic psychology, and more kinds of psychological testing.
In my experience, Counseling Psych tends to be more “Humanistic”, with a more heart-centered, almost ministerial kind of feel. Clinical Psych seems more left-brained, a little more intellectualized, more research-focused, a little bit more aloof. Counseling Psychology pioneered the emphasis developing multicultural competencies as a therapist, in women’s psychology, and in what we now call Positive Psychology. But remember, there are lots of differences among the individual programs, and if you are convinced you want a doctorate in one of these areas, be sure to study each program closely and ask a lot of questions. I am trying to capture the difference in the way each of them “feels”, because, of course, I am a Counseling Psychologist, and we are more touchy-feely, more heart-centered.