Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychology is a specialty of professional psychology that mainly focuses on facilitation of personal and interpersonal functioning. Avenues of interest for a counseling psychologist when developing a treatment plan may include emotional, social, vocational, educational, health-related, developmental, organizational concerns. There are curious overlaps in the various occupations involving the names counseling and psychology, with some practitioners of counseling having little or no training in the field of psychology.

Counseling Psychology Vs Clinical Psychology

Counsel derives from the Latin root, “consulere,” meaning to consult, advise or deliberate. This occupation is like clinical psychology in many ways including filling a similar role and function, but there is a distinction made that is rooted in the respective histories of the specialties. Although there is a great overlap in the professions, those in the field can be more decisive about the differences. Clinical psychologists traditionally study disturbances in mental health and potential therapeutic approaches to different kinds of pathologies, while counseling psychologists’ earliest role was in providing advice and vocational guidance, in many ways like the intended role of today’s school guidance counselor.

Degree and Programs

While psychologists and counselors are both state-licensed mental health practitioners, generally both are reimbursable by insurance, overlapping duties, but there are definite distinctions between them in their education/training and scope of practice. Although clinical and counseling psychology requires their practitioners to complete doctoral-level training which requires 4-6 years of graduate study, a Master’s level education is the running requirement for counselors, depending on the specific area. For example, one may find a position as a counselor with a Master’s degree in Social Work, while although it inevitably covers some psychological topics, is considered a different discipline. Master’s programs in psychology sometimes take a bit longer to complete than do those some in other fields, as they have an internship component. Salaries of counseling psychologists vary depending on experience and area of practice, with the median salary listed as $73,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Counseling programs follow curriculum standards set by CACREP, an institution aimed at standardizing the practical skills that are needed by counselors to help guide individuals through life and its challenges. Counseling psychologists focus on the ways in which people function both personally and interpersonally, adaptively and maladaptively, providing assessment toward diagnosis and treatment. Through their sessions and their careers, they are seeking to help people with physical, emotional and mental health issues, working to improve their well-being, challenge feelings of distress and resolve crises, and to build a tool kit that they can use to gain better control over negative (and positive) emotions.

What Counselors do?

Counselors are individuals that find joy in helping others improve their focus on living a life that is full and deeply satisfying. Training in counseling psychology requires the development of specialized knowledge of all the different stages of development, as clients may range from any stage or phase of the life cycle, which can be inextricable from approaching their case. The stage of life one is in guides their needs, goals and challenges. Counselors broadly work with clients of all ages, with some specializing in particular ages or subgroups. The coursework focuses on teaching the skills of being a good consumer of research and applying the latest information to actual practice. Programs like their applicants to have a strong GPA and test scores, and prefer them to have undergraduate research experience. Even if the research is not in a relevant field, it shows that the applicant has experience in the methodology and mindset needed to approach scientific research.

Many counseling psychologists implement elements of positive psychology, which focuses on emphasizing the healthy aspects and strengths of individuals, rather than solely trying to fix things that are causing a problem. This makes counseling appealing for those seeking to improve and boost the positive aspects of themselves and their lives, not only those with mental health disturbances. This is an important distinction worth publicizing, as many consider therapy to carry a stigma. One of the main objectives of this position is to facilitate healthy personal and interpersonal functioning across the lifespan, problems or not.

We cannot separate ourselves or our mind (or its troubles) from our facticity. Through listening to the individual and combing their dialogue seeking to recognize environmental and situational influences, counselors approach problems from the perspective of multiple influences including cultural and developmental. Something to keep in mind either as a patient or a practitioner, that bias and personal facticity always come into play in a therapeutic relationship. Some practitioners, especially those in private practice, may have selection criteria for who they will take on as clients. It’s not uncommon for people of faith to choose to pursue a therapist that is also of the same faith, such as a Christian-faith counselor, who speaks to and approaches a client’s problems through the lens of their beliefs and worldview.

Career options

Counselor psychologists work in many different venues, providing varied services to different client populations. Some may be in the employ of academia as teachers, researchers or service providers, many work in independent practices, as a profession providing services to individuals, couples, families and organizations. They may also be found at community mental health centers, medical facilities such as VA hospitals, rehabilitation agencies, or business/industrial organizations. Many individuals in the field of counseling psychology also consult with organizations on a part-time or freelance basis, with some organizations employing a full-time counselor as a member of their staff, and with most companies having a human resources (HR) department. Licensing for this field falls under the umbrella of a general practice and health service provider specialty. The counselor’s goal is to help the client understand how to live their life well, by helping them to work towards tapping into their latent potential, which is sometimes best achieved through a mouthpiece that they identify with. Counseling psychology is a broad field servicing many different subgroups, providing an important service towards improving the well-being of one’s fellow humans.


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