What is Counseling Psychology?

What is counseling psychology?

Counseling psychology is a psychological specialty that facilitates personal and interpersonal functioning across the life span with a focus on emotional, social, vocational, educational, health-related, developmental, and organizational concerns. Through the integration of theory, research, and practice, and with a sensitivity to multicultural issues, this specialty encompasses a broad range of practices that help people improve their well-being, alleviate distress and maladjustment, resolve crises, and increase their ability to live more highly functioning lives. Counseling psychology is unique in its attention both to normal developmental issues and to problems associated with physical, emotional, and mental disorders.

What do counseling psychologists do?

Counseling psychologists participate in a range of activities including psychotherapeutic and counseling practice, teaching, research, career development, assessment, supervision, and consultation. They employ a variety of methods closely tied to theory and research to help individuals, groups, and organizations function optimally, as well as to reduce dysfunction. Interventions may be either brief or long-term; they are often problem-specific and goal-directed. These activities are guided by a philosophy that values individual differences and diversity and a focus on prevention, development, and adjustment across the life span that includes vocational concerns.

What is the difference between counseling psychology and clinical psychology?

These two specialty areas of psychology have different historical roots, but their similarities are far greater than their differences in the present day. Both counseling psychologists and clinical psychologists work as psychotherapists, researchers, college professors, administrators, and clinical supervisors. Graduates of doctoral programs in both areas are eligible for licensure as psychologists throughout the United States.

Given these similarities, are there any differences? Surveys of counseling and clinical psychologists have revealed a few differences in graduate training, research areas, and practice that reflect the unique histories of the two specialty areas. For example, counseling psychologists are more likely than clinical psychologists to (a) offer psychological services to relatively healthy populations, (b) work in university counseling centers, (c) conduct career and vocational assessment, and (d) do research on aspects of sociocultural diversity and vocational assessment. In contrast, clinical psychologists are more likely than counseling psychologists to (a) offer psychological services to populations with severe mental illness, (b) work in hospitals or other medical settings, (c) assess and diagnosis severe psychopathology, and (d) do research on serious mental illness and medical psychology.

These differences should be viewed as distinctive emphases rather than unique characteristics of the two specialty areas. For example, some clinical psychology programs may offer vocational assessment training, whereas some counseling psychology programs may offer substantial training in psychiatric diagnosis. Prospective doctoral applicants may be best served by considering all options and then applying to the programs that best match their academic credentials, research interests, applied training interests, and career aspiration.

Source of Information: For more information on the training and work settings of counseling psychologists, visit the Division 17 of the American Psychological Association, the Society of Counseling Psychology, website.

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Springfield College Assistant Professor of Psychology and Director for the Undergraduate Psychology Program Elizabeth Morgan has been named the president-elect for the Society for the Study of Emerging Adulthood (SSEA).