Clinical Mental Health Counselor vs. Clinical Psychologist
Clinical Mental Health Counselor vs. Clinical Psychologist
Clinical mental health counselors and clinical psychologists both provide tremendous help and necessary resources to a variety of populations. Both careers focus on understanding human behavior and promoting positive change within individual, familial, or group dynamics.
However, it is important to understand the key differences between these two careers in order to make the most proactive decision for prospective mental health professionals.
Clinical mental health counselors have master’s degrees in mental health counseling or a related major. Depending on the school and coursework, these programs range from about 1-3 years. Coursework focuses on mental health themes including human development, counseling techniques, assessment, and multicultural issues.
While many professionals have undergraduate degrees in psychology or other related majors, this is not always required for graduate school admissions.
All mental health counseling students must also engage in practicum and internship experiences under the supervision of a licensed counselor. These experiences provide students with the opportunity to apply theory and begin initial stages of performing therapy and clinical services.
The Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) focuses on scientific research (collecting data and statistics and facilitating experiments) and/or teaching experience. These doctoral programs emphasize applying research methods and scientific knowledge to expand the psychology field. Both private and public universities typically offer PhD programs.
The Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD) focuses more on counseling and psychological services than conducting research. This doctoral program prepares students for providing clinical treatment by utilizing an understanding of human behavior and implementing evidence-based techniques.
On average, both programs take about 5-7 years to complete.
After completing extensive coursework in advanced psychology and research, students must typically defend a dissertation, which is an intensive research project based on theory and applied experimental data, and pass comprehensive exams as designated by each school.
While it is not a necessary requirement, many psychologists have undergraduate backgrounds in psychology or related social science fields. Many psychologists have also completed graduate-level coursework or have obtained terminal master’s degree in psychology or counseling fields prior to pursuing their doctoral programs.
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With that said, the path towards clinical psychology licensure typically includes:
Completing a PhD or PsyD doctoral program
Finishing 1-2 years of supervised professional interning or training
Passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology
Completing continuing education units (CEUs) to maintain active licensure
For psychologists interested in advancing their learning, the American Board of Professional Psychology grants specialty certifications in a variety of fields, including group psychology, psychoanalysis, counseling, forensic, and school psychology.
Mental health counselors typically provide direct clinical services and treatment to individuals struggling with emotional or behavioral issues. They seek to help people in distress and provide advanced listening and reflective skills to foster insight and promote change.
Clinical psychologists provide continual, comprehensive mental and behavioral health care for individuals and families. They may also consult with agencies and communities, train, teach, or supervise other mental health professionals, and/or conduct psychological research.
Typical job responsibilities including:
Assessing and diagnosing mental health disorders
Providing therapeutic services
Conducting assessments with standardized testing and research measures
Consulting with mental health professionals for treatment planning
Engaging and implementing in scientific research
Writing relevant research and peer-reviewed articles
Approaches to Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Disorders
Mental health counselors provide counseling services for those struggling with various mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. They implement active listening skills, reflection, compassion, and appropriate communication with clients to create a trusting clinical relationship and facilitate positive change.
Mental health counselors typically work from a theoretical framework, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in order to conceptualize human behavior and employ effective interventions for successful treatment planning. They often work in a collaborative approach with their clients.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), clinical psychology represents a relatively broad field, as clinical psychologists work in a variety of sectors. In general, clinical psychologists assess and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders. They integrate research, evidence, and science to provide effective treatment to facilitate healthy living and positive change.
Clinical psychologists may act within a counseling role to assist people with psychological distress. While they employ many different techniques and interventions, clinical psychologists often obtain intake and assessment information, conduct diagnostic testing, and provide psychotherapy services for individuals, families, couples, and groups.
Within this role, clinical psychologists may focus on a specific population, such as adolescents or those struggling with substance use disorders. They may focus on the health or neuropsychology of their patients, identifying developmental disorders, traumatic brain injuries, or the impact of how other medical conditions affect emotional functioning.
What is the difference between a clinical mental health counselor and a clinical psychologist?
Becoming a clinical psychologist requires more time in post-graduate school which can demand more time and money in terms of pursuing the career. While both careers may include counseling, clinical psychology also often encompasses teaching, research, and testing/assessment.
Working as a clinical psychologist or mental health counselor can be an incredibly rewarding career for individuals who enjoy learning and connecting with other people. Both fields offer limitless opportunities to create effective and lasting change for the communities they serve.