Mental health careers in the education sector represent a vital part of community and individual student success. Professionals working in this field enjoy direct service work by assisting students and their families in addition to providing a host of other valuable clinical services. It is important to understand the differences and similarities between school counselors and school psychologists, for prospective individuals to make the best informed decision for their career paths.
School counselors are professionals with at least a master’s degree and state certification/licensure in school counseling.
Typical coursework includes:
Human growth and development
Research and testing
Social and cultural awareness
Theories and framework
School psychologists are professionals with advanced degrees and state licensure/certification in school psychology.
Typical coursework includes:
Academic and learning interventions
Assessment and testing
Mental health interventions
Special education services
Crisis response and recovery
Research and efficacy of programs
Resilience and risk factors
Licensure or Certification
In addition to completing an advanced degree, school counseling students also must complete necessary fieldwork, which is commonly referred to as internship or practicum hours. Every state varies in its particular requirements, and students can be expected to provide anywhere between 100-800 clinical hours providing direct service.
Some states require board exams, proof of professional educator certification, or history of full-time teaching experience. Because of these varying requirements, it is critical for students to carefully evaluate their school program’s coursework relative to the state they seek to practice in.
School psychology students also must complete necessary internship and practicum hours, which provides the opportunity to practice fieldwork skills under mandated supervision.
It should be noted that similar to most mental health professions, each state varies in its own particular requirements and exams. Typically, students must complete 1-2 years of supervised practice (up to 1200 hours) and complete necessary coursework and board exams for licensure. All school psychologists must maintain active licensure status through continuing education units.
School counselors promote academic performance and achievement, personal and social development, and overall career planning and development.
Though the central focus is direct services with students, school counselors routinely assess and collaborate on appropriate treatment methods with families, administrators, teachers, and other mental health professionals.
School psychologists support students, families, and teachers in academic and emotional success. They utilize their professional knowledge in human development and mental health to both identify issues potentially impeding a student’s overall success and find appropriate, working solutions.
Typical school psychologist job descriptions may include the following:
Providing counseling for children and adolescents
Creating skill instruction and support plans
Identifying key issues in schools and defining solutions
Assessing and evaluating student strengths and needs
Collaborating with faculty and parents
Researching effective interventions for academic success
Promoting equality and mental welfare
Providing crisis support
Eighty-one percent of school psychologists work within public school settings, and the remainder work in private schools, hospitals, universities, community agencies, mental health clinics and private practice.
Approach to Students
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, school counselors advocate for students’ academic, emotional, and interpersonal needs. In conjunction with other faculty, they seek to promote a safe and productive learning environment. They may also help students overcome emotional obstacles--these issues can range from behavioral stressors, bullying, or choosing the right college.
Different age groups require require different counseling services. For example, a school counselor working in an elementary school may work closely with a student and their parents to create effective study habits. On the other hand, a high school counselor may assist students with locating targeted internships related to their future career goals.
School psychologists focus on improving the learning, social, and behavior obstacles that may interfere with a student’s overall well-being.
They often utilize evidence-based practices (such as research, assessments, and evaluations) in order to best support students. This information may be shared with the family members, mental health staff, and appropriate teaching and administration faculty to collaborate on effective treatment and interventions. School psychologists may focus on influencing and changing school district policy to best support student success.
What is the difference between a school counselor and a school psychologist?
School counselors and school psychologists do have some overlap and significant differences.
Both careers require an advanced understanding of human behavior, child and adolescent development, and mental health. Both professions value student wellness, academic performance, and increased emotional well-being. Furthermore, both professions often entail providing collaborative care in conjunction with other school personnel, outside professionals, and relevant family members. They are both available for counseling, crisis intervention, and professional expertise.
With that said, the central area of focus and intervention differs between both careers. School counselors focus more on improving mental health and behavioral symptoms through individual and group counseling and education. Typically, they serve the entire school population. School psychologists focus on understanding behavioral symptoms and academic issues via testing, researching, and assessing. They may work with a few select students with specific, targeted issues.
Working in mental health provides endless rewards for both professional and personal growth. Likewise, a career in school counseling or school psychology can be incredibly satisfying for individuals aspiring to make lasting change and positively impact the lives of students and their families.