If you study psychology, you'll hear the job titles "counseling psychologist" and "clinical psychologist." What's the difference? Today, the two are pretty similar. Both counsel people one-on-one or in groups, both work in settings such as community mental health centers and hospitals, and both often do research. The two may even use similar techniques and treat similar types of clients.
But historically, clinical psychologists were more likely to work with people who had a mental illness. Counseling psychologists concentrated on people who weren't sick but who needed help developing their careers. Over time, counseling psychologists have added to their services -- they now help people reach all sorts of goals, not just finding the right job.
Students in this major learn how to provide psychological counseling to people one-on-one and in groups. Courses include such topics as patient/counselor relationships, group therapy, child and adolescent therapy, and marital and family therapy.
Did You Know?
You probably won’t be able to major in counseling psychology until graduate school. But you can major in psychology and be on the lookout for classes and activities related to counseling.
Are You Ready To...?
- Visit the website of the American Psychological Association
- Consider joining the psychology national honorary society, Psi Chi
- Volunteer or work in a counseling setting such as a child abuse hotline
- Conduct research and write papers
- Relate the concepts you are studying to your own life
It Helps To Be...
A good listener and a caring person. And you'll need to be able to apply the concepts you learn in school to real people, which takes creativity and flexibility. You'll also need to take good care of yourself to avoid burnout.
- What percentage of graduates go on to graduate school in counseling psychology?
- What jobs have recent grads taken? What do they have to say about the program?
- Does the school offer a counseling psychology major or concentration? If not, does it offer plenty of courses in the subject?
- Does the psychology program lead to a bachelor of arts (B.A.), a bachelor of science (B.S.), or both?
- What are the requirements for declaring a psychology major?
- Do any of the program's professors work as counseling psychologists?
- What hands-on learning opportunities does the program provide?
- Are there active campus clubs related to the major?
Did You Know?
One major study showed that half of patients receiving counseling improved noticeably after only eight sessions, while 75 percent improved by the end of six months.
Most psychology programs require a research project. This can serve you well if you want to become a counseling psychologist, since most grad programs look for applicants with backgrounds in both counseling and research. Even if you don't continue on this path, the skills you gain as you plan, run, and write up your own experiment will serve you in any career you pursue.
One of your first steps will be to find a professor to act as your advisor on the project. Try to work with one whose specialty is counseling psychology or something closely related, such as social, developmental, personality, or clinical psychology.