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Counseling psychology vs clinical psychology reddit

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If you’re considering a clinical psychology degree, counseling psychology degree, or any other graduate degree in psychology, you have many choices in higher education ahead of you. From what type of degree to earn to which school to make your academic home, the end goal is to make you a professional psychologist qualified to pursue career paths in mental health counseling and more depending on the path you choose. One of the most basic-yet most important-decisions you will make about an advanced degree in psychology is what type of psychology you want to study. While there is some overlap between different branches of psychology, there are also differences. The area you decide to study will determine your educational and career path for years to come.

A clinical psychologist and a counseling psychologist share many functions in mental health sciences. For example, both groups of psychologists have proficient counseling skills, provide psychotherapy and participate in research. They’re employed in similar settings, such as universities and college counseling centers, community health clinics, hospitals, and private practice. When it comes to licensure, there’s also no difference between the groups-clinical psychologists and counseling psychologists are both considered licensed psychologists in all 50 states (Morgan & Cohen, 2008; Roger & Stone, 2020). There is, however, a difference in clinical vs counseling psychology.

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What Is The Difference Between Clinical and Counseling Psychology?

Knowing the differences between clinical vs. counseling psychology can help you choose the ideal psychology degree program. Let’s explore clinical psychology versus counseling psychology and their range of mental health conditions a little more in-depth.

What is Clinical Psychology?

Clinical psychologists receive a wealth of training in theoretical orientations, including psychoanalytic, behavioral, and cognitive-behavioral theoretical foundations, among others (Norcross, 2000). Clinical psychologists work in a variety of settings, such as, but not limited to, universities, community mental health centers, private practice, hospitals, inpatient settings, primary care settings, and academic medical centers (Brems & Johnson, 1997; Norcross, 2000). Is a clinical psychologist a therapist? While clinical psychologists work with a broad range of psychopathology and clinical diagnoses, they also receive more extensive clinical training with serious psychopathology, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, extreme mental illness and major depressive disorders, among others (Morgan & Cohen, 2008).

What is Counseling Psychology?

To define counseling psychology, one can only wonder, what does a counseling psychologist do? In contrast to their clinical counterparts, professional counseling psychologists tend to ascribe to humanistic and person-centered theoretical orientations and are often employed at universities and university counseling centers and in human service settings, such as mental health centers and family services (Brems & Johnson, 1997; Norcross et al., 1998; Norcross, 2000). A psychologist counselor tends to work with healthier patients who have less severe mental illness or psychological problems. After completing a counseling psychology program and becoming a licensed professional counselor, their work focuses more on emotional, social and physical issues that arise from typical life stresses or more serious issues associated with school, work or family settings (Norcross, 2000). Counseling psychologists might see patients for relationship issues, substance abuse counseling, career counseling, difficulty adapting to life changes and other such issues.

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Should I Be a Clinical or Counseling Psychologist?

The American Psychological Association (APA) accredits doctoral programs in clinical, counseling, and school psychology, as well as internships and postdoctoral residency programs. Accreditation demonstrates that the graduate program has satisfied the Standards of Accreditation in Health Service Psychology (SoA) and that graduates are competent in providing psychological services to the public ( Also, some licensing boards require candidates to have graduated from an APA-accredited doctoral program, so ensuring that you select an APA-accredited graduate program has multiple benefits following graduation. All APA-accredited doctoral programs have been found to be consistent with the Standards of Accreditation; however, each program has aims that are unique and define the training goals for their graduates. 

Your choice of graduate psychology program will depend on your interests as a licensed psychologist or mental health professional. Are you interested in studying psychopathology and working with patients with serious psychological and mental health disorders? Or are you more interested in providing emotional and vocational support for a healthier population base with psychology counseling?

Whatever your career preference in professional practice, a doctoral program in either clinical psychology or counseling psychology can serve you well. In fact, a peer-reviewed study of counseling and clinical psychology programs around the country found a significant number of similarities between the two types of programs, and noted it was more important to select a doctoral program that offered specialized concentrations and faculty whose interests align with yours (Morgan & Cohen, 2008).

No matter where your career interests lie, Alliant International University’s California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP) can help you on your way. Our psychology graduate school offers Doctorate in Clinical Psychology degree programs at a number of campus locations throughout California. Each program also offers hands-on experience and a wide range of emphasis areas to further specialize your studies and guide your future career after graduation.

To learn more about Alliant’s PhD in Clinical Psychology degree programs, PsyD in Clinical Psychology degree programs or our Master’s in Clinical Counseling degree program, call us today at (866) 825-5426

Alliant International University offers many educational programs, master’s degree programs, PsyD and PhD clinical psychology programs, and more at our campuses in California and online. Apply to a counseling program today!


  • American Psychological Association (n.d.). Why APA accreditation matters. Retrieved December 8, 2020 from
  • Brems, C., & Johnson, M.E. (1997) Comparison of recent graduates of clinical versus counseling psychology programs, The Journal of Psychology, 131(1), 91-99, doi: 10.1080/00223989709603507 
  • Morgan, R. D., & Cohen, L. M. (2008). Clinical and counseling psychology: Can differences be gleaned from printed recruiting materials? Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 2(3), 156-164.
  • Norcross, J. C., Sayette, M. A., Mayne, T. J., Karg, R. S., & Turkson, M. A. (1998). Selecting a doctoral program in professional psychology: Some comparisons among PhD counseling, PhD clinical, and PsyD clinical psychology programs. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 29, 609–614. doi:10.1037/0735-7028.29.6.609 
  • Norcross, J. C. (2000). Clinical versus counseling psychology: What’s the diff. Eye on Psi Chi, 5(1), 20-22.
  • Roger, P. R., & Stone, G. (2020). Counseling psychology vs. clinical psychology. Society of Counseling Psychology: American Psychological Association Division 17.

I also posted an edited version of this in r/GradSchool

Psychology seems to be a field that I’m interested in (regarding research and personality development). I graduated with a B.S. in Visualization (animation, graphic design, video game design) and I currently work in corporate America as a full-time UX designer (which involves some minor user research, but it’s not extensive).

I’ve been accepted into a counseling master’s program to obtain an LPC license but I think I would enjoy the research aspects of psychology in addition to counseling individuals. Ultimately, I’d like to counsel/provide therapy for folks and eventually also perform research (in personality development, sexuality development, adaptation of individuals to their environments, etc).

All of that being said: I’m not totally sure if a master’s program alone will be what I want to pursue or if I’m more well-suited for a PhD program. Some programs (ex: UNT in Denton, TX) don’t even offer a Master’s in Psychology, only a PhD (and you can get a master’s degree on the way to completion of a PhD). My main questions:

  • Are there research opportunities for folks with a counseling master’s or counseling PhD? Or would a psychology master’s or PhD be better for research?

  • What are some nuances to consider when deciding between a master’s in psychology vs a PhD in psychology?

  • I don’t have a B.S. related to psychology and don’t have much experience in research, how do I get into a master’s program or PhD program without the “prerequisites”?

  • What are the nuances between a PhD in counseling vs a PhD in psychology (or counseling psychology)?

I know some of those are broad questions, but any answers or advice would be helpful! I’m mostly trying to narrow down what I should choose for grad school.

tl;dr – UX designer is considering psychology rather than counseling grad school. How do I discern which one to apply for and how do I get in?

P.S. I live in the DFW area of Texas and would like to pursue a program there!

Are we talking “Only 1-2 years of run-of-the-mill RA work” lack of research experience, or are we talking “Never seen the inside of a lab” lack of research?

Hey Ollie,

Thanks for taking the time to read and respond. Sadly, more as in the latter… ( for reaons and some background, please feel free to read my original post on the Dr/advisor thread, last week. Sorry, unsure how to post that link).

Teaching experience is certainly a positive on an application, and it sounds like your experience was quite extensive. At the more competitive clinical PhDs, you can have all the teaching experience in the world but with no research experience you are still very unlikely to even get an interview.

I know. I realize I will have to apply to a combination of PsyD programs, counselling PhD programs and a few practise-emphasis clinical PhD programs.

Beyond that, how it balances out will probably vary a great deal between programs, and even between individual faculty members within programs. As for PsyDs? Hard for me to say, though I would guess no since they aren’t focused on producing academics. That said, depending on what sort of PsyD programs you’d want to go to, acceptance standards might be much lower on average than a traditional program (not trying to start another flame war…its just reality if you look at the data on professional schools, where the PsyD model is far more prevalent) so even if its not absolutely coveted experience it might be enough to get you in.

I intend to do my personal best and then let go. I am a fairly spiritual person and believe that we make the efforts but ultimately, what is meant to happen — will. I have a wealth of life unique experiences, which may or may not make up for the absence of the more traditional experiences that are expected from applicants ( Nothing exotic, but I ‘ve lived in three different continents and overcame many difficult circumstances). I think that I am a mature individual, with academic strengths and a good clinical potential. Will these come through when I apply? I certainly hope so, but I guess I won’t know unless I try….

I doubt you’ll find a large variability in terms of value of teaching experience between clinical and counseling programs. From what I’ve seen the only real difference in admissions is that clinical tends to be slightly more competitive (emphasis on slightly), probably due to larger numbers of applicants. Obviously, there are differences in terms of how well you “fit” with each model, but its not like one is looking for vastly different things than the other. I’d have been a miserable candidate for most counseling programs because my interests are heavy on things like cognitive neuroscience and counseling psych research trends more towards the social psych domain, though obviously exceptions exist.