How is a Counselor Different From a Psychologist?

If both counselors and psychologists deal with mental health issues, what makes a counselor different from a psychologist? Both have a lot of training and both are licensed by the state. Both are recognized as practitioners who can be reimbursed by insurance, including Medicaid. In fact sometimes their duties overlap.

So, what is the difference?

Counselors Usually have Master’s Degrees

They have studied two to three years beyond their baccalaureate degrees, sometimes also earning certificates in specializations such as addiction counseling, marital or family counseling, child and adolescent or geriatric counseling. The therapists concentrate on helping people deal with life challenges like stress and anxiety, depression and relationship problems. Programs contain curriculum that is overseen by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). The programs include some courses in research methodology and assessment, but principally concentrate on the practical issue of accessing the research to apply it to treatment. Examples of courses counselors might study are: Human Behavior and Environment; Case Management in Human Services; Statistics and Introduction to Psychology. In order to become licensed as professionals, these individuals must complete 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised practice and pass an exam.

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Psychologists have Doctoral-Level Degrees

They may have EdD degrees, PhDs or PsyDs. Typically, these professionals spend five to seven years earning their degrees. The process includes finishing all the coursework, completing a long internship and a dissertation that often is 300 or more pages. That is about as long as a novel and it involves doing research. Completing the dissertation might take a year or more in itself. According to Colorado Counseling, a PsyD is a relatively new degree and involves less coursework in research than a PhD in Psychology. The American Psychology Association sets the curriculum for psychology degrees. Psychologists are trained and licensed to treat any mental health issues, but usually focus on more serious disorders like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Many do not have clinical practices at all, but teach in universities and do research. They often administer and assess tests such as IQ or neurological function evaluations, and this might even be the focus of their careers. Psychologists usually do not have MDs and can’t prescribe medication, but they often work with medical doctors to treat patients pharmacologically and with psychotherapy.

Their Practices Sometimes Overlap

Schools, for instance, may have either a school counselor or a school psychologist. While the counselors and the psychologists may work with students who have behavioral or cognitive problems, psychologists usually concentrate on a particular student population. Their services may be paid for under a special education program, for instance, and they will counsel with families of students in this classification, administer and evaluate cognitive tests and design and implement interventions. Industries, as well, often employ either psychologists or counselors to work with employee matters. Counselors, unless they are licensed educators, will not teach in universities or be involved in clinical research. They may, however, work at the schools to help students decide on, and plan for, careers.

Related Resource: Top 10 Online Master’s in Counseling Degree Programs

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Counselors tend to earn less than psychologists. In 2019, a counselor could expect to earn a median salary of $49,610 while the median salary for a psychologist was $80,370, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Those figures can vary according to the geographical area of employment and whether the professional has a private practice or works for a governmental agency or other factors. Still, the main thing that makes a counselor different from a psychologist is training and focus.