What Is the Difference Between a Counselor and a Psychologist?

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Counselor speaking to client

There are many career paths available to students who have determined they would like to work in a field related to mental health. Two such options are counseling and psychology. Within each field, there are a variety of opportunities for aspiring counselors and psychologists to specialize in a particular area. While the two fields share many similarities, there are also many differences between counselors and psychologists. This article will explain the common duties and responsibilities of each, as well as some specific career specializations available to those who choose to pursue a job in either of these rewarding disciplines.

What Is a Counselor?

They also work with people in academic and organizational settings to develop the skills and knowledge necessary for school or career success.

Duties and Responsibilities

Although a counselor’s specific duties may vary depending on the area in which one chooses to specialize, below are some of the responsibilities that are common among all types of counselors.

  • Work with individuals, couples, families or groups
  • Assist clients in developing the behaviors and skills that will help them to manage or recover from their individual struggles, addictions, disabilities or relational difficulties
  • Work in conjunction with other health professionals to develop any necessary treatment plans
  • Monitor clients’ progress and refer them to other resources, such as doctors or psychologists, as necessary

Career Specializations and Potential Salaries

Those working in counseling may choose to focus their practice in a certain area. This specialization often begins during a student’s education. Many master’s degrees in counseling focus on specific areas, such as clinical mental health or school counseling. Here are some of the common career paths that may be available to counseling students:

Addiction Counselor. These counselors work with individuals who are struggling with substance abuse or behavioral disorders, such as alcoholism, drug use or gambling. In some cases, addiction counselors host group counseling sessions Other addiction counselors work with specific populations or with those who have been court-ordered to receive treatment.

Mental Health Counselor. Mental health counselors work to help their clients manage or recover from a variety of conditions, such as stress, anxiety or depression, grief, or thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

School and Career Counselor. School and career counselors help students and working adults to develop the skills necessary for both academic and career success. In a school setting, these counselors work with students to determine their abilities and interests, help them navigate student life, and assist them in planning for postsecondary education and potential careers.

Rehabilitation Counselor. Counselors in this field assist people with physical, mental, developmental and emotional disabilities to learn how to manage the effects of their conditions on their ability to work or live independently. They work with youth groups, senior care homes or community rehabilitation centers.

What Is a Psychologist?

Psychologists, like counselors, study human behavior and work with clients to improve functioning. However, their training curriculum includes some differences. Often, their programs place more emphasis on assessment, research, and the medical model. Their programs often last longer, as well, with licensed psychologists holding a minimum of a PhD. y

Duties and Responsibilities

Some of the differences between a counselor and a psychologist lie in the specific duties and responsibilities of each. Although some counselors do perform these tasks, typically psychologists’ duties include:

  • Observing, interviewing and surveying individuals and conducting scientific studies
  • Identifying a range of disorders and issues, including psychological, emotional and behavioral disorders or organizational issues
  • Searching for patterns that can help both the psychologist and the patient to better understand or predict a specific behavior
  • Conducting and sharing research and reports

Career Specializations and Potential Salaries

Those who have earned a master’s degree, Ph.D. or Doctor of Psychology may specialize in any number of areas once they enter the workforce. Below are some of the common types of psychologists.

Clinical Psychologist. As the name suggests, these psychologists work in a clinical setting to assess, diagnose and treat behavioral, emotional and/or mental disorders. They help patients to deal with personal issues or chronic conditions and may use a range of different strategies and techniques to assist their clients.

Developmental Psychologist. Developmental psychologists are focused on studying how humans develop throughout their lives. This development includes physical, emotional, cognitive, intellectual and perceptual growth, as well as changes in personality. Developmental psychologists work in academia, health care facilities and schools.

Industrial-Organizational Psychologist. Psychologists in this field study issues related to work life, including productivity, morale, management styles and work ethic. They work with leaders and managers to improve the quality of work life and solve problems in the workplace.

Rehabilitation Psychologist. Similar to a rehabilitation counselor, rehabilitation psychologists work with individuals with physical or developmental disabilities to help these individuals manage their conditions.

In 2016, the median annual salary for all psychologists was $75,230.

Pursuing a career in mental health can be a challenging and rewarding decision. By choosing to become a counselor or a psychologist, you can have a real impact on both individuals and their communities in a variety of settings.

Learn More:

Now that you understand the difference between a counselor and a psychologist, consider exploring Wake Forest University’s online master’s degrees. This exciting program helps prepare working professional students for rewarding careers in community and social services.

Recommended Readings:
Counseling, Social Work and Psychology: What’s the Difference?
Do “Trigger Warnings” on School Campuses Help? Counselors and Students Weigh In
How Counselors Help Students Cope with Traumatic Events

Psychologists — BLS
Community and Social Service Occupations — BLS
Rehabilitation Counselors — BLS
School and Career Counselors — BLS
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder and Mental Health Counselors — BLS