PhD in Psychology or Counseling: Key Differences

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Many people have difficulty distinguishing the difference between a PhD in psychology, and a PhD in counseling. The primary reason for this is that counseling and psychology doctorate areas have a great deal of overlap between them. However, those with a PhD in psychology may work in various areas of counseling, whilst those with a PhD in counseling may not be able to access all areas of psychology. A master’s degree in either counseling or psychology could open up a new world of career opportunities for the graduate, after they have completed two to three years of study in their chosen field.

What Is a PhD in Psychology?

A PhD is one of the highest levels of degree that a person can gain within the field of psychology. In general, a bachelor’s degree in psychology will take four years of study, then a master’s degree requires a further four to six years of graduate study after the bachelor’s degree has been earned. The main difference between gaining a PhD in psychology or a PhD in counseling is that with psychology you will need to choose an area of specialization to study in, such as clinical, health or cognitive psychology. However, with a PhD in counseling, you have already decided on your specialty.

What Is a PhD in Counseling?

A PhD which focuses on counseling will focus on teaching students how providing therapeutic treatments can assist clients who exhibit a variety of symptoms. As one of the largest specialty areas within the field of psychology, a PhD in counseling will prepare graduates to work within a variety of different settings and roles, offering therapies that will focus on social, vocational, health-related, emotional, developmental and organizational concerns.

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1- The Work You Can Do

After graduating with a PhD in psychology, there are various career options you may be able to consider depending on the specialty area you choose. A doctorate degree is required for anyone who wants to open their own private practice, and you will need this level of degree if you would like to conduct research or teach at a college or university level.

After you graduate with a PhD in counseling, you may pursue a career providing psychotherapy services. However, there are other career paths available. Some of the alternatives include teaching, research and vocational counseling options. No matter where their job setting takes them, most individuals who obtain a PhD in counseling will utilize psychological theories to help other people overcome issues and make the most of their full potential.

2- The Orientations of Theory

There is a great deal of overlap between the theories that are taught in gaining a counseling PhD, and those that are taught in other forms of psychology PhD specialization studies. Typically, the areas you will focus on will depend on the specialty you chose, clinical, health or cognitive psychology.

However, whereas in clinical and health psychology, you may focus on quantitative evidence, behavioral issues and psychoanalytical persuasions, in a counseling PhD, you may focus more heavily on client-centered research. Both Counseling PhDs and Psychology PhDs which focus on cognitive psychology strongly consider the impact of cognitive behavior.

3 – Places of Employment

Those who graduate with a PhD are typically concerned with finding places where they might be most likely to receive employment. An individual with a PhD in psychology will typically have a wide range of opportunities available to them. However, their options will depend largely on their specialty. For example, someone with a PhD in clinical psychology may work with clients in child mental health institutions, adult mental health, geriatrics, substance abuse, and schools featuring students with learning disabilities.

Counseling psychologists also work in many different settings. Some prefer academic locations, working as psychotherapy providers, researchers and professors, whereas others work in mental health clinics and hospitals alongside other professionals, including social works, psychiatric nurses and clinical psychologists. Some individuals with a PhD in counseling are self-employed within their own independent practice, offering psychotherapy services to groups, families and individuals.

Generally, counseling psychologists are more often employed within universities, whereas clinical psychologists and health psychologists typically work within clinics and hospitals.

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4- Complicated Lines

When attempting to differentiate between counseling and psychology PhDs, the best way to separate them is to remember that a psychology PhD is a broader look at one of the highest levels of degrees a psychology student can get, which provides various different specialty options, whereas a counseling PhD is one of those specialties. As such, there is a great deal of overlap between the two options, and it is important to note that wherever you choose to get your PhD, whether your specialty is in counseling, health, clinical, or cognitive psychology, all 50 states will regard you to be a ‘licensed psychologist’.

Most of the time, however, a counseling psychologist will be more concerned with behavioral problems and humanistic approaches to psychology, whereas other forms of psychology may be more concerned with serious mental illness which may require hospitalization.



About the Author: Ann Steele

This website is co-authored by Ann Steele, a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego with extensive experience with children and adolescents. Ann Steele attended American School Of Psychology & Argosy University Online. She especially enjoys using music therapy for mental and emotional well-being.

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We are an open forum for articles, manuscripts, unpublished thesis, and letters as well as a guide for job, career and program advice from like-minded Graduates. We are seeking submissions that will be of interest to the community.