Difference Between Clinical and Counseling Psychology

When it comes to clinical psychology and counseling psychology, many people are confused about the differences between the two, often believing the two concentrations to be quite similar. In reality, there are a number of crucial differences between the two. One form of psychology deals more with the human aspect of psychological study and the other is more intensive, dealing with severe mental issues that typically require close medical attention over a longer period of time.

While there is a certain amount of overlap between the two, due to the fact that many psychologists are trained in both areas, the term clinical is often used in a more generic sense. As such, it has become important for those who seek psychological assistance to learn more about the differences between counseling and clinical.

Historical Facts

First and foremost, the history of each specialty is vastly different. Both types have a strong focus on counseling, with clinical deriving its name from the Greek term for bed (kline). Clinical psychology became associated with bedside delivery, while counseling was considered to be more of an advisory arrangement between doctor and patient.

Clinical psychology got its start as a form of help for patients who experienced severe disturbances to their mental health, while counseling psychology takes place in a more casual setting and was recommended to patients who needed to speak to a physician in a more advisory capacity.

Should a person who is not experiencing severe mental trauma wish to speak to someone who could lend them valuable insight, they were then referred to a counseling psychologist. Clients who were going through severe mental issues and did not have the ability or wherewithal to handle them on their own were referred to clinical psychologists.

As time passed, the overlaps between the two concentrations grew, to the point where they are interchangeable in the minds of many citizens today. Even though they may seem similar and time has blurred the differences, there are still several crucial areas where these two concentrations are dissimilar to one another.

What Makes Them Different?

One of the most pronounced differences between clinical and counseling psychology is the actual work that is done by their practitioners. Counseling psychologists tend to train more of their overall focus on individuals who are healthier. Those who have fewer problems of a pathological nature are typically referred to counseling psychologists.

Conversely, clinical psychologists are usually assigned to patients who are experienced pronounced mental struggles. If there is a severe mental illness present in the patient or they are experiencing any form of psychosis, this sort of work is reserved for a clinical psychologist.

Both concentrations are well versed in supervision activities and spend a great deal of time on research. But a counseling psychologist will tend to focus more on assessing the person’s career aspirations and vocational capabilities, while a clinical psychologist’s primary objective is to take a closer look at projective assessment training.

A Telling Theory

There are also major differences when it comes to orientation of theory. Students who study clinical psychology train more of their focus on patients’ behavioral issues and various psychoanalytic persuasions. Those who choose to study counseling psychology are more focused on traditions centered on the particular client and other humanistic concerns.

Another reason why so many clients are under the false belief that clinical and counseling psychology are so similar is typically due to the fact that clinical and counseling psychologists will usually work in the same facilities, alongside of one another.

This point of view ignores some very crucial differences between employment for counseling psychologists and clinical psychologists. In the majority of instances, counseling psychologists will work within the confines of a university and provide counseling services to clients who are in need of them.

On the flip side of the coin, clinical psychologists are more often found working at hospitals and other related medical facilities. While counseling psychologists also work in hospital, their presence is more rare in these instances. The two disciplines have much different orientations.

Research and Assessments

Clinical and counseling psychology are also vastly different when it comes to their areas of research. Clinical psychologists’ preferred area of study is psycho pathological conditions. A counseling psychologist spends much of their time studying various areas of vocational assessment and also focuses on minority psychology, as well as cross cultural related psychology.

Since there is so much overlap between each individual form of psychology, it is understandable why so many citizens remain confused about the differences that exist between them. These matters become even more muddled when you stop to consider the fact that all fifty states in the US consider both concentrations to be licensed psychologists.


Counseling psychologists are known for their interest in studying about humanistic approaches to psychology. Their primary goal is to deal directly with the client and handle any sort of behavioral issues that are keeping them from realizing their full potential. If these issues can be resolved within the community, a clinical psychologist will provide a method for doing so.

There are those who believe that these two concentrations will only continue to evolve and that they will eventually blend together, becoming one. If history is any indicator, there is also a great chance that the lines between the two concentrations can continue to find ways to differentiate themselves from one another.

Psychological concentrations have been known to cross paths throughout history and only time will tell whether these two concentrations will continue to split apart from one another or become whole.