Counseling Psychology is an extremely broad and diverse field, involving research, teaching, and psychological services across an array of topics within mental health. The American Psychological Association (APA) describes Counseling Psychology as a psychology specialty that “uses a broad range of culturally-informed and culturally-sensitive practices to help people improve their well-being, prevent and alleviate distress and maladjustment, resolve crises, and increase their ability to function better in their lives.” Further, Counseling Psychology includes an expertise in work/vocational issues and it “focuses specifically but not exclusively on normative life-span development, with a particular emphasis on prevention and education as well as amelioration, addressing individuals as well as the systems or contexts in which they function.” The field tends to greatly value critical thinking, appreciation of diversity, and application of the scientific method. And while the early roots of Counseling Psychology were focused on vocational advising (hence the old label of APA’s Division 17 was “Personnel and Guidance”), the field has grown to include many interests such as psychotherapy, consultation, supervision, programming and administration, advocacy and outreach, and more! The APA further states that with Counseling Psychology’s “attention to both to normal developmental issues and problems associated with physical, emotional, and mental disorders, the specialization holds a unique perspective in the broader practice-based areas of psychology.” (Note that Counseling Psychology is not the same as Professional Counseling.)
The specific career identities of Counseling Psychologists vary extremely widely. However, generally, their roles will “focus on facilitating personal and interpersonal functioning across the life span.” These professionals may conduct scholarly research, teach, consult/supervise others in the field, or use practical skills regarding these topics in clinics or other applied counseling locations. This field is typically made up of people who ‘think like scientists’ in understanding the human condition. They may have a specific interest in a particular developmental issue or human problem, the treatment needs of a certain population, or a unique theoretical orientation to therapy. While the stereotypical image of a practicing Counseling Psychologist might be a therapist conducting outpatient services with a depressed or anxious adult, the range of activities performed today is extremely wide! There is much room to explore niche areas and specialize, or to practice as a generalist.
Counseling Psychologists work in a vast diversity of settings. Private practice outpatient therapy clinics are one example, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They are also present in hospitals and other medical centers, colleges/universities, jails/prisons, VAs and other government/military locations, specialty treatment clinics, outpatient agencies, and many other places.
Degree: To become a Counseling Psychologist, one must first complete a bachelor’s degree (B.A. or B.S., or perhaps B.S.W.). Psychology would be the most common choice of undergraduate major, but not necessarily the only option. Next, one would need to complete a graduate degree program at either the master’s level (M.A. or M.S. in Counseling Psychology) or the doctoral level (Ph.D. or Psy.D. in Counseling Psychology). Doctoral programs in this field tend to be far more competitive than master’s programs, but they also yield wider career flexibility to their graduates and greater salaries. It is important to select graduate programs which are APA-Accredited, as this may impact licensure eligibility later. A master’s typically takes 1.5 to 3 years of study, whereas a doctorate typically takes 5-7 years.
License: To be practicing as a Counseling Psychologist in the state of Michigan, one needs to be licensed. A doctoral level psychologist is eligible to pursue the status of “Licensed Psychologist” (LP) whereas a master’s level clinician can pursue a status of “Limited Licensed Psychologist” (LLP). Both the LP and LLP routes require a certain number of supervised hours in clinical practice, as well as a passing score on a standardized exam called the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). To learn more about licensing options, check out LARA’s info for psychologists.
Training: There are well over one hundred graduate programs in Counseling Psychology throughout the US and Canada. This APA Graduate Study Database is one way to explore the many available options, another is to review the most current copy of the “Insider’s Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling Psychology” text–this link goes to the 2020/2021 edition of the text. There are several programs in-state, but it is worth noting that one need not attend graduate school in-state in order to eventually build a career here. In fact there may be many out-of-state programs which better fit one’s goals, and the time spent in a different local culture can be an important source of growth.
Counseling Psychologists are often motivated by their fascination with diverse others’ minds and mental health experiences, the process of facilitating personal and career growth in clients, and the rewarding nature of contributing to development in numerous realms across the lifespan. They typically have a desire to ‘help’ which they wish to enact in evidence-based methods. They find their work fulfilling because they are analytic thinkers eager to explore the inner worlds of other people with empathy and nuance. The flexibility of this field is appealing as well!
Relevant State-Level Organization
Michigan Psychological Association
Relevant National Organization
Society of Counseling Psychology (APA Division 17)
American Board of Professional Psychology
The Association for Psychological Science