Counselor Education Degree vs. Counseling Psychology
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Within the growing and exciting field of psychology, many educational paths and career options are possible, from academia to private practice to nonprofit work and even working with the military. Even for people who want to focus on working directly with individuals, there are several educational paths possible.
Two such possible paths are similar to each other but have some key distinctions — counselor education vs. counseling psychology. Both are popular degree options, whether at the master’s or doctoral level, and both will prepare an individual well for working directly with clients to improve their mental and emotional well-being.
While the two areas have one crucial similarity (where they’re most likely to work), they have stark differences in educational approach as well as requirements for professional practice. Let’s explore the similarities and differences that prospective students need to know so they can make informed decisions about their academic futures.
As the U.S. population continues expanding, enrollment in all levels of education will keep on growing right along. Schools will expand their student bodies, and the demand for skilled, compassionate counselors within those school settings will also increase. The U.S. Department of Labor projects that demand for school counselors will expand by 13% through 2026, which is nearly double the growth rate for all occupations within the American economy.
It’s in this area that counselor education and counseling psychology are most similar — for most who pursue each of those academic areas, the eventual career destination is counseling students and other young people within an educational setting, whether an elementary, middle or high school, or college/university.
Even for those who pursue the job title “psychologist,” as many who earn counseling psychology degrees do, elementary and secondary schools are the most common employer, accounting for 27% of all employment for counseling psychologists, clinical psychologists and school psychologists. These jobs are expected to see 14% growth over the next several years, in line with growth in school counselor job openings.
Let’s take a look at other information for the two most common career options for counselor education and counseling psychology graduates:
|Area||Counseling & school psychologist||School counselor|
|Median annual wage||$76,990||$56,310|
|Leading employer type||Elementary & secondary schools (27%)||Elementary & secondary schools (44%)|
|State with highest job concentration*||Rhode Island (1.82)||Vermont (3.15)|
* Employment per 1,000 jobs
It’s important to note that working within schools is not the only possible outcome for counselor education or counseling psychology degree-holders, but many people who pursue these degrees have that eventual career goal in mind.
The educational distinctions between counselor education and counseling psychology degrees extend beyond their names, and the importance of those differences for students will depend largely on their ideal career.
That’s because, for those who want a job title with the word “psychologist” in it, they’ll need to earn a doctoral degree. But a master’s degree, whether in counseling psychology or counselor education, will suffice for most people who seek counselor jobs.
But the decision between a graduate degree or a doctorate isn’t the only educational distinction between the two areas. That’s because a counselor education degree track will usually have a stronger focus on the practical applications of counseling principles, while a counseling psychology degree track is likely to bend more toward a research focus.
Many counselor education programs are designed to prepare students for licensing and exams necessary to begin working immediately with clients, though this depends on the state where a student intends to work. Counseling psychology master’s degrees, on the other hand, are often a stepping stone to doctoral work in psychology, and even the ones that are terminal degrees generally focus more on history, theory, and science than counselor education degrees.
Of course, not every single graduate of either track will end up working in school settings, and both degrees can apply to work with clients in areas outside of schools, such as addiction recovery or family therapy, depending on the specific courses a person takes and their own interest areas.
Here are a few of the coursework areas where counselor education and counseling psychology students are likely to differ:
|Counselor education||Counseling psychology|
|Lifespan development||Quantitative research|
|Career development||Qualitative research|
|Group counseling||Individual and group assessment|
|Theories of counseling||Educational measurement|
|Techniques of counseling||Psychopharmacology|
License, certification and registration requirements vary by the state and the job title, which could potentially impact a person’s choice of an academic degree.
Generally, master’s degrees in counseling or psychology prepare an individual to become a professional counselor, though that will vary by state and work setting. For instance, people who wish to work in public schools must have state-issued credentials in every state in the U.S., and some schools may require classroom experience or a teaching license before a person can become eligible to work in a school. Most school districts also require background checks for anybody who will be working with students. You should know what’s required in your state before embarking upon an educational program; learn more here.
Depending on the state, individuals who wish to practice as psychologists must first obtain a doctoral degree, which could be a Ph.D., PsyD or EdD. Each of those will generally prepare them to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology, and states may have additional licensure requirements that vary across the country. Additionally, some states require licensed psychologists to earn continuing education certificates to keep their licenses valid. For counseling psychologists who wish to work within educational settings, the same state-issued license requirements apply.
In both cases, private employers may have different requirements for applicants, such as particular coursework or internship specifications.
The American School Counselor Association recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250-1, but the national average is closer to 450-1. What that tells us that hundreds of schools are in need of well-educated, qualified and licensed counselors to assist students, teachers, and administrators in ensuring that the emotional and mental well-being of all students is being monitored. Qualified, compassionate counselors help ensure that every student, from kindergarteners to college seniors, has their best possible chance at academic success.
- U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Psychologists. (2019.) Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm#tab-1
- U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, School and Career Counselors. (2019.) Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/school-and-career-counselors.htm#tab-1
- American School Counselor Association, School Counselors, Careers/Roles. (Undated.) Retrieved from https://schoolcounselor.org/school-counselors-members/careers-roles
- How Much Do Counseling Psychologists Make?. (2019). Retrieved from https://psydprograms.org/how-much-do-counseling-psychologists-make/