What is Counseling Psychology?
Counseling psychology focuses on teaching patients of all ages how to cope with emotional, physical and mental health issues.
Oftentimes counseling psychologists will focus on the daily life stressors of their patients, teaching patients to find a balanced approach to overcoming stress. On the more extreme end, counseling psychologists are able to intervene and assist people in times of crisis or extreme stress; as the APA puts it, "They also provide assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of more severe psychological symptoms."
On this page, we explore the field of counseling psychology, including possible career paths and the steps needed to reach your professional goals.
What Does a Counseling Psychologist Do?
Counseling psychologists facilitate healthy personal and interpersonal relationships in their patients' lives. Professionals work with individuals, organizations, groups and families to reach the root of mental distress and then help them find ways to live with or conquer these issues.
Depending on their specialization and licensure, counseling psychologists can work in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, businesses and schools, or they can open their own private practices. Counselors tailor their approach to psychotherapy based on their settings and patients. While some prefer to focus on cognitive therapy, others take a more active approach and work to alter the behavior of patients.
Many psychologists collaborate with nurses, social workers and other mental health professionals to find the best treatment plans for patients, at times combining aspects of multiple therapies.
No matter where or how they work, counseling psychologists should possess the following basic competencies.
Skills & Competencies
- Clear Communication
- Listening Skills
- Complex Problem-Solving
- Establishment of Boundaries
The work of counseling psychologists varies, but the goal is always to improve the quality of patients’ lives and mental wellbeing.
The following represents four common specializations within counseling psychology:
Areas of Expertise in Counseling Psychology
Psychologists treat patients of all ages for substance abuse, alcohol abuse or addictive behavior disorders.
Typical Patient Issues
- Eating disorders
- Compulsive/addictive behavior
Therapeutic behavior modifications such as cognitive-behavioral therapy are employed to improve disruptive patterns of substance, alcohol and systematic abuse.
Common Job Titles
- Drug Counselor
- Counseling Psychologist – Abuse and Addiction
- Addiction Counselor
- Addiction Specialist
- Addiction Therapist
Psychologists specializing in education counsel elementary, high school or college students. Most of the work involves helping students navigate changes within themselves and their surroundings, as well as providing academic and career advice to those who are struggling.
Common Education-related Issues
- Academic potential
- Learning disabilities
- Motor skills
- Cognitive function
- Social skills
- Identity formation
- Aptitude testing
Professionals are concerned with the overall development of student mental health, including elements of psychological, social, physiological and spiritual life. Counseling psychologists typically work with students for the duration of their academic careers.
Common Job Titles
- Education Therapist
- School Psychologist
- School Psychology Specialist
- Student Psychology Specialist
Counseling rehabilitation psychologists treat patients struggling with congenital, hereditary or acquired disabilities or special needs. Generally, patients who seek out a rehabilitation specialist need help reaching personal goals and achieving independence.
- Chronic illness
- Birth defects
- Social anxiety
Rehabilitation specialists treat patients using psychotherapy for personal and professional development. Psychologists in this area often counsel patients who are adjusting to entering or reentering the workforce during rehabilitation.
Common Job Titles
- Counseling Psychologist - Rehabilitation
- Rehabilitation Counselor
- Rehabilitation Psychology Therapist
Mental health counselors treat individuals, families and couples for a variety of psychological issues.
Examples of Reasons for Seeking Counseling
- Self-esteem issues
Due to the broad nature of this specialty, counseling psychologists are best suited to serve the needs of those suffering mild symptoms and may collaborate with other mental health professionals to treat patients with exclusive or extremely severe conditions.
Common Job Titles
- Mental Health Counselor
- Mental Health Specialist
- Mental Health Therapist
- Mental Health Professional
Counseling Psychology By the Numbers
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for clinical, counseling and school psychologists is expected to grow by 11% from 2012 to 2022, creating 16,400 new jobs during this time.
Annual Mean Wage of Child Psychologists, By State, May 2014
|State||Employment||Employment per Thousand Jobs||Location Quotient||Hourly Mean Wage||Annual Mean Wage|
Source: Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor and Statistics, June 2015
How Do I Become a Counseling Psychologist?
Though students can earn a bachelor’s in counseling psychology, a master’s degree is required to become a licensed counselor. Requirements for licensure vary by state, but they generally include proof of several thousand hours working under a licensed counselor and continued education, in addition to holding a graduate degree.
Some careers, such as those in academic or research settings in higher education or private practices, require counseling psychologists to hold a doctorate degree.
We've outlined the steps to becoming a counseling psychologist below. Choose the option which best characterizes your level of education in the field:
Declare as a psychology major.
The following may be included in your undergraduate coursework:
- Intro to Psychology
- Behavioral Psychology
- Cognitive Psychology
- Biological Psychology
- Social Psychology
- Statistical Methods
- Psychology Seminar
Consider a specialty.
- Target your interest. Consider a focus in counseling or a similar subject.
- Find professors or academic professionals active in this area and connect with them.
Take the GRE.
- Determine minimum scores required at the schools you're considering for your graduate program.
- Take multiple practice tests.
- Enroll in a paid GRE prep course if you need to improve your practice scores.
- Book your test date with enough time for a second try if you need to retake the exam.
Get reference letters.
- Stay friendly with professors and academic advisors. Try to be memorable to these people; they are more likely to accommodate you when you request a reference if you make an impression.
- If you haven't maintained these relationships, don't hesitate to reach out to them again. They may want to get reacquainted with you before writing a reference letter.
Choose a graduate school.
- Our school database highlights the best graduate counseling psychology programs for you. A good school has an effective alumni network and career counseling services, in addition to a top academic program.
Come up with a thesis.
- Your thesis provides a foundation for the beginning of your career. It's never too early to start developing it; if you still have not chosen a topic, select one quickly.
- Talk to professors about how to shape and polish your idea.
Find an internship.
- Strive to complete an internship while you are still in school. Internships are great networking opportunities and improve your resume.
Network with professors and professionals in the field.
- The most important part of searching for jobs is networking.
- Ask your school's career services department for help perfecting your interview skills. These skills will help you throughout your entire career.
Refine your resume and keep it current.
- Keep your resume relevant, interesting and professional.
- Ask friends to proofread your resume and give editorial suggestions.
- Update your resume frequently to include your latest experiences.
Start sending out job applications.
- Expect a long wait between applying to a job and getting hired. Devise a plan for how to stay consistent applying to jobs regularly and don't get discouraged.
- Customize your cover letter to each position you apply for; highlight your qualities that make you suitable for the job.
- Search for potential employers on LinkedIn and reach out to them. Establishing rapport with employers can increase your chance of scoring an interview.
Prepare for interviews.
- Hold mock interviews with friends to prepare.
- Research the company before the interview. You should be able to describe their mission and what they do if asked.
- Dress professionally, bring your resume and cover letter and be respectful in how you speak and act around potential employers.
You're now a counseling psychologist.
- You made it! Hopefully, by following the steps above, you've found your first job in the field.
- Don't stop developing your skills and knowledge after obtaining your first job. Keep abreast of the latest developments in the field and look for opportunities continue your education.
Our database of top counseling psychology programs was designed to assist you in finding the school best suited to your needs and goals. Set the customizable filters to browse the top schools in your field.
Counseling Psychology Resources
Our editorial staff compiled the following list of resources; included are the organizations, journals and conferences that define modern counseling psychology. If you feel our list is missing a crucial resource, please do not hesitate to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- American Board of Assessment Psychology
- American Board of Professional Psychology
- American Counseling Association
- American Educational Research Association
- American Psychoanalytic Association
- American Psychological Association
- Association for Psychological Science
- Division 17: Society of Counseling Psychology
- Arizona Psychological Association
- Psychologists of Northwest Arkansas
- California Psychological Association
- Colorado Psychological Association
- Connecticut Psychological Association
- Delaware Psychological Association
- Mental Health Association in Hawaii
- Idaho Society of Individual Psychology
- Kentucky Psychological Association
- Louisiana Group Psychotherapy Society
- Louisiana Psychological Association
- Maine Psychological Association
- Maryland Psychological Association
- Massachusetts Psychological Association
- Mental Health Association in Michigan
- Mid-Atlantic Group Psychotherapy Society
- Mississippi Psychological Association
- Mental Health Association of Montana
- Montana Psychological Association
- Nebraska Psychological Association
- New Jersey Association of Cognitive Behavioral Therapists
- Metropolitan New York Association for Applied Psychology
- New York State Association for Behavior Analysis
- New York State Psychological Association
- Ohio Psychological Association
- Oregon Psychological Association
- Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania
- Rhode Island Psychological Association
- Tennessee Psychological Association
- Texas Psychological Association
- Utah Psychological Association
- Vermont Psychological Association
- Washington State Psychological Association
- Wisconsin Psychological Association
- Wyoming Psychological Association
- Counseling and Values
- The Counseling Psychologist
- Counselor Education and Supervision
- Journal of Addictions & Offender Counseling
- Journal of Career Development
- Journal of College Counseling
- Journal of Counseling and Development
- Journal of Employment Counseling