Clinical Psychology vs. Counseling Psychology: What is the Difference?

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Want to seek psychological help but find the terminologies in the therapy field too complex? When considering your options, it is especially important you don’t have clinical psychology and counseling psychology mixed up.


Lie back, we will walk you through all the differences and similarities to help you take better care of your mental health.


What is clinical psychology?

Clinical psychology is a specialty that facilitates continuous and comprehensive treatments of diagnosable mental disorders and severe psychopathologies. Clinical psychologists put their understanding of psychopathologies and corresponding psychological theories into practice during the consultation. Often, a host of methods, such as psychometric tests, interviews and observation would be used to assess the individuals.


After diagnosis, psychologists will tailor-make treatment plans and carry them out collaboratively with the individuals. They may intervene when the individuals encounter episodes of severe mental distress. Apart from providing clinical services, clinical psychologists often engage in research-based practice.


There are two primary approaches in clinical psychology: psychoanalysis and behavioral practice.


1) Psychoanalysis

During psychodynamic therapy, psychologists focus on uncovering the individual’s unconscious world and inner motivations. The most notable example is Freudian psychoanalysis.


2) Behavioral practice

In contrast, behavior-oriented therapy places less value on the unconscious mind. It is a space where individuals can observe and see their problems as learned behaviors that are modifiable — rather than inborn and fixed.


In recent years, cognitive behavioral therapy has been introduced to alter high-stakes overt behavior (i.e. behavior that can be observed by others apart from the person performing it (i.e. laughing, smoking, eating, etc.) and related thought patterns.

What is counseling psychology?

Counseling psychology is a general practice within the field of psychology. By reviewing the individual’s life events, the sessions center on people’s day-to-day functioning, both individually and with concern to the surrounding relationships and broader community.


Counseling psychologists are there to draw the indivduals’ attention to their emotional, physical and social health before addressing related concerns together. In particular, stresses and other potentially severe issues in family or social situations will come under the spotlight. Common examples include bereavement, relationship conflicts and other significant life events. The ultimate goal is to assist the individuals in tackling crises in life, alleviating mental distress and building mental strength.


Counseling psychology homes in on the subjective experience and feelings as well as the meanings of the individual’s life. No matter if the subjective world is well-balanced or not, counseling psychologists will guide the individuals to acknowledge everything in it as meaningful and valid. Psychologists would neither impose their own worldview nor assume any indisputable objective truth. Instead, they bring out the differences between the individual’s perceptions and worldviews of the society, while helping individuals navigate what works best for their life.


Counseling therapy relies heavily on the collaboration between the psychologists and individuals to achieve the result of empowering better decision-making in life. Individuals may also be able to acquire new coping strategies and tap into available mental resources to tackle existing issues.

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Differences between counseling psychology and clinical psychology


1 - Target groups

The primary difference is that clinical psychology is designed more for individuals with identifiable mental health conditions (e.g. schizophrenia and bipolar disorder), whereas counseling psychology is non-exclusive and benefits everyone. 


2 - Approaches

Theoretically, counseling psychology is more humanistic and client-centered. It is therefore common for counseling psychologists to adopt feminist and multicultural approaches. On the contrary, as psychoanalytic or behavioral approaches are advocated in clinical psychology, psychologists turn to cognitive behavioral therapy and manual-based therapies for treatments.


3 - Access to care

Due to the specificity of clinical psychology, clinical psychology professionals usually work in health and social care settings, including hospitals and community mental health teams.


Conversely, counseling services are far more accessible to help with solving various human problems. Counseling psychologists work in a variety of places, including the prison service, industry and different levels of the education system.

A final word

If you do not suspect any telltale signs of psychological distress, you will find counseling psychologists better suited for your needs. A clinical psychologist, on the other hand, has a stronger focus on severe mental disorders.


Although there are key differences between the two branches of psychology, we are beginning to see them converge as a duo to support individuals in need. Psychologists are also continually learning from both therapies in search of the best therapeutic outcome.


What is the difference between counseling psychology and clinical psychology?

The primary difference lies in the target groups. Professionals in clinical psychology often collaborate with individuals with identifiable mental conditions. In contrast, counseling psychology is designed to address the emotional and social life stressors in people’s lives.

Should I see a clinical psychologist or counseling psychologist?
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This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.

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