One of the most common questions I get is “What is the difference between counseling and clinical psychology?” The bottom line: they are more similar than different. The differences tend to be slight and “on average.” You will find greater differences from program to program (regardless of whether it is counseling or clinical) than you will find from counseling psychology programs as a whole to clinical psychology programs as a whole.
Many people apply to both counseling and clinical psychology programs at the same time. If you are interested in getting a PhD, then your program selection process will be strongly influenced by what professors happen to be doing research on topics that interest you, regardless of whether those professors happen to be in counseling or clinical psychology programs. For example, our counseling psychology faculty at the University of Kentucky do research on topics such as sex, social justice, leadership, help seeking, stigma, masculinity, multicultural measurement, LGBTQ+ health and well-being, racial health disparities, justice-system involved populations, substance abuse, and HIV.
Below is a summary of the significant similarities and “on average” difference between counseling psychology and clinical psychology programs. References are included at the bottom of this page.
Be sure to check out my other Psych Grad School resources using the menu above, such as Graduate School Advice, the How to Get into a Counseling Psychology PhD Program YouTube Video Series, and What the Ideal Graduate School Applicant Looks Like. I also recommend completing the Mental Health Professions Career Test, which will give you interest scores on 21 different mental health occupations, including counseling psychology and clinical psychology. If you’re curious to know what the top counseling psychology doctoral programs in the USA are, check out my Best Doctoral Programs in Counseling Psychology page.
Brems, C., & Johnson, M. E. (1997). Comparison of recent graduates of clinical versus counseling psychology programs. The Journal of Psychology, 131(1), 91-99.
Karazsia, B. T., & Smith, L. (2016). Preparing for graduate-level training in professional psychology: Comparisons across clinical PhD, counseling PhD, and clinical PsyD Programs. Teaching of Psychology, 43(4), 305-313.
Morgan, R. D., & Cohen, L. M. (2008). Clinical and counseling psychology: Can differences be gleaned from printed recruiting materials?. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 2(3), 156-164.
Neimeyer, G. J., Taylor, J. M., Wear, D. M., & Buyukgoze-Kavas, A. (2011). How special are the specialties? Workplace settings in counseling and clinical psychology in the United States. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 24(1), 43-53.
Norcross, J. C. (2000). Clinical versus counseling psychology: What’s the diff. Eye on Psi Chi, 5(1), 20-22.
Norcross, J. C., Sayette, M. A., Stratigis, K. Y., & Zimmerman, B. E. (2014). Of course: Prerequisite courses for admission into APA-accredited clinical and counseling psychology programs. Teaching of Psychology, 41(4), 360-364.
Ogunfowora, B., & Drapeau, M. (2008). Comparing counseling and clinical psychology practitioners: Similarities and differences on theoretical orientations revisited. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 30(2), 93-103.
Taylor, M. J., & Neimeyer, G. J. (2009). Graduate school mentoring in clinical, counselling, and experimental academic training programs: An exploratory study. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 22(2), 257-266.