What is Counseling Psychology?

counseling psychology definition

Counseling psychology focuses on promoting the health and functionality of people through therapeutic conversations and interventions. Counseling psychologists improve the personal, emotional, vocational, interpersonal functioning for clients of all ages. They provide services to individuals and groups for behavioral and mental health problems using remedial, preventative, and developmental approaches. Counseling psychologists provide a wide range of activities including diagnosis, assessment, psychotherapy as well as teaching, research, supervision, and career development.

They employ a variety of tools and techniques that are based on scientific theories and research to help individuals and groups optimally function and remediate dysfunction. They are typically asked to conduct clinically relevant research, provide prevention and treatment interventions, and perform mental health assessments and formal psychological tests. They are tasked with consulting other health care and mental health professionals in diverse settings. Some will conduct training, staff supervision, and management activities such as program development and administration.

Specialties in Counseling Psychology

Those who go into counseling psychology as a profession have a number of specialization options available to them. Many counselors choose their specialties because of something that happened in their own life. For example, the person whose family members suffer from addiction may go into addiction counseling. The person who grew up in a single-parent home may gravitate toward marriage and family counseling. For these counselors, their career desire may lie in understanding the dynamics of their own family of origin and helping others who suffer a similar plight.

However, personal experience may not be the only factor that helps a counseling psychologist determine a specialty. Sometimes, a counselor takes on a client early on in his or her career and is able to help that client. Word of the counselor’s skill gets around. Soon that counselor has a roster of clients from word-of-mouth advertising. For example, it could be that the counselor provided some grief counseling for someone, and it really helped. Now that counselor sees many people who are dealing with grief.

The field is wide open and ready for these counselors to join the ranks, and according to Bradley University, counselors who have a specialization tend to be more emotionally invested in their careers because these careers fulfill a passion. Here’s a look at some possible specialties that counseling professionals choose:

  • People who love art often choose to become art therapists. They combine their art and counseling skills to help people move through the challenges they face. Making art helps the clients express what often feels inexpressible, at least from a verbal standpoint.
  • Marriage and family counselors apply what they’ve learned about family systems in their studies to help families and couples move through conflicts. They teach their clients how to look at their interactions with others in the family unit. This process allows people to relearn ways of relating to their spouse, parents, or children.
  • Substance abuse and addiction counselors work with those who suffer from some form of addiction, like alcoholism or gambling. The therapist and the client work together to learn what triggers the addictive behavior in the addict. Once these are identified, the addict can learn new behaviors that are healthier and more empowering.
  • Some counseling psychologists become mental health counselors. This counselor helps clients overcome or at least cope with various mental health issues. They treat a variety of conditions, including trauma, stress, and grief.

Education Requirements

According to the American Psychological Association, the average counseling psychologist must complete a specific educational track to qualify for the job.

Usually, the person interested in this career begins with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. This is followed by graduate school. The would-be counseling psychologists completes both a master’s degree and a doctoral degree, specializing in counseling psychology. At a minimum, the person pursuing this career track is looking at at least eight to 10 years of schooling.

A counseling psychologist’s education also includes internships. During the course of the psychologist’s education, he or she must complete between 2,000 and 4,000 hours of supervised clinical work. These experiences provide the future counselor with practical experience. The counselor’s coursework and training include instruction in professional ethics, assessment and evaluation, statistics, and more.

Once a person becomes a counselor, the education requirements don’t end. Therapists and counselors are required to take courses throughout their careers. The purpose of these courses is to keep the counselors apprised of advancements in their industry.

Paying for Schooling

The person pursuing a career in counseling psychology spends a lot of time in school. Because of this, counseling psychology students often worry about how they’ll pay for their educations.

There are a couple of options open to them. First, they can apply for financial aid through their university’s financial aid office. Typically, this requires them to fill out and submit the FAFSA form to the Department of Education. Once they do this, the information on the form is sent to the schools of their choice.

The information on the form allows school financial aid counselors to determine the amount of financial aid the student qualifies for. The student may receive loans, grants, work-study funds, and scholarships. It’s also possible for students to apply for private scholarships.

Once these students go to graduate school, they have a couple more options open to them. These include teaching or research assistantships. These financial aid options allow a student to either teach lower-level classes in psychology or to assist a professor with research. The student’s tuition gets paid. The student also receives a small stipend they can use to pay for books, rent, and other necessities.

Job Duties

Counseling psychologists provide clinical intake services to determine a new patient’s medical and treatment needs. They develop clinical treatment plans and participate in treatment team meetings. They recommend intervention techniques specific to client needs to case management teams. They participate in multidisciplinary teams to recommend proper treatment plans. They maintain documentation related to therapy sessions and client communication according to legal and organizational regulations.

Counseling psychologists consult with family, friends, and other acquaintances to address client behavioral issues and other major areas of concern. They train professionals and the case management team on supportive counseling techniques. They document any noted concerns and potential issues in the appropriate files. They are expected to complete and submit case notes within one business week of service. They develop behavior management plans and provide behavior management as requested.

Required Qualifications

Job candidates will need two to five years of experience in a human service related field. They must have excellent technical skills to navigate and execute various software programs, such as medical databases, patient dashboards, and electronic health records systems. They need to know how to track time and enter data in an accurate manner. They must have the ability to identify issues and cooperatively discuss them with appropriate teammates. They need to be able to adhere to scheduled meetings and unscheduled deadlines. They will also need to pass multiple interviews and all required criminal background checks.

Counseling psychologists need to have a valid mental health practitioner’s license in counseling, psychology, or social work. An LCSW, LMHC, or LMFT license is preferred. In order to gain these qualifications, job candidates will need to have obtained a master’s degree in social work or counseling psychology. Job candidates with a master’s degree in general psychology with a concentration may also be eligible for hire. These areas include clinical, mental health, and rehabilitation counseling. Graduate programs prepare students to be psychology practitioners through research in counseling methods, hands-on clinical practice, and interactive internships.

Salary and Job Prospects

Salary levels for counseling psychologists vary. The amount of money this professional earns is based on experience, geographic location, and bonuses and benefits. According to Payscale.com the median salary for this profession is about $58,000 per year. At the low end, this counselor makes $34,000 per year. On the high end, this professional earns $90,000 and above.

Additionally, the US News and World Report ranks counseling sixth on its Best Social Services Jobs list and 71st on its 100 Best Jobs list. Most people who go into the counseling profession rate their job satisfaction as high. Many go on to work into their 60s, which is another indicator of job satisfaction.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) keeps track of several types of counseling jobs. According to the BLS, the demand for marriage and family therapists is expected to grow by 22% by the year 2028. The demand for substance abuse counselors is also expected to grow by 22% by 2028. In general, the demand for psychologists is expected to increase by 14% by 2028.

In light of this, it is probably safe to assume that those who are interested in careers in counseling psychology will likely find a professional home once they graduate from their university programs.

Those who want to enter the field of counseling psychology must be prepared for state licensure or professional certification exams. Most states require a doctoral degree to qualify for licensure as a clinical psychologist. However, despite requiring many years of schooling and supervised clinical work, most counselors report high job satisfaction. Many who work in counseling psychology go on to work in the profession for many, many years. The demand for counselors is expected to rise in the coming years. Those who are interested in this career will find a great deal of job stability and prospects for advancements throughout their careers.

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