What Is the Difference Between a Counseling and Psychology Degree?

Get information about the differences between degrees in counseling and psychology. Learn about the possible curriculum, career choices and concentrations in both fields. Schools offering Mental Health Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Differences Between Counseling and Psychology Degrees

There are many differences between counseling and psychology degrees and their respective fields. The counseling field requires a master's degree in order to be licensed and practice as a counselor. However, a psychologist must typically complete a doctoral degree in psychology to practice independently. There are various areas of specialization in both counseling and psychology, opening a variety of career paths.

Important Facts about Degrees in Counseling and Psychology

Counseling Psychology
Common Courses Counseling techniques, counseling adolescents, diversity in counseling Psychology fundamentals, abnormal psychology, neuropsychology
Online Availability Fully available Fully available
Possible Careers Mental health technician, life-skills instructor, hospitality liaison Military psychologist, consumer psychologist, psychometrician
Concentrations Addiction, trauma, cultural mental health Childhood, forensic, business
Median Salary (2018)$44,630 (Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors) $79,010 (Psychologists)
Job Outlook (2016-2026)23% growth (Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors) 14% growth (Psychologists)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Counseling Programs

Students generally enroll in a counseling master's degree program to become eligible for licensure as a professional counselor for the state where they reside. While coursework and program length can vary by school and specialization, most programs require 2-3 years of full-time study and include classes in counseling techniques, mental health, human development and group counseling. Practical experience under the supervision of a licensed counselor is often an important component of these programs.

Psychology Programs

A master's degree in psychology is offered either as a terminal degree (students want additional education in psychology in order to obtain a job) or as preparation for a doctoral degree. In most cases, the only psychologists who don't need a doctoral degree specialize in industrial-organizational psychology. It's not common, but school psychologists in some states only need a master's degree.

In order to become a licensed clinical psychologist, most states require you to earn a Doctor a Psychology (Psy.D.). These programs focus on clinical training and preparation for licensure. Common course topics include psychopathology, gender identity and assessment techniques. Doctor of Philosophy programs in psychology are available as well, but they're typically more focused on research.


Students taking either a counseling or psychology degree may choose a specialization. In counseling, the possible specializations may include:

  • Career counseling
  • Marriage and family therapy (MFT) (preparation for MFT license)
  • School counseling

Psychology specializations may include:

  • Forensic psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Psychopathology
  • Social psychology
  • Industrial-organizational psychology


If you study counseling, you may start your career after completing a master's degree and obtaining professional licensure or certification. Some jobs that a graduate with a master's in counseling could be eligible for include:

  • Licensed social worker
  • Professional counselor
  • School counselor
  • Substance abuse counselor
  • Rehabilitation counselor
  • Marriage and family licensed therapist

Career choices for Doctor of Psychology graduates may include:

  • Counseling psychologist
  • Clinical licensed psychologist
  • Experimental psychologist
  • School psychologist

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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