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Explained: Difference Between Counselling Psychology and Clinical Psychology 

counselling vs clinical psychology

In recent years, the demand for mental health services has experienced an unprecedented surge in interest and recognition. While more people than ever are interested in a career in psychology, the Government of Canada reports that the labour shortage conditions are expected to persist into the 2022-2031 period. 

The demand for psychological services has reached new heights since the COVID-19 pandemic. Within this broad landscape, two prominent branches of psychology have emerged as vital pillars of support for individuals struggling with emotional and psychological challenges – clinical psychology and counselling psychology. Let us delve into the nuances that differentiate these two fields and help guide those considering a career in either clinical or counselling psychology. 


What is Clinical Psychology? 

Clinical Psychology is a specialized branch of psychology. It exclusively focuses on the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of various mental disorders and severe psychological conditions. Notice the emphasis on severe.

According to the Canadian Psychological Association, Clinical Psychologists are trained to work with individuals who are dealing with significant challenges such as depression, anxiety, stress, major mental disorders, learning disabilities, substance abuse and other addictions, marital/ relationship problems, difficulties coping with personal health problems, and problems stemming from physical and sexual abuse.   

What is Counselling Psychology? 

Counselling psychology, on the other hand, is a field that places emphasis on assisting individuals in managing personal, social, and emotional concerns of a less severe nature. Counsellors work with clients facing issues like relationship problems, stress, career transitions, grief, and the intricacies of everyday life.

As the Canadian Psychological Association puts it, Counselling Psychologists use psychological principles to enhance and promote the growth, well-being, and mental health of individuals, families, groups, and the broader community. The chances of someone having to work with a counselling psychologist tend to be higher than with a clinical psychologist. 

Are Clinical and Counselling Psychology the Same?  

No, they are not. Clinical psychology and counselling psychology have distinct purposes. But that does not mean they do not share several fundamental similarities. Both fields are dedicated to helping individuals and/or families improve their mental and emotional well-being. They utilize various forms of psychotherapy, which may include cognitive-behavioural therapy, humanistic therapy, and psychodynamic therapy, among others.

Additionally, both clinical psychologists and counselling psychologists strive to create a safe and empathetic environment for clients to openly express their thoughts and feelings. So, while they are not the same, they do work to serve the community in similar ways. 

What is the Difference Between Clinical Psychology and Counselling Psychology? 

As we have seen above, there is quite an overlap between the two fields and that’s where confusion about them being the same comes in. To truly understand their differences, we explore avenues in which the two disciplines show clear distinctions. 

Scope of Issues 

One of the primary distinctions between clinical and counselling psychology lies in the scope of issues they address.

Clinical psychology predominantly deals with diagnosing and treating severe mental disorders, often requiring more intensive interventions. In contrast, counselling psychology focuses on a broader range of personal, emotional, and interpersonal concerns, with an emphasis on personal development and enhancing overall well-being. 

Intensity of Treatment 

Clinical psychologists often engage in more intensive therapeutic interventions, including both psychotherapy and medication management for individuals with severe mental illnesses. Their role involves addressing acute symptoms, managing crises, and ensuring the safety of their clients. Counselling psychologists, while providing support and guidance, generally offer shorter-term counselling aimed at enhancing coping skills and facilitating personal growth. 

Training Emphasis 

The training of clinical psychologists places a significant emphasis on the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of severe mental disorders. They receive comprehensive instruction in understanding the biological, cognitive, and emotional factors contributing to these disorders. On the other hand, counselling psychology training often emphasizes preventive interventions, personal development, and enhancing clients’ overall quality of life. 

Professional Settings 

Clinical psychologists are commonly found in medical settings, hospitals, and mental health clinics. They often collaborate with other medical professionals to provide integrated care for individuals with complex psychological conditions. Counselling psychologists, in contrast, are frequently employed in educational settings, community centers, and private practice, where they focus on addressing a wide array of personal and interpersonal issues. 

Focus on Strengths 

Counselling psychology places a significant emphasis on clients’ strengths, resources, and personal growth. Counsellors work collaboratively with clients to help them develop effective coping strategies and foster resilience.

In other words, the onus of improvement is shared with the client, and the two work in a partnership. Clinical psychology, while acknowledging strengths, may focus more on symptom reduction and managing diagnosed disorders. 

Choosing the Right Path: Clinical Psychology or Counselling Psychology? 

The path to becoming either a Clinical Psychologist or a Counselling Psychologist is remarkably similar. It includes completing your education with a relevant degree, gaining experience, and applying for licensure. You can read more about it in our blog How to Become a Therapist in Canada: A Complete Guide.  

The decision to pursue a career in clinical psychology or counselling psychology should be driven by a thorough understanding of one’s professional aspirations, strengths, and preferences. Individuals who are drawn to the challenges of diagnosing and treating severe mental disorders, conducting psychological assessments, and working in medical settings may find clinical psychology to be a fulfilling path. The field also appeals to those motivated to contribute to the advancement of psychological research and knowledge. 

On the other hand, those who are passionate about helping individuals navigate everyday life challenges, promoting personal growth, and improving overall well-being might find counselling psychology to be a more suitable fit. Counselling psychologists excel at creating supportive relationships, guiding clients through transitions, and fostering a sense of empowerment and resilience. 

Summing It Up 

  1. The demand for mental health professionals continues to rise in Canada 
  2. Clinical and counselling psychology have some fundamental similarities 
  3. The five factors of differentiation between clinical and counselling psychology 
  4. Which one should you choose as a career path 

We hope we have helped you understand the similarities and differences between clinical and counselling psychology and given you enough information to decide which one you should choose. If a career in counselling appeals to you, take a look at Canada’s leading online counsellor education graduate program and how it can help you realize your goals.  

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