Whether you are a counselor or a psychologist, you will be dealing with mental health patients. The two professionals require licenses from the state to practice. Their client fees are also reimbursed by insurance companies. The duties of these two professionals overlap at some point, just like their basic training. However, they diverge at a point due to specialization. To make it easier to understand the two professions, let us look at each individually.
This is a non-medical doctor (PhD) whose specialization is human mind and behavior. The main duty of a psychologist is to assist you overcome fear, anxiety, relate better with people, etc. Psychology is a very vast field with diverse specializations, theoretical inclinations and different clientele. Here is a simplified step by step description of how to become a psychologist.
- Go to school- because of the importance of mental health, psychologists are required to be highly trained. They must also be licensed upon verification of their training. You need to earn a bachelor degree in psychology. Some of the areas you expect to cover include experimental and developmental psychology, statistics and the basic principles of psychology. There are numerous colleges offering these programs.
- Look for experience- supervised experience is very crucial for licensing purposes. Furthermore, psychology is an extremely practical discipline. Volunteering and internship will provide you with necessary supervised exposure hours while you still learn. Volunteer in a mental health clinic, engage with handicapped children, assist your professor with research, etc.
- Research on Graduate Programs- there are different specialties that will be the basis of your Masters studies. Find an institution or university that has a good reputation in your area of interest. It helps you prepare early for your Masters program.
- Identify your degree and specialty- this means choosing the best field for you. It could be clinical or counseling psychology. Learn more about industrial organization and the job opportunities available. Depending on your findings, you will identify whether you need an MA, MSc, PsyD or PhD. Check licensing requirements from regulator websites.
- Take your doctorate in psychology- a doctorate is the minimum requirement for most fields in psychology. Most schools have placed GRE requirement at 1200 points or more. You also need GPA of 3.3 and above. You must have worked as a volunteer or in paid internship related to your field. It will take several years to complete the doctorate.
- Internship- practical experience is crucial in psychology. As such, internship is mandatory before you get any license. Internship also helps you get a feel of different fields for career choice purposes. The approval of APA for the internship is required considering the sensitivity of mental health. The internship could be two years or so.
- Get a license- apply to be a psychologist by presenting your papers and credentials for verification. It is impossible to practice without this license despite your academic qualification.
To keep the license valid, you need to attend seminars and workshop as well as other advancement classes.
Psychologists deal specifically with mental health issues. You therefore expect to work in outpatient clinics, rehabilitation facilities, mental and community health centers. They also work in pain clinics and nursing homes. Private practice is also a possibility with incredible benefits.
Counseling is also a broad discipline with numerous specializations. There is clinical counseling which involves health issues and other forms like career counseling that is about academic and work. Their requirements are also different especially in regards to experience hours. However, all counselors must have a Masters degree to get a license. Some of the common counseling specialties include marriage and family therapy, addiction and school counseling. Here is a career path you can follow to become a counselor.
Basic personal qualities
- You need to relate easily with people of all caliber without judging and with the aim of providing a solution
- You need an empathetic, warm and open heart that can gain the trust of people and make them feel comfortable
- You need to be sensitive tolerant and patient as well as exercise a lot of impartiality
- Discreet and trustworthy with high levels of ethics and personal integrity
- An incredible sense of self awareness that enables you to understand your limits and constantly examine your values and thoughts
Basic training for a counselor is a Masters degree. The foundation is usually psychology or counseling after which you specialize in such areas as sex therapy, careers, family counseling, etc. Some of these areas may overlap but you will need specialized training and accreditation for each. You must also be a member of the professional body.
In the process of learning, you must be supervised by an experienced professional. The number of hours depends on your area of specialization. For instance, you might need 1.5 hrs a week for BACP accreditation. The supervisor should not be a manager but rather an experienced mentor who can provide moral and emotional support as you work.
It is recommended that you join a professional body in your chosen area of practice. This comes with such benefits as training, workshops, networking opportunities, resources and career growth. This will also boost your career credibility by showing that you are committed to your work. It gives your client a feeling of a person working in a safe, ethical and professional manner.
Places Counselor Work
Counselors have the option of both conventional and innovative career paths. The innovative path is where you become a brand and create own fortune from your skills. However innovative the path may be, you need licenses and internship to operate. The path of employment opens up to private businesses where you research, evaluate services and solve people related problems. Government employs counselors in hospitals, schools, social agencies, enforcement and drug rehabilitation facilities, among others. Non-profit organizations offer administrative and consultant opportunities, among other areas.
Counseling or Psychology?
The decision will depend on your envisaged career path. Based on personal traits and compatibility with the working environment, choose the most comfortable career path. Consult a career specialist to help you analyze your options based on available opportunities.