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Eye on Psi Chi: Winter 2008
Looking Toward Your Future in Psychology: Taking a Closer Look at Career Preparation
Theresa A. DeWalt, Marquette University (WI)
Are you an undergraduate student interested in pursuing a career in psychology? Are you interested in furthering your education to the graduate level? Are you thinking about obtaining a master’s degree or are you considering applying to a doctoral program? Do you know if you want to provide therapy or perhaps do you think you want to conduct research?

If these questions leave you feeling a bit confused, don’t worry, you are not alone. Many undergraduates are puzzled by the wide range of options available to them in the field of psychology. That may be because there are many different areas of study within the field. For example, there are programs in counseling psychology, clinical psychology, experimental psychology, and industrial/ organizational psychology, just to name a few. In addition, within those programs there are often areas of specialization such as substance abuse, sport psychology, art or music therapy, health, gerontology, behavior, etc. Then there are specific populations that may appeal to individuals for research or practice purposes, such as children, adolescents, adults, men, women, and people of diverse ethnic, racial backgrounds. All of those choices can understandably leave someone feeling confused.

In particular, students are often confused about the differences between clinical and counseling psychology. This is understandable considering the significant overlap of activities and services provided by both clinical and counseling psychologists. This article is designed to provide you with information about the similarities and differences between the two disciplines in an effort to help you make an informed choice about which discipline may be the best fit for you.

When considering which field to enter, it is important to note that there are many similarities between the fields of counseling and clinical psychology. In fact, over time many of the differences that once separated the two disciplines have faded. At this point in time, clinical and counseling psychologists often work in similar settings including academic institutions, hospitals, community mental health centers, independent practice, or college counseling centers. They also conduct similar types of work in these settings.

In addition, both clinical and counseling psychologists are licensed as "licensed psychologists” in all 50 states and are able to practice independently as health care providers (Roger & Stone, n.d.). Both clinical and counseling psychologists are trained at the doctoral level in programs that require at least 4-5 years of graduate study.

Despite these similarities, there are some differences between the two fields, and these differences can have implications on the degree of fit between you and your chosen field of study.

Although clinical and counseling psychologists perform highly similar work including psychotherapy, teaching, research, and supervision (Mayne, Norcross, & Sayette, 2000), there are some differences between the practice areas of the two disciplines. Counseling psychologists tend to work more frequently with people experiencing less severe mental health problems and conduct more work in the area of career and vocational counseling. In contrast, clinical psychologists tend to treat individuals with more significant psychological pathology and tend to conduct more projective assessments (Norcross, Kohout, & Wicherski, 2006).

Differences in Number
Another distinction between clinical and counseling psychology programs is that they differ in number. There are more clinical psychology doctoral programs than counseling psychology doctoral programs in the United States. There are approximately 224 APA-accredited doctoral programs in clinical psychology, which produce approximately 2,000 doctoral degrees per year. In contrast, there are approximately 71 APA-accredited doctoral programs in counseling psychology, producing approximately 500 doctoral degrees per year (APA, 2007; Norcross, 2000). As a result, there are many more practicing clinical psychologists than counseling psychologists in the United States.

Theoretical Orientations
Theoretical orientation is another area in which clinical and counseling psychologists experience both similarities and differences in perspective. Bechtoldt, Wyckoff, Pokrywa, Campbell, and Norcross (2000) found that across clinical and counseling psychologists, 29% identified as coming from an eclectic/ integrative orientation, followed by 26% of both groups identified as being from a cognitive orientation. Despite this, counseling psychologists tend to favor client centered and humanistic perspectives as compared to clinical psychologists who tend to favor behavioral and psychoanalytic perspectives (Norcross et al., 2006).

Rates of Acceptance
An issue that is often important to undergraduates interested in pursuing a graduate degree in psychology is the question about their chance of getting accepted into a program. In this regard, the rates of acceptance between clinical and counseling programs are similar. Clinical and counseling programs accept, on average, 21% of applicants (Norcross et al., 2006). Clinical psychology programs typically field a larger number of applicants, but generally speaking, the acceptance rates between the two specialty areas are approximately the same.

Increase Your Chances of Acceptance

So what can you do to increase your chances of getting into graduate school? Undergraduate students can make themselves attractive to graduate programs in psychology by participating in rigorous coursework throughout their undergraduate career. In addition, psychology programs look for consistently high college grades and volunteer or work experiences that show a dedication to human services and the particular orientation of the program for which the student applies. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE), (both the General and Subject test), and the Miller Analogies Test (MAT) are often considered as well.

Undergraduates interested in learning more about the field of counseling psychology should consider joining the Student Affiliates of Seventeen (SAS) of the APA’s Division 17— the Society of Counseling Psychology. SAS is comprised of master’s and doctoral level counseling and counseling psychology students who have gone through the process of deciding what direction to go within the field of psychology. SAS provides information specifically related to students interested in the field of counseling psychology in its newsletter and in The Counseling Psychologist, Division 17 Newsletter that members receive. SAS also offers undergraduate students the ability to communicate with current graduate students and exposes them to information on whether a career in counseling psychology is right for them. SAS provides undergraduate students with information about applying to graduate school including information on how to write a strong personal statement, develop their curriculum vita, and how to make a good impression during interviews. More information about SAS is available at

American Psychological Association. (2007). Accredited doctoral programs in professional psychology. Retrieved September 9, 2007, from

Bechtoldt, H., Wyckoff, L. A., Pokrywa, M. L., Campbell, L. F., & Norcross, J. C. (2000, March). Theoretical orientations and employment settings of clinical and counseling psychologists: A comparative study. Poster presented at the annual meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association, Baltimore, MD.

Mayne, T. J., Norcross, J. C., & Sayette, M. A. (2000). Insider's guide to graduate programs in clinical and counseling psychology (2000/2001 ed.). New York: Guilford. Norcross, J. (2000, Fall). Clinical versus Counseling Psychology: What’s the diff? Eye on Psi Chi, 5 (1), 20-22.

Norcross, J., Kohout, J., & Wicherski, M. (2006, Spring). Graduate admissions in psychology II: Acceptance rates and financial considerations. Eye on Psi Chi, 10(3), 20-21, 32-33.

 Roger, P., & Stone, G. (n.d.). Counseling vs clinical. What is the difference between a clinical psychologist and a counseling psychologist? Retrieved January 14, 2007, from the Society of Counseling Psychology, Division 17, American Psychological Association Web site: differences.html

Theresa (Terri) DeWalt has a master’s degree in counseling, and is a 5th year doctoral candidate in counseling psychology at Marquette University. She was the cochair of the Student Affiliates of Seventeen during 2006–07 and hosted the 2007 APA Convention program "What Can I do as a Counseling Psychologist?” Beyond this, she works as the director/therapist at a rape crisis center in Racine, Wisconsin.

Copyright 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 2) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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