Living is a paradox. It involves happiness and sadness, joy and suffering, success and hardship.
Not any person from any culture, country, or economic class can escape this dilemma – what many refer to as the human condition. However counseling psychologists are trained to help individuals navigate these extremes.
A career in counseling psychology means helping individuals tilt the balance toward happiness, joy and success. These professionals help individuals resolve life’s tough issues, always focusing on finding psychologically healthy coping methods.
Many question the difference between a career as a clinical psychologist, and a career as a counseling psychologist. These two careers often overlap, and many positions in hospitals, community organizations, and other facilities will hire either professional.
Clinical psychologists treat more of those with mental health disorders; however, their focus is more on disease. And they typically specialize in treating certain types of illnesses and disorders.
A counseling psychologist is also trained to treat these disorders, but they are considered more generalists, helping individuals solve problems related to a number of issues. These issues are more related to adjusting to life’s everyday challenges and problems, such as vocational changes and decisions, assimilation issues related to living in a foreign country, gender issues, and coping with a multitude of stressors found in all types of relationships.
What do Counseling Psychologists Do?
- A young couple is trying to assimilate different socioeconomic backgrounds within their marriage. Perhaps they’re fighting a lot, and tension results from a difference in how to manage their finances, and housekeeping duties. Counseling psychologists receive training on emotional, social, and cultural functioning, across the lifespan. Therefore they know how culture affects social and emotional development, and are able to help individuals find workable solutions to a range of cultural issues.
- Some same-sex couples do not have an extended family background that supports their sexual orientation. Counseling psychologists will help these couples “externalize” these situations, demonstrating how society’s prejudice and ignorance contributes to family members’ beliefs. They work with family members directly, or in some cases help gay and lesbian individuals grieve the loss of family support, understanding the reasons for this loss.
- A woman is unhappy. She is a mother, wife, and nurse. She loves her kids and husband, but seems to be especially irritable, constantly yelling and correcting her kids. There doesn’t seem to be any major issues in her marriage. She seeks the advice of a counseling psychologist who knows what questions to ask to determine the root of this woman’s stress: the woman is unhappy in her current position as a nurse in a hospital setting. By receiving vocational guidance from the psychologist, the woman finds she is more satisfied working as a nurse in a doctor’s office rather than on a hospital floor.
The examples given above are only a small sample of the many ways a counseling psychologist helps individuals facilitate personal and interpersonal functioning, well-being, and healthy, productive lifestyles.
They also work with groups, such as mother’s groups, grief groups, groups for those struggling with abuse, divorce, addiction or long-term illness.
For example, a counseling psychologist might establish a group for those struggling with a chronic illness. The group meets twice a month to discuss how to live life to its fullest given certain limitations, and keeping in my mind the need for balance to maintain health.
The psychologist keeps the discussion focused on the behaviors needed to find fulfillment and meaning, rather than on the diseases or illnesses. So instead of letting individuals talk about their limitations, or their pain, they keep the conversation focused on what individuals can and want to do. They keep the discussions from turning negative. Instead, they direct the members to share their success stories about finding pastimes, jobs, volunteer activities, and other pursuits that keep their life interesting and purposeful.
Clinical vs. Counseling Psychologist – What’s the difference?
Clinical and counseling psychologists assess and treat people for mental health issues, and problems associated with living fully functioning, healthy lives. They both diagnose mental health disorders, and work with other professionals when drug therapy or other interventions are required.
Technically, however, clinical and counseling psychology are different fields. Each field has its own history, division within the American Psychological Association (APA), and specific degree.
Clinical psychologists deal more with psychopathology. They develop effective treatments for a wide range of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, including depression, anxiety disorders, interpersonal difficulties, and psychotic disorders. Clinical psychologists administer and assess clinical tests for diagnosing these disorders.
Counseling psychologists focus on personal and interpersonal functioning across the life span with a focus on emotional, social, vocational, educational, health-related, developmental, and organizational concerns. Counseling psychologists typically administer more vocational and career testing, and personality testing.
Licensure is available for both clinical and counseling psychologists in all states, and they work in similar settings. Around 35% of clinical psychologists and 21% of counseling psychologists work in private practices. About 21% of clinical psychologists and 34% of counseling psychologists work in academia. Both professionals find employment in hospitals, counseling centers, community mental health centers, and medical schools.
Multiculturalism and Diversity
In addition to counseling individuals and small groups, the field of Counseling Psychology is also evolving to work with communities and on issues affecting culture and society as a whole. These psychology professionals are becoming more involved in multicultural problems and concerns – on issues related to social justice.
Walter Buboltz Jr., a counseling psychologist and professor at Louisiana Tech University, analyzed the field and this career by conducting a content analysis of the Journal of Counseling Psychology. The study’s purpose was to gauge how a career as a counseling psychologist is evolving.
In “Content Analysis of the Journal of Counseling Psychology: Buboltz, Miller, and Williams (1999) 11 Years Later” Buboltz and colleagues studied the research topics represented from 1999 until 2010. This research in a peer-reviewed journal exemplifies the questions and ongoing concerns for the profession. The authors reported that the multiculturalism and diversity category accounts for the largest number of published articles across the 11-year span.
Multiculturalism and diversity are defined as issues related to race and ethnicity, sexual–cultural status, disability, acculturation, gender roles, and the experience of being categorized as a foreigner. This means that counseling psychologists must understand how discrimination and prejudice affect individuals in today’s increasingly diverse society. The research also points to the need for more contributions by counseling psychologists in helping to develop interventions to promote social justice.
This means that over time, the role of counseling psychologists is evolving to closely resemble that of careers in community counseling, and community social work. Conducting seminars and training sessions is one type of multicultural intervention. By giving training sessions, for example, on sexism and racism in corporations and government organizations, counseling psychologist educate others on diversity issues.
Because American culture continues to increase in diversity, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics cites an average job growth of 1.5% for counseling psychologists. In addition, a greater recognition of the correlation between mental and physical health will continue to drive the demand for professionals skilled in helping individuals live balanced and healthy lifestyles.
Positions are available for those holding a master’s degree or PhD. For those at the master’s level, jobs are strong because it’s typically less expensive to receive treatment from someone with a master’s degree. A master’s degree will allow work in a variety of settings, usually supervised by a PhD. Typically, those with a master’s degree do not get involved in research although staying up-to-date with current research and its applicability to practical settings is essential.
For those desiring a PhD in counseling psychology, more career options are available, specifically the opportunity to work in a university or college setting, and to conduct research.
For both a master’s and a PhD a strong undergraduate program with either a degree or several classes taken in psychology is required. These classes include information on patient-counselor relationships, group therapy, child and adolescent therapy, and marital and family therapy. In addition, graduate schools give preference to those who have taken classes specializing in multiculturalism and diversity.
Contact schools offering psychology degree programs for more information on becoming a counseling psychologist.
Typical Job Duties of a Counseling Psychologist
- Conduct psychotherapy for individuals with psychological disorders, crises, or problems of living.
- Administer and interpret tests, such as vocational and career tests, and personality tests.
- Facilitate groups.
- Deliver talks, workshops and training on a variety of issues, such as marriage, relationship dynamics, parenting, job satisfaction, discrimination, abuse, racism, and gender issues.
- Direct and administer mental health programs.
- Respond to personal and family crises, and emergency situations
Life throws everyone a number of pitches: highs, lows, and everything in between. Sometimes things such as divorce, death, illness, job loss, or experiencing a trauma or traumatic event requires some extra help from a counselor. But sometimes people seem to recover from life’s toughest blows entirely on their own.
How do people recover from difficult events, high stress, and situations that change their lives? Resilience is the key, according to the American Psychological Association (APA) website.
If individuals are resilient, they will cope, and resilience can be taught. The website lists several ways for building a strategy to bolster resilience, including the following:
- Make connections. Join a club, church group, exercise group, or take a class or workshop where you can meet others, and develop a wide network of friends who you care about, and who care about you. Relationships are the key to having resilience. Volunteering is also a great way to help others, make friends, and develop a strong self-esteem – another important factor in resilience.
- Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. Everyone from time to time thinks that nothing can change, or that problems are bigger than life itself. Try catching yourself thinking this way, and change your thoughts. Consider any possible way, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, that a future circumstance can improve or change.
- Accept that change is a part of living. Accept that some goals are attainable, but because of circumstances, some might become unattainable. Change what you can, but don’t perseverate over what you can’t change. Look for alternative ways of finding joy, happiness, and meaning.
- Move toward your goals. Develop realistic goals. Try and work on one goal or one part of a goal at a time. Don’t worry if it takes longer than expected or that some goals might not ever get fully realized. Celebrate your achievements.
- Take decisive actions. Act on adverse situations by taking decisive actions rather than detaching completely from problems, or wishing they would just go away.
- Look for opportunities for self-discovery. Many individuals who have experienced tragedies or trauma report a new outlook on life. They point to improved relationships, a greater sense of personal strength, increased sense of self-worth, and a greater enjoyment and appreciation for life.
- Nurture a positive view of yourself. Develop self-confidence. Trust your instincts. Don’t think negatively or focus on the past.
- Keep things in perspective. Even while living through painful events, try to consider the stressful situation within a wider, bigger context. Try not to stretch events or problems into something larger than what is actually taking place.
- Take care of yourself. Always try and look your best. Get up and shower, put on your makeup, or shave – regardless of how you feel. Exercise regularly and take part in pastimes that you truly enjoy.
- Additional ways of strengthening resilience may be helpful. Find alternative ways or distractions for dealing with pain or trauma, such as art, reading, journaling, meditation, drumming, yoga, or any other activities. Stay active.
Psychologists recommend that individuals work on a “resiliency strategy” before feeling stress, or experiencing a trauma or tragedy. By building resiliency throughout your life, you will be more equipped to handle even the worse curve ball.