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What’s the difference between counselling and psychology?

Advice to help you choose the right career path

With stress, anxiety and mental illness on the rise in Australia, the need for caring and qualified healthcare professionals has never been greater. However, with an increasing array of jobs within this area, it can be hard to decide which career path is the right one for you. It can be especially confusing to distinguish between counselling and psychology.

Both counsellors and psychologists are mental health workers who help their clients to identify and deal with mental health issues such as grief, depression, stress, self-image and other problems arising from work, family, mindset, physical health or personal lifestyle. So just what is the difference?

One of the main differences is that the work of clinical psychologists is more strictly regulated than that of counsellors. This stems from some important differences in the ways counsellors and psychologists work with clients to help them address their needs. This in turn influences the level of qualification and training you’ll need for each profession. 

In short, the main differences between each profession can be broken down into the following areas:

  • The key roles played by each professional in working with clients
  • The level of required training and qualification
  • The associated legal and regulatory requirements 

Let’s look at each of these areas in turn.

How different are psychology and counselling as jobs?

The main difference between the work of counsellors and that of psychologists has to do with the duration of support they provide to a client, the depth of analysis of the client’s personality and background, and in some cases the type of treatment and support they give.

Counsellors tend to work with clients over the short term to address immediate mental health issues. Some of these issues may have a long and complex history that needs to be addressed; however, the counsellor’s aim is to work with clients to identify the causes that are immediately apparent and to develop strategies for managing these causes and their effects. In some cases, counsellors may refer clients for further, in-depth psychological support.

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By contrast, psychologists will often work with clients over an extended period, in order to delve deeper into the personal and psychological basis of the problems clients are facing. Psychologists may use psychometric testing and other methods to identify sub-conscious and even neurological causes of mental health problems. 

In summary, the main differences between the work of counsellors and psychologists are:

Counsellors

  • Work with clients over the short to mid-term
  • Focus on present issues at the conscious level
  • Develop practical strategies for managing emotions and personal circumstances

Psychologists

  • Work with clients over an extended period
  • Identify conscious and subconscious issues affecting mental health
  • Recommend or administer specialised psychotherapy treatment

What qualifications do counsellors and psychologists need?

Because of the different ways in which counsellors and psychologists work with clients, each job requires quite specific knowledge and skills.

While in Australia psychology as a profession is more strictly regulated than counselling, you’ll find that achieving advanced qualifications in counselling will help you to find a job and build a lasting and meaningful career.

Find out more about counselling courses here

To qualify as a clinical psychologist, you must complete an undergraduate degree majoring in psychology, plus an additional postgraduate degree or internship program leading to professional registration with the Psychology Board of Australia.

Education and training for counsellors varies from short courses right through to degree programs and postgraduate qualification. As with any profession, however, the qualifications and experience you achieve will largely determine your employability and overall professional competence. 

You’re likely to find a counselling job (and do it well!) when you have a degree-level qualification that includes a supervised practical placement. And with a growing range of specialist counselling roles available, higher-level qualifications and specialist training are highly sought after by employers, and may even be a requirement, together with some level of professional registration.

While you do not need a full degree to practice as a counsellor in Australia, it does make good professional sense to seek the education and training you need to become registered with the Australian Register of Counsellors & Psychotherapists or the Australian Counselling Association.

How to decide whether a counselling or psychology job is right for you

When it comes to deciding which profession is right for you, there are a number of personal and practical issues you should take into account. 

Both counsellors and psychologists work with their clients to develop a relationship of trust and professional care. They seek to empower people facing mental health issues to understand and manage their thoughts, feelings and personal circumstances. As such, both professions call for genuine care and empathy for others, and a genuine desire to work with people to enhance mental wellbeing and quality of life.

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Where the professions differ is that counsellors journey with their clients to identify known issues and develop practical strategies for managing personal circumstances and promoting mental wellbeing. By contrast, psychologists focus more on the underlying psychological causes of mental health problems, seeking to resolve these through specialised psychotherapy approaches. 

This means that different levels of training and qualification are required to practice in each field. While most counselling degrees include some study of psychology, clinical psychologists specialise in this area and its associated therapeutic approaches. 

Deciding which job is for you could come down to your personal preference.

What salary can qualified counsellors and psychologists expect to earn?

Clinical psychologists tend to earn more than licensed counsellors, who in turn earn more than unlicensed or unregistered counsellors. 

According to Payscale, the average annual income for a licensed counsellor is $69,214, compared to $73,000 for a clinical psychologist. Employment opportunities for both professions have increased over the last 10 years, with job growth expected to remain strong for psychologists and to increase for counsellors.