Should I Get a Counseling or Psychology Degree?

Listening skills, patience, and problem-solving abilities are just a few talents needed for people looking to pursue degrees in counseling and psychology.

At College Choice we’re in a similar business: We’re here to help you answer your greatest education questions so you can find, get into, pay for, and thrive in college. On our counseling and psychology rankings pages, you’ll find everything you need to help you make an informed decision about the degree that’s right for you, whether a Bachelor of Arts in Counseling, Master of Arts Psychology, or other degree path, like a bachelor’s or master’s in social work, or a Bachelor of Science in Biology or Chemistry, which will become the bedrock for your career as a psychiatrist. Take a look below for an overview of this engaging and challenging profession that’s focused on helping people overcome their problems to reach their full potential.

No matter your interest, College Choice has information to help you navigate the complexities of deciding on your degree. In the fields of counseling or psychology, we have several different rankings lists for you to look at. Perhaps you need to further your education in psychology but don’t have a lot of time or money to do so. In this case, we’d suggest looking over our Cheapest Online Bachelor’s in Psychology and Cheapest Online Master’s in Psychology rankings. We offer similar lists in counseling as well, like our Cheapest Online Master’s in Counseling, our Best Online Master’s in Counseling, and our Cheapest Online Master’s in Educational Counseling—all of which will get you on the path to a more fulfilling career. No matter your professional goals, College Choice has a way to help you understand your options.

What Can I Do With a Psychology or Counseling Degree?

Generally speaking, mental health professionals are qualified to talk with clients about their mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical problems and offer helpful solutions that create clarity.

The words counselor and therapist are often used interchangeably and people often use these monikers to refer to any mental health care professional who dispenses advice in a formal setting; the word counseling is used often describing the action of seeing a mental health professional, often disregarding the professional credential entirely. Similarly, the word therapist is often used to describe the professional individual providing advice or medication as treatment for a mental health issue.

So, when you hear individuals refer to their mental health professional, it’s quite possible that they’re referring to the action or individual only and aren’t referencing the specific credentials held by the person they trust with their mental health care, which could be any number of degrees, including a Master of Arts in Psychology, an M.D., or a Master of Arts in Social Work.

All that said, to gain entry into this profession, you’ll need a lot of education—so be prepared to get at least a bachelor’s degree alongside certifications and on-the-job training, depending on your field. To advance in a psychology and counseling career, you’ll need an advanced degree in a field such as psychology or social work. But don’t be deterred by these professional demands, as people in this field report high levels of job satisfaction, experience stable employment, and are part of a growing profession.

Whether you’re looking for the best bachelor’s degree in psychology or a top master’s degree in counseling, College Choice is here to help you understand the professional terrain you’re going to explore. A good point of entry here is the ways in which we speak about psychology and counseling degrees.

What is the Difference Between Psychology and Counseling Degrees?

If you’re interested in a bachelors or masters in psychology or counseling, it would do you well to get a grasp on what exactly you’d like to be, as your degree path will determine your career and how you’ll be able to interact with patients. One tough thing about this profession is the simplistic lingo bandied about in conversation concerning the field and on the Internet. Many of the terms used for people who practice counseling are used interchangeably, with little regard for professional nuance and the training required for working with patients in particular ways, like being able to officially diagnose illnesses and treat them with medications.

So, what’s the difference between a counselor, psychiatrist, psychologist, and a therapist? The professions of psychology and counseling break down into three major tiers, each with increasing levels of technical and professional skill and knowledge. Here, we’ve created some professional descriptions, information about focus areas, and have provided some basic salary info. Whether you want to go to the best counseling school or attend a top psychology program, you should begin with the end in mind.

Counselor or Therapist

Average Salary: $43,190

“Counselor” is an umbrella term for licensed clinicians with advanced degrees, such as a master’s degree. Working directly with patients, these individuals do not require the same kinds of advanced degrees and licensure to work (like a Master of Psychology for psychologists or an M.D. of D.O. for psychiatrists), but practice the act of guiding their patients in a broader context, helping to determine the best methods of interaction that will provide positive outcomes for the patient(s) involved with the process; this kind of mental health professional is qualified to evaluate and treat mental problems through counseling or psychotherapy, but cannot prescribe medicine or perform more advance medical tasks related to mental health.

After residency hours (which vary state to state) and the completion of the proper degrees and certifications, a counselor can begin working with patients. This type of background is different than the medical background and training received by more advanced degree-holding practitioners of the art of counseling. Types of counselors include clinical social workers, psychiatric or mental health nurses, and licensed mental health counselors.

While there are many fields within counseling to choose from, such as guidance and career, educational, and mental health counseling, there are a few areas that are mainstays for the mental health industry. Here’s a quick look at three popular specializations within the field, which require a Master of Arts in Social Work, Master of Arts in Psychology, or Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy to enter:

Addiction Counseling

…is an essential part of substance abuse treatment. Focused on the patient, and the behavioral, biological, environmental, and social complexities that drive a person deeper into addiction, this focus of counseling helps individuals and families cope with destructive forces of all kinds of addictions including opioid and alcohol addiction.

Marriage and Family Therapy

…is one of the most popular forms of counseling. In this field, counselors help couples navigate the complexities of intimate interpersonal relationships and family dynamics, and raising children, all the while growing together as individuals and as a unit. These therapists focus on helping people develop healthy forms of communication, boundaries inside and outside of marriage, and provide practical skills helping couples coordinate on all the important issues of living together under one roof.

Rehabilitation Counseling

…is a profession that applies counseling services and specialties to aid patients at all stages of the recovery process. No matter the trauma, counseling is a primary tool in this profession. In addition, counselors also use advocacy and technology to help people achieve optimum mental, emotional, physical, and developmental health. Working with individuals who have emerged from prison sentences, extended stays in hospitals or rehab, or military service, these counselors advocate, educate, and holistically heal using a variety of techniques and skills.

If this seems like the professional focus for you, consider looking at the following College Choice rankings related to bachelor’s and master’s degrees in counseling and psychology, like the Best Master’s in Counseling Psychology and the Best Master’s in School Counseling. Or, take a look at our Social Work-related rankings like the Best Online Bachelor’s in Social Work, the Best Bachelor’s in Social Work, the Best Online Master’s in Social Work (MSW) Programs, and the Best Masters in Social Work. Any of the degrees offered from these rankings lists will get you on the right path to the counseling profession.

Psychologist

Average Salary: $72,580

Psychologists are mental health professionals with a minimum academic degree of a Master of Arts in Psychology, but must acquire other degrees, like a Ph.D., Psy.D., or Ed.D., to practice in the field. Highly educated on both methods of counseling and the history and theory of medical psychology, psychologists are licensed by state boards to practice psychotherapy and have high ethical standards and confidentiality agreements to which they must adhere while they practice research-based behavioral psychology in treating patients. In addition, psychologists conduct clinical evaluations of patients and can diagnose mental illnesses as well as recommend options for treatment. While many psychologists practice with patients in private practices, some opt to pursue academic careers based in research for universities or private institutions. While Psychologists cannot write prescriptions (they are not medical doctors), they often work along with doctors to treat patients collaboratively.

While there are many fields of psychology to choose from, such as clinical, counseling, child development, engineering, and experimental psychology, there are a few that are growing in popularity. Here’s a quick look at three popular specializations within the field, which requires a Master of Psychology to enter:

Forensic Psychology

…is the study of the interaction between psychology and law. People in this discipline work in government agencies, prisons, jails, police departments, law firms, and rehab centers and are a bridge between the world of the justice system and the world of psychological medicine. In a professional capacity, psychologists working in this discipline make decisions about whether or not criminals are mentally fit to stand trial, help determine sentencing options for offenders, and make treatment requests for their patients.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology

…seeks to understand the human behaviors that surround work and the workplace as they relate to physical, emotional, and mental health. Known as I-Os, these psychologists work to cultivate a vigorous and productive workplace and are often focused on improving occupational health and safety, job satisfaction and motivation, and job performance. In addition to these functions, I-Os might also meet with employees as part of HR efforts, design interdepartmental trainings and programs, and work to curb bullying, violence, and aggression in the workplace.

Sports Psychology

…seeks to help high functioning athletes achieve balance alongside their professional goals in a high pressure job. While coaches focus on the bodily nature of an athlete’s success, these psychologists help athletes organize and achieve self-control over the mind. Professionals in this field teach relaxation techniques and mental rehearsals so that athletes can visualize winning, overcoming their tempers during a game loss, recover from an injury, or stick to an exercise program.

If these kinds of jobs seem right for you, take a look at our psychology rankings, like our Best Online Bachelor’s in Psychology, our Best Online Master’s in Psychology, and our Cheapest Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology.

Psychiatrist

Average Salary: $193,680

With an M.D. as well as academic training at the advanced-degree level, a psychiatrist specializes in preventing, diagnosing, and treating mental illness, emotional disorders, and addictive behaviors. These mental health professionals begin their training with four years of med school and then gain mental health care experience through a minimum of three years as a psychiatric resident at a health care facility.

While there are many fields of psychiatry to choose from, such general, emergency, mental retardation, forensic, and consult liaison psychiatry, there are a few that are growing in popularity. Here’s a quick look at three popular specializations within the field, which require a Medical Degree to begin practice, but after completing work related to a Master of Arts in Psychology:

Addiction Psychiatry

…is a specialty focus of some psychiatrists. Concentrated on both psychiatry and neurology, health care professionals in this field work with individuals to treat particular substance or behavioral addictions through traditional counseling methods, pharmaceuticals, and cutting-edge forms of treatment.

Child or Adolescent Psychiatry

…focuses on treating the thinking and behavioral disorders affecting children, adolescents, and their families. Psychiatrists in this field often conduct research, work closely with parents, guardians, and caregivers, and provide psychological and physical care for young people struggling with disorders of the mind which complicate their interactions with the world around them.

Geriatric Psychiatry

…is a specialized form of mental health care that deals directly with the specific mental disorders found in older adult populations, among them anxiety, schizophrenia, dementia, depression, and late-life addiction disorders. Psychiatrists in this field often help with treating acute and chronic physical illnesses that come along with the aging process.

No matter your career aspirations, College Choice is here to provide you with guidance and practical tools to help you find, get into, pay for, and thrive in college. Take a few minutes to look over our rankings lists, which outline important information about colleges that could be right for you! And don’t forget to share what you find with anyone else that might be looking to go to school for a degree in psychology or counseling!

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