The mental health field is one of the most exciting career fields to pursue in the 21st century. Clinical research continues to uncover the mysteries of the human mind, particularly within the discipline of neuropsychology. According to the renowned clinical psychiatrist Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, over the last 25 years scientists have discovered more about the inner workings of the brain than the previous 100 years combined.
Counseling psychologists pair theoretical concepts with the latest scientific breakthroughs in the behavioral health field in a practical, useful manner within a therapeutic or educational setting. The latest clinical research studying the complex interplay of neurotransmitters is of little use to an individual currently suffering from clinical depression, for example.
Counseling psychologists give the field of psychology its humanity. Without the work of these dedicated individuals, all of the neuropsychological studies in the world would have no practical application.
Individuals interested in pursuing a career in the mental health field should be aware of the difference between psychiatry and psychology. Psychiatry involves pursuing a career as a medical practitioner who focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders. This specialized focus allows psychiatrists to prescribe psychotropic medications in addition to psychotherapy to manage mental disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and major depression.
A career as a psychologist, on the other hand, does not adhere to the medical model of psychiatry. Psychologists cannot prescribe medication, but these individuals can still provide highly specialized treatment for people in need of mental health care.
The mental health field diverges even further into counseling psychology and clinical psychology. Both of these professional careers overlap in many areas such as work environment, but generally speaking, clinical psychologists work with individuals that are more impaired. Counseling psychologists take a more general approach to the mental health field, focusing on a more developmental perspective.
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Counseling psychologists do in fact provide therapy services, but the term “therapist" is a broad term. Therapists can be counseling psychologists as well as clinical psychologists, and in certain situations a social worker can act as a therapist as well.
Counseling psychologists engage in many more activities other than psychotherapy such as teaching or offering consulting services within professional organizations. Counseling psychologists may assist in career development and research as well. Also, vocational development falls within the purview of counseling psychology.
Aside from an advanced degree, pursuing a career in counseling psychology requires a strong emotional constitution. The ability to analyze and interpret objective information while drawing logical conclusions is an indispensable skill. Observational skills play a very important role in a counseling psychology career as well.
The ability to interpret an individual's expressions and behavior is arguably one of the most important aspects of psychotherapy. Trustworthiness is another trait all counseling psychologists must nurture in themselves in order to have a successful career. This characteristic goes beyond the idea of developing people skills in the usual sense. Without trust between therapists and clients, psychotherapy can only be minimally effective.
Counseling psychologists must earn a doctoral level degree in order to begin a career as a practitioner. Major universities across North America offer PhD coursework in counseling psychology, but a PsyD (doctorate of psychology) is an option as well. Both advanced degrees in counseling psychology require at least four years of graduate study in addition to a full-time internship.
Advanced degrees in counseling psychology encompass core concepts in psychology as well as areas of specialization such as biological and cognitive schools of thought. Lastly, individuals seeking an advanced degree in counseling psychology must complete an original dissertation in order to obtain a degree.
The most highly regarded universities offering counseling psychology programs include the University of Florida, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Maryland.
As alluded to previously, counseling psychology is a broad field of study. Psychotherapy can take place in a private practice, outpatient facility, or in a hospital setting. Essentially, the workplace of counseling psychologists depends upon the type of clients a practitioner chooses to serve.
For example, colleges and major universities employ counseling psychologists to teach as well as conduct research alongside clinical psychologists. Businesses and corporations may hire counseling psychologists for consultation services as well. Public health facilities also employ counseling psychologists to oversee the vocational coordination of the facility's services in addition to coordinating group-orientated psychotherapy.
The financial compensation for counseling psychologists varies depending on the employment setting. The median annual wage for all counseling psychologists is approximately $67,000. Entry-level professionals can expect to earn between $39,000, the median annual wage. Once counseling psychologist progress in their careers, the top 10% earn over $100,000 annually, particularly those who open a private practice. All of these figures are consistent with the field of psychology as a whole.
As clinical researchers continue to study human behavior, the field of counseling psychology will progress likewise. Pursuing a career in counseling psychology encompasses more than mere aptitude. The best counseling psychologists must have the desire to understand the mysteries of the human mind and the skill to put this understanding to practical use.