Counseling psychology is the general practice specialty in professional psychological services. It centers on how people function in their relationships and in their lives at every age and in every situation.
A counseling psychologist may deal with emotional, intellectual, academic, and social concerns as well as the physical health people have at different ages and stages of their lives.
People tend to consult counseling psychologists when they are going through stressful situations. Counseling psychology addresses issues that clients experience as individuals but also as members of families, working groups, and broader society.
Counseling psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat psychological symptoms of concern to their patients and clients as they help them resolve crises and work past feelings of distress.
What Is the Special Expertise of a Counseling Psychologist?
Counseling psychologists usually develop a specialty with their specialty as their careers progress. But every counseling psychologist is trained to recognize and deal with issues that occur across every stage of development: childhood, teenage years, adulthood, and older age.
Counseling psychologists develop authoritative knowledge of:
- Situational and environmental influences, how gender, lifestyle, and culture shape expectations, experiences, and obstacles to growth.
- Strengths and healthy aspects of clients as they function as individuals, in families, in groups, and at work.
- The role of work, career, and profession in people’s lives.
- Issues of justice and fairness sometimes require the counseling psychologist to act as an advocate.
What Kinds of Issues Do Counseling Psychologists Address?
Counseling psychologists help their clients work through life challenges, taking into consideration not just the client’s stage of development (childhood, adolescence, adulthood, senior years) but also their culture, environment, and unique life experiences. Some of the issues that come up in the practice of counseling psychology include:
- Relationship challenges. Marriage and family counseling is a subset of counseling psychology. Counseling psychologists help their clients resolve conflicts and achieve growth in marriage and family relationships.
- Remediation of learning deficits. Counseling psychologists may help their clients make up for life experiences they missed in the past so they can attain an improved quality of life in the future. They may also help clients “learn how to learn” in academic and work settings.
- Making decisions about school, work, and retirement. Counseling psychologists help their clients face their realities in earning a living, choosing a job, and dealing with the loss of a job or the end of a career, as well as choosing new careers.
- Stress management and coping with negative experiences. The counseling psychologist recognizes subtle differences between traumatic life experiences and ongoing post-traumatic stress disorder, providing just the right amount of support for personal growth. Counseling psychologists may make referrals to clinical psychologists or psychiatrists for the treatment of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
- Adjusting to physical disabilities, injuries, or chronic disease. The counseling psychologist may collaborate with an occupational therapist to achieve optimal outcomes of vocational rehabilitation.
- Identity issues. Counseling psychologists provide perspective to clients who are unsure of their personal identity. They supplement the efforts of clinicians treating identity disorders.
- Personal and social adjustment. Counseling psychologists give their clients the knowledge they need to function optimally in all kinds of situations, along with insights about when new relationships and new settings may be preferable.
- Organizational issues. Counseling psychologists address organization-wide issues of feeling, thinking, communicating, and achieving organizational goals. Organizational psychology is a specialty that can overlap with counseling psychology.
- Persistent difficulties in relating to people. Counseling psychologists help their clients achieve the best possible outcomes in relationships they find challenging over long periods of time. These may include marital relationships, family relationships, and employment relationships.
- Mental disorders. Counseling psychologists help clients build better lives as they deal with diagnosed mental diseases.
What Do Counseling Psychologists Do in Session?
Counseling psychologists are well known for talk therapy. Psychotherapy, as well as individual, couples, family, and group counseling, are common tools of counseling psychology.
Counseling psychologists are also well known for crisis intervention. Counseling psychologists are called to console victims of tragedies and disasters. They help people in distress make the best possible decisions when they are under extreme stress.
These interventions may be carried out on a group level as well as on an individual level. Counseling psychologists are sometimes engaged to help business organizations, schools, and churches in a crisis.
But counseling psychologists also do preventive work. They may design training courses for better relationships and better job behaviors. They may design workshops that inform and educate the public about family, relationship, school, workplace, and mental health issues to stop problems before they start or keep existing problems from getting worse.
Counseling psychologists also design, administer, interpret, and explain psychological testing.
Is a Counseling Psychologist the Same as a Clinical Psychologist?
There is a lot of overlap between what counseling psychologists do and what clinical psychologists do. Both counseling psychologists and clinical psychologists help their clients and patients work through mental health challenges. Both counseling psychologists and clinical psychologists can apply psychological testing to diagnose issues that may not be obvious so they can be addressed by therapy. Both counseling psychologists and clinical psychologists work with a variety of professionals to achieve the best possible outcome for their clients and patients.
Clinical psychologists, however, are more concerned with psychopathology than they are with everyday psychological health. They are more focused on treating psychological illness. Counseling psychologists focus on helping their patients achieve happier, healthier, more productive, and satisfying lives.
What Is the Most Important Factor in Choosing a Counseling Psychologist?
The most important contributor to success in counseling psychology is finding a therapist who can be your ally. You need a counseling psychologist who is clearly on your side in meeting your life goals—or discovering your life goals and understanding them better. And with counseling psychologists, the ability to be your therapeutically is something that grows with experience.
Ellen Savage LCPC has been providing counseling for individuals and families since 1982. If you live near Havre, MT, schedule an in-person trial session with Ellen to discuss your goals in therapy. If you live in a more distant location, Ellen is available for online sessions.