What is clinical counseling?

March 1, 2024

Reading Time: 2–4 minutes

Clinical counseling is a skill area of clinical psychology that can help people overcome emotional or mental health difficulties.

If you’re interested in pursuing studies in clinical counseling or a similar area, getting the basics of what it is and how it’s practiced can be useful. Gerry Koocher, PhD, has suggestions for the education you might consider as you pursue your options in the field of clinical counseling.

Dr. Koocher is the Capella University program director for the clinical psychology program in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Here he offers some thoughts about the nature of clinical counseling  and where you might find your fit in this area.

Q. What kind of skills are important in clinical counseling?

A. Individuals, couples and larger groups dealing with personal issues that may cause emotional discomfort are some of the audiences who receive support when they work with clinical counseling. These can include stressful life events ranging from workplace stress and relationship issues to the death of a loved one. Diagnosis and treatment for depression, anxiety or other common disorders are some of the mental health concerns that may be addressed in clinical counseling.

The ability to show empathy is important, of course, but so is education and practical experience. Someone who works in  this field of psychology and is trained in the latest diagnostic and intervention techniques can help people successfully navigate challenges, including substance abuse or family conflicts, even work-related stresses.

Q. What skills and abilities do you develop in a clinical counseling program?

A. To succeed in clinical counseling program, students will need to hone their communication and critical thinking skills. They will need to develop the ability to talk with troubled clients and professional colleagues, analyze research, and apply the latest assessment and treatment techniques.

Another essential component involves understanding and applying the professional and ethical standards in the field. Integrating key principles of adaptation and coping with real-life problem situations is a central component of clinical counseling education.

Q. If a person is starting out on a path to learn about clinical counseling, what should their first step be in education?

A. Typically, undergraduate students with an interest in clinical counseling will begin with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology Pre-Counseling and Therapy and then move on to a master’s degree.

Master of Science-level education in clinical psychology is rooted in evidence-based practice. Students immerse themselves in psychological theory and learn to apply current knowledge to help their clients solve problems and cope more effectively.

Students at the master’s level will learn to assess clients’ strengths and weaknesses using psychological testing and interviews, and then apply psychological concepts to help clients improve their mental health.

Q. What kind of education is required to practice clinical counseling?

A. In most states, a master’s degree is the minimum required degree for someone practicing in the field of clinical counseling. In all states, a doctorate is required to qualify as a licensed psychologist.

Professionals in the counseling and therapy field must complete an academic program that meets the educational requirements of the state in which they intend to practice.

Remember that, beyond an academic degree, a state license is also needed. Those interested in seeking a professional license should review their state's licensure requirements, which may also require successful completion of relevant exams.*

There are professional doctorates, beyond PhDs or PsyDs, that might fit a student’s goals if they are interested in pursuing a doctoral-level degree in counseling or psychology.

* It is important to understand all educational and individual requirements for licensing. Capella University cannot guarantee licensure, certification or endorsement. State regulations vary regarding professional licensure. It is your responsibility to understand and comply with requirements for your state.

Learn more about Capella’s MS in Clinical Psychology, Clinical Counseling program.

Capella also offers programs in counseling and therapy, psychology and applied behavior analysis and social work and human services.

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