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Ph.D. Program - Counseling Psychology

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the difference between the UT Counseling Psychology and Clinical Psychology programs?

In terms of similarities, both programs are accredited by the American Psychological Association, both are housed in a very strong Department of Psychology, and each program is strengthened by the presence of productive, nationally recognized faculty in the "sister" program. The graduates of both programs serve as faculty members, researchers, and licensed psychologists in independent practice, and in a broad range of other settings. The faculty of both programs serve on dissertation committees of students from the other program, and are continually seeking opportunities for mutual cooperation that strengthen the training of students in each program.

Despite these similarities, because students are permitted to apply to only one of the two programs at the University of Tennessee, it is important that they attend to the differences between programs to ensure that the one they select provides the best match for their training goals. Perhaps one place to start is by recognizing that the specialties of Counseling and Clinical Psychology evolved from different historical roots which, in decades past, had important implications for the career paths of respective graduates. For a current perspective about each specialty and some comments about these historical differences, see information prepared for students by the Society of Counseling Psychology and by the Society of Clinical Psychology.

Although these historical differences have not been entirely erased, today they are much less prominent than at any time in the past with regard to the careers that graduates of each type of program may pursue. In a parallel development, within each of the specialties, programs have evolved in different directions so that there are now a wide range of differences among programs within the same field. The result is that today there are Counseling Psychology programs with differences from the UT program that could be considered as great as the differences between the Counseling and Clinical programs at UT; and there are Clinical programs elsewhere in the United States with differences greater than those between the UT Clinical and Counseling Psychology programs.

For students trying to decide which program will provide the best means of achieving their career goals, the bottom line message is that there are very important differences between the programs at UT, but these distinctions are not captured by the facile labels "Counseling" or "Clinical" psychology. Instead, we recommend that prospective students compare the description of the training models of both programs, the training opportunities, the required curricula of both programs, and the research interests and experiences of both sets of faculty. You will find much of this information at the Counseling Psychology main page and Clinical Psychology main page. If your questions have not been answered after studying this information, we invite you to contact members of the faculty, current students, or past graduates of both programs.

What is Counseling Psychology?

The specialty of counseling psychology was formalized in the 1940s and 1950s and grew from the field of Personnel and Guidance. With an emphasis on overall well-being throughout the lifespan, Counseling Psychologists have frequently stressed service needs to a normal or "non-clinical" client population, i.e., people without serious or persistent mental illnesses.  As one of several specialties in the field of psychology, the Society for Counseling Psychology (Division 17 of the American Psychological Association [APA]) represents and advocates for the counseling specialization within psychology and across the public sector. Other specialties in applied psychology include clinical, school, and industrial-organizational psychology.

What do Counseling Psychologists do?

Both in empirical study and in delivery of counseling services, Counseling Psychologists promote healthy psychological adjustment, utilize developmentally appropriate strategies and capitalize on individuals' adaptive strengths.  The promotion of personal, educational, vocational, and group well-being through education and training, scientific investigation, practice, diversity, and public interest is a goal of professional counseling psychologists.

Where do Counseling Psychologists work?

Counseling Psychologists are employed in a variety of settings including college and university counseling centers; mental health agencies; academic settings, both in research and teaching; VA Medical Centers and military bases; independent practice; health care settings and hospitals; organizational consultant groups; industrial and business settings; and many others.

Are Counseling Psychologists licensed?  By whom?

Counseling psychologists are licensed in all 50 states and may serve as independent health care providers.  Licensure laws vary from state to state, but graduates of the UT Counseling Psychology program are eligible to apply for licensure in any state, provided they have completed the coursework and training experiences required in that state. In Tennessee, The Board of Healing Arts and the professional governance group, The Board of Examiners in Psychology, regulate licensure as a "Psychologist" and/or a "Health Services Provider."

How long does it take to get a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology?

When students enter the doctoral program in Counseling Psychology, their length of training differs based on past educational experiences.  In general, students who enter with an undergraduate degree and strong background in psychology should expect to spend six years of full time study to earn their Ph.D. (This includes dissertation research and a final year of full time internship in an APA-approved setting.) Many students who enter the program with a Masters degree (in Psychology, Counseling, or a related area) have had coursework that may apply toward their UT doctoral degree, thus shortening the time needed to complete their studies. Some students with a great deal of relevant masters-level coursework may require only four years to complete the Ph.D., but five years is more typical.

What is the difference between a Clinical Psychologist and a Counseling Psychologist?

This is probably the most frequently asked of all the FAQs. We reprint here an answer adapted from a statement written by Patricia R. Roger and Gerald Stone for the Society of Counseling Psychology, APA Div. 17. See the original statement and a great deal of other useful information for students interested finding out more about Counseling Psychology.

Many people are puzzled by the fact that some professional psychologists identify themselves as "counseling" psychologists, while others describe themselves as "clinical" psychologists. Counseling and clinical psychologists often perform similar work as researchers and/or practitioners and may work side by side in any number of settings, including academic institutions, hospitals, community mental health centers, independent practice, and college counseling centers, where they may have overlapping roles and functions. To add to the confusion, the term "clinical" psychology is sometimes used in a generic sense by legislators and others to refer to psychologists authorized to provide direct services in health care settings, regardless of their training. For these purposes the term is used to refer to graduates of APA accredited Counseling Psychology as well as Clinical Psychology programs. 

The differences between counseling and clinical psychologists are rooted in the history of each specialty, which has influenced the focus and emphasis of the training they receive. Both counseling and clinical psychologists are trained to provide counseling and psychotherapy. Clinical psychologists have traditionally studied disturbances in mental health, whereas counseling psychologists' earliest role was to provide vocational guidance and advice. Today, though, the differences between psychologists from each specialty are more nuanced, and there are perhaps more similarities than differences among individual psychologists from each field.

The specialties of counseling and clinical psychology evolved concurrently, and at times, their paths of development intertwined. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, psychologists began to seek ways to apply the findings of psychological science to the problems people experience in the world, in areas such as learning disabilities or mental illness. These first psychological clinics offered assessment and treatment services. Later, "clinical psychologists" began to provide psychotherapy, which previously had been the exclusive domain of psychiatrists. At the same time, as society became increasingly industrialized, the vocational guidance movement began to offer assistance to those seeking careers in which they would be most successful (and to provide employers with the most productive employees). Over time, this field relied increasingly on scientific psychology, as psychologists researched the personality traits, interests, and aptitudes that affected job performance and satisfaction, and developed instruments to measure candidates' qualities and evaluate the work environment. In 1945, the American Psychological Association established a Division of Personnel and Guidance Psychology.

The roles of both groups of psychologists changed significantly in the aftermath of World War II. Returning veterans frequently suffered from poor mental health, and required assistance to enable them to reintegrate successfully into society. In order to meet this unprecedented demand for mental health services, the Veterans Administration hospital system employed large numbers of both clinical and counseling psychologists, and established training programs for them. Large numbers of clinical psychologists began to treat veterans' psychiatric problems, while the VA also contracted with colleges and universities to provide vocational and educational advisement services. Because work is an integral part of the fabric of life, vocational psychologists often found that the personal readjustment counseling they offered took into account other factors in clients' experiences.

In 1951, the Division of Personnel and Guidance Psychologists changed its name to the Division of Counseling Psychology. Today the organization is known as the Society of Counseling Psychology (APA Division 17). In this way, the specialty formalized the expansion of its focus from solely career issues, to an emphasis on overall well-being throughout the life span. Counseling psychologists have frequently stressed the field's historical focus on a normal client population; that is, the research conducted and published in the professional literature is oriented toward people without serious or persistent mental illnesses. The Georgia conference (1987) reaffirmed counseling psychology's reliance on a developmental perspective to focus on the strengths and adaptive strategies of an individual across the life span.

Thus, the approach a counseling psychologist takes may reflect this perspective. However, both counseling and clinical psychologists are licensed in all 50 states as 'licensed psychologists', and as such are all able to practice independently as health care providers. Counseling psychologists are employed in a wide range of settings including college and university counseling centers, university research and teaching positions, independent practice, health care settings, hospitals, organizational consulting groups, and many others. If you are seeking psychotherapy with a psychologist, or are looking to employ one, it is NOT ONLY worthwhile BUT ESSENTIAL to ask the individual psychologist, whether counseling or clinical, to describe his or her training, orientation and current style of practice.

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