Counseling Psychology

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated June 6, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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According to studies, over 41.7 million US adults saw a therapist in 2021, and the number is growing as mental health continues to be destigmatized. A licensed counseling psychologist can help individuals identify their strengths while providing resources in coping and resilience strategies. In addition, counseling psychology often involves resolving conflicts and psychological challenges with research-backed therapeutic methods, including talk counseling. Understanding the counseling profession in more detail may help you make an informed decision about the type of care you receive for your mental health. 

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Wondering how a counseling psychologist can help improve your mental health?

The role of a psychologist

A psychologist is an expert of knowledge in the field of psychology and its history. They study the science of the human mind, focusing on how thoughts lead to feelings and behaviors. Psychologists work in mental health clinics, hospitals, research facilities, online counseling platforms, businesses, and educational institutions. Not all psychologists are counselors. However, counseling psychologists offer therapeutic support, such as talk counseling, to help clients make positive changes. 

Types of psychologists

Psychologists can engage in diverse professional roles depending on their pre-professional experience, and practice setting. These include the following counseling careers:

Counseling or clinical psychologist 

Also known as a clinical psychologist, counseling psychologists focus on talk counseling to help individuals with mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, grief, anger, or social challenges. A counseling psychologist often works directly with clients whether through one-on-one practice or community settings, and may have a specialty in specific psychological disorders or a therapeutic modality. Not all counselors are psychologists, however. Psychologists have a doctorate, whereas counselors often have a master's degree and particular licensing in counseling or clinical social work. 

Online psychologist 

An online counselor uses talk counseling and other methods in the same way as other in-person psychologists. However, they may practice remotely using online forms of traditional therapeutic approaches. 

School psychologist

School psychologists are experts in learning, behavior, and mental health. They apply their expertise to help students succeed on many levels, including academically, socially, and emotionally. School psychologists foster a team approach, working with students, parents, and faculty to build a healthy learning environment.

Child psychologist

Child psychologists serve children of all ages, including teenagers. Typical goals for child psychologists and their programs may include helping a child cope with adverse events, improve family relationships, address behavioral challenges, and foster healthy psychological development.

Business and consumer psychologist

A counseling psychologist career in business may involve various jobs, including working in human resources, designing marketing strategies, and finishing other tasks related to helping the business succeed. They use their sociology and public psychology knowledge to explain which techniques may be most effective in marketing. Consumer psychologists often study the decision-making processes consumers use before purchasing a product or service and what motivates them. 

Research psychologist

A research professional designs, oversees, and reports on scientific studies, often in an academic environment. These professionals may write journals and lead research and psychological testing.

Forensic psychologist

Forensic psychologists work within the legal system using scientific methods to investigate the potential psychological aspects of a crime, including motivation and mental health conditions. 

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Clinical psychologist

According to the American Psychological Association, clinical psychologists have a doctoral degree in clinical psychology have undergone board certification, and often work in various settings, including research, university, and health sectors to address behavioral and mental health issues, such as:

  • Mental disorders
  • Interpersonal challenges and dysfunctional social behavior
  • Substance use and dependency 
  • Traumatic stress reactions and adjustment concerns
  • Crisis intervention

Clinical psychologists specialize in different types of talk counseling, such as cognitive-behavioral counseling, dialectical behavior counseling, psychodynamic counseling, or interpersonal counseling. Others use a more eclectic approach that relies on merging elements of different types of talk therapies. Algorithm psychology, a step-by-step problem-solving approach, is also used when the problem requires an accurate solution.

Counseling psychologists and medication

Medications are often prescribed to treat mental disorders and conditions in conjunction with other psychotherapy treatments. However, psychologists cannot prescribe medication in most states. A psychiatrist or other medical doctor manages this part of the treatment and may then refer clients to a counselor for talk counseling. However, according to the American Psychological Association, psychologists can prescribe medications in Iowa, Illinois, Louisiana, Idaho, and New Mexico if they are appropriately trained. 

Please consult your primary care physician before starting, changing, or stopping a medication. 

Psychologists supporting mental health

If you want to improve your mental health, a counselor may be an advocate in this journey. Psychologists offer a broad range of support, including the following:  

  • Acting as a sounding board
  • Contributing observations 
  • Identifying areas for growth 
  • Helping clients recover from traumatic experiences
  • Assisting clients in setting reasonable goals
  • Teaching individuals to change dysfunctional thinking patterns
  • Teaching clients healthy behavioral skills 
  • Teaching acceptance and resilience 
  • Help alleviate stress and resolve crises

Psychologists are often trained in active listening skills and work with their clients at their pace by offering validation, encouragement, and verbal support. This support can be valuable for individuals struggling to support themselves in this way. A counselor can offer the skills clients seek to be their own advocate in the future. 

Offering expertise 

When starting sessions, the client is often familiar with what has happened to them and how they have dealt with it thus far. An advantage of opening up about these areas with a counselor is that they often experience similar concerns from past or current clients. As trained psychologists, they have developed a level of expertise that allows them to see the situation from a professional viewpoint. In addition, they can offer solutions that have proven effective in studies along with their clinical experiences.

Acting as a sounding board

Perhaps you have some ideas about your mental health conditions, what caused them, or how you could make changes. As counseling is a collaborative process for your benefit, psychologists may welcome your opinion on what treatment could suit you best. They can often offer feedback to facilitate your insight.

Contributing observations
Whether you see a therapist for support with depression, anxiety, or work stress, your mental health challenges may affect how you see your situation. In these instances, a theraist can provide an objective perspective. Even if you describe an event in intense emotional terms, the psychologist can glean facts from your description and contribute their objective view.

Helping identify challenges

Although you may have a general idea of what you're experiencing, a therapist can offer a diagnosis or help you further identify these challenges. There may also be other concerns contributing to your distress. A clinical psychologist uses therapeutic strategies (such as interviews or self-tests) to evaluate your thought processes, emotions, and behavior. These interventions can help the therapist determine if you would benefit from an official evaluation or further treatment. 

Supporting you through adverse experiences

Many individuals who have experienced psychological trauma choose to see a therapist to address the emotions surrounding the traumatic event or situation. Counseling psychologists work with their clients and offer listening skills and understanding, as well as insight into the impact of trauma and how it may have affected you. They can guide you to a healthier perspective and offer strategies to build resilience, such as coping skills surrounding emotional control. These resources may include relaxation, breathing, and mindfulness practices. Some evidence-based therapeutic modalities are specifically designed to treat the impact of trauma and mental illnesses like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and improve psychological well-being. 

Helping you set goals

When you feel overwhelmed by mental, emotional, or behavioral challenges, reaching out to a psychologist may guide you in decision-making. Setting reasonable and achievable goals at first can help remove the overwhelm from counseling. Counseling is often a process and may take time. Your counselor can offer you coping skills as you work to obtain more challenging results. 

Teaching cognitive restructuring 

In many forms of counseling, psychologists work with clients to change thought patterns called cognitive distortions, which are unwanted or unhelpful thoughts. Through cognitive restructuring, a counselor can help you transform your thought patterns concerning troubling events, dysfunctional relationships, or your concept of yourself. In this method, a psychologist may use a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you evaluate, challenge, and modify your unwanted beliefs and transform them into healthy or realistic forms of thought. 

Teaching behavioral change 

Changing thoughts is often used as the doorway to changing behavior. However, along with changing your thoughts, you may benefit from actively choosing different behaviors. You can learn and practice new behavioral skills through roleplay, journaling, brain mapping, and other cognitive techniques with your counseling psychologist.   

Offering support

Counseling psychologists help offer positive reinforcement during times of significant stress and emotional difficulties. Although many people turn to loved ones during a struggle, a counseling psychologist can provide validation, empathy, and compassion through a session dedicated to you. In addition, you can know that their advice is research-backed and from their years of experience. No matter how you think, feel, or behave, your counseling psychologist supports your sincere efforts to improve your mental health and emotional well-being.

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Wondering how a counseling psychologist can help improve your mental health?

Online counseling psychologist 

Online counseling psychologists face the same requirements as in-person counselors and can offer many of the same forms of counseling. A counseling psychologist who works through an online platform can provide the same level of emotional support that an in-person psychologist may offer in your community. For example, one study found that people who used BetterHelp experienced a significant decrease in the severity of depression symptoms.

You can begin counseling through a platform like BetterHelp after finishing a questionnaire to be matched with a professional within 48 hours. Without having to leave the comfort of your home, you can begin addressing your mental health concerns with a supportive and understanding online therapist. In addition, BetterHelp's therapists maintain over 1000 hours of supervised clinical experience, at least a master's degree, and an up-to-date license in their state of practice. 

Takeaway

Whether you're facing symptoms of a mental health condition or are seeking support with everyday challenges, a mental health provider like a counseling psychologist may benefit you and help improve your overall well-being. Consider taking the first step by reaching out to a therapist for guidance.
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