What is Counseling Psychology

Counseling psychology focuses on teaching patients of all ages how to cope with emotional, physical and mental health issues.

Oftentimes counseling psychologists will focus on the daily life stressors of their patients, teaching patients to find a balanced approach to overcoming stress. On the more extreme end, counseling psychologists are able to intervene and assist people in times of crisis or extreme stress; as the APA puts it, “They also provide assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of more severe psychological symptoms.”

On this page, we explore the field of counseling psychology, including possible career paths and the steps needed to reach your professional goals.

What Does a Counseling Psychologist Do?

Counseling psychologists facilitate healthy personal and interpersonal relationships in their patients’ lives. Professionals work with individuals, organizations, groups and families to reach the root of mental distress and then help them find ways to live with or conquer these issues.

Depending on their specialization and licensure, counseling psychologists can work in hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, businesses and schools, or they can open their own private practices. Counselors tailor their approach to psychotherapy based on their settings and patients. While some prefer to focus on cognitive therapy, others take a more active approach and work to alter the behavior of patients.

Many psychologists collaborate with nurses, social workers and other mental health professionals to find the best treatment plans for patients, at times combining aspects of multiple therapies.

No matter where or how they work, counseling psychologists should possess the following basic competencies.


  • Clear Communication
  • Listening Skills
  • Complex Problem-Solving
  • Analysis
  • Trustworthiness
  • Patience
  • Empathy
  • Establishment of Boundaries

The work of counseling psychologists varies, but the goal is always to improve the quality of patients’ lives and mental wellbeing.

The following represents four common specializations within counseling psychology:

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