Psychology or Counseling Master’s: Which Is Right for You?

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Wondering whether you should go for a Master’s degree in Psychology or Counseling?

It is time to consider whether your interests lie more in research and analysis of human behavior or in treating clients in a clinical setting. Let’s take a closer look at how these two paths differ.

What is a Master’s in Psychology?

In either path, you can opt for a Master of Arts (M.A.) or a Master of Science (M.S.). A M.A. in Psychology is more of an interdisciplinary approach that emphasizes the theories and critical applications involved in the research of human behavior.

If you decide to go for an M.S. in Psychology, your focus will be on research and analysis, minus all the interdisciplinary work. This is often a prerequisite for entering a doctoral program for Psychology.

What is a Master’s in Counseling?

When you apply for psychology masters programs, think about going for a Master’s in Counseling. M.A. in Counseling programs tend to focus most heavily on combining multiple schools of psychological theory (as well as the humanities, ethics, and philosophy) in order to treat mental health conditions. Those who want to do counseling but who also enjoy the research side can opt for an M.S. in Counseling, which entails researching, analyzing, and developing methods for treating clients.

What Separates Psychology and Counseling?

A Master’s in Psychology is, in the simplest terms, more research-based than a Master’s in Counseling. Still, expect any program you enter to entail a fair amount of research.

Counseling programs typically offer specializations like career counseling, gerontology, rehabilitation counseling, and expressive arts therapy.

On the other hand, Psychology offers specialization in areas such as psychopathology, forensic psychology, family psychology, behavioral psychology, and psychopharmacology. All are more research-intensive but do allow wiggle room for working with clients.

The average time to complete these degrees is a little different. A Master’s in Counseling typically takes 18 months to 3 years to complete, mostly depending on the student’s specialization and their program. A Master’s in Psychology takes the more traditional 2 to 4 years to obtain – again depending on the specialization and program.

Common career outputs for a Psychology degree include working as a rehabilitation counselor, career counselor, a marriage and family therapist (MFT), a mental health counselor, a social worker, a school counselor, or a sports psychologist.

Those who get a Master’s in Counseling can go similar paths, often finding careers in addiction counseling, life coaching, geriatric counseling, religious/spiritual counseling, substance abuse counseling, and trauma/crisis counseling.

Many of the careers for counselors do not require a PhD or PsyD. However, you will see salary differences. The median salary for mental health, behavioral disorder, and substance abuse counselors is an estimated $44,630 annually. You will see a pretty big range between salaries even just for Master’s-level positions. Positions requiring a doctoral degree tend to pay more.

When considering your options for psychology Masters programs, think about how much you want to work with people versus how much you enjoy doing research. Which path is more attractive to you? No matter which one you choose, an online Master’s degree program can get you there.

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