Robert Morgan earned his PhD in counseling psychology at Oklahoma State University. Lee Cohen got his PhD in clinical psychology at the same school, at the same time. But the two never really crossed paths until they became colleagues in the Texas Tech University psychology department. There, they tried to figure out why their graduate programs kept them separate when their professional lives seemed to naturally intersect. They began to suspect their educational experiences weren't so different after all.
"We were sitting around drinking beers, and that led us to having these questions" about whether or not there were significant differences between clinical and counseling psychology programs, says Morgan. "And we figured if we have these questions, others in the field might have them, too."
So Morgan and Cohen looked for an answer by analyzing recruitment materials from 61 counseling PhD programs, 137 clinical PhD programs and 34 clinical PsyD programs. Recruitment materials are "relatively reflective of the programs," Morgan says. Cohen adds that "APA requires recruitment materials to be updated regularly, so they're objective and up-to-date."
The two looked at program descriptions, research and clinical experience requirements and faculty characteristics and found no significant differences between clinical and counseling programs. They did, however, notice one trend: Clinical psychology programs tend to emphasize psychopathology training and external practicum opportunities, while counseling psychology programs emphasize multicultural training and a more holistic education, which they reported in Training and Education in Professional Psychology (Vol. 2, No. 3).
The researchers also found that clinical PsyD programs emphasized research and dissertation work as much as their PhD counterparts.
In fact, Morgan and Cohen say, there's much greater variability among individual clinical or counseling programs than there are differences across these categories as a whole.
What does this mean for students trying to decide between programs?
"Find the people you're most interested in working with and don't worry about whether they're counseling or clinical," Lee says.