Mental Health Counseling Degree

Mental Health Counseling Degree is similar to a degree in psychology in that it concerns mental health and the reasons why people think and behave in the ways that they do. It is, however, much more specialized than a degree in psychology.

A degree in psychology does not completely prepare one to work as a counselor as a mental health counseling degree does. People who work towards a mental health counseling degree learn aspects of psychology such as organic brain functions, developmental psychology and learning and behavior.

People working towards a degree in psychology, however, do not necessarily take classes that teach basic counseling skills such as building rapport with clients or the ethics of counseling relationships. The following sections will outline other similarities and differences between a degree in psychology versus the mental health counseling degree.

Specialized Classes

Both a psychology degree and a mental health counseling degree have classes concerning the history and growth of psychological theory. Psychologists study theory because it drives further research in the field to understand more about human development and behavior. A degree in psychology is a good background for a clinical psychologist and researcher as well as a future counselor, however an individual will not be able to become a licensed counselor with solely a degree in psychology.

A person with a mental health counseling degree is also concerned with psychological theory but in a different way than the psychologist. Mental health counselors use theories to develop treatments for individuals struggling with mental health difficulties. One could say that psychologists and counselors differ in their view of the individual with mental illness. Whereas psychologists focus on deficits in the individual, a person with a mental health counseling degree focuses on the individuals' strengths because it is these resources or strengths that can build resilience and facilitate change in their lives.

Psychologists assess patients with psychological tests to aid diagnosis and measure people according to expected norms. The mental health counseling degree also has classes in assessment and diagnosis, however, this is also to aid in treatment and is not an end unto itself. The diagnosis serves as a common language to drive treatments that are known to be affective to individuals struggling with their given disorder.

Nature versus Nurture?

Both a psychology degree and a mental health counseling degree follow the debate of nature versus nurture. Many people believe human development is dependent upon a mixture of nature versus nurture rather than solely one or the other. As a whole however, psychologists lean more towards the organic influences and the chemical processes occurring in the body that lead to emotional outcomes and behaviors.

Classes in a mental health counseling degree discuss this important aspect of behavior and development but they lean more to social influences on behavior and personal agency and choice to change. This follows the mental health counseling degree focus on the strengths of the individual to overcome difficult odds rather than allowing the deficits to determine what an individual can and cannot do. A mental health counseling degree is also more holistic and identifies all aspects of a problem such as needs of the individual, family influences, stages in life, job satisfaction, etc.

earn a mental health counseling degree

Animals versus People

The psychology degree is not solely interested in human learning and behavior but even animal behavior. Much of what is known today about motivation and learning has been discovered through the study of animals. Although a person working towards a mental health counseling degree learns about important animal studies such as conditioning, it is not as big of a part of his or her class work as it would be for the psychology degree student.

A mental health counseling degree is more about working with people and researching treatments that will be the most effective for people with mental health difficulties, therefore they are more interested in human behavior.


If you are considering taking a mental health counseling degree instead of psychology to avoid a class in statistics then you will be disappointed. Both degrees have classes about research and the beloved statistics. As mentioned before, both understand the importance of research and being able to understand the data and findings in research. Just as your grade school teacher told you- math is everywhere and you won't be able to escape it so might as well embrace it.

Psychopharmacology and Psychometrics

These are two fancy terms referring to the organic aspects of the brain and medications for mental illness (psychopharmacology) and psychological testing (psychometrics). Both a degree in psychology and a mental health counseling degree have classes in both these topics. Psychopharmacology also contains a review of how the brain communicates with other organs via neurons (a specialized cell in the brain) and neurotransmitters (such as serotonin, dopamine, etc). This is an important class for students in a mental health counseling degree because even though this type of clinician does not prescribe these medications, it is important for them to be aware of what they are and what they do.

Psychological testing is a bigger focus of the clinical psychologist especially being that many tests cannot be administered without a PhD or PsyD degree. A mental health counseling degree does have classes that provide a background in the various tests and students are encouraged to become certified to administer tests to provide additional reliability and validity to their treatment options.

This was a very basic overview of some of the differences and similarities of these two options. Don't forget to search for psychology schools in our grad school search. I hope it has been beneficial in helping you to decide which degree will be right for you, a psychology degree, or a mental health counseling degree.