Counselling vs. Clinical: A Comparison of Psychology Doctoral Programs in Canada

By Bedi, Robinder P.; Klubben, Laura M. et al. | Canadian Psychology, August 2012 | Go to article overview
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Counselling vs. Clinical: A Comparison of Psychology Doctoral Programs in Canada


Bedi, Robinder P., Klubben, Laura M., Barker, Gordon T., Canadian Psychology


Individuals trained in counselling psychology and clinical psychology dominate the landscape of applied, professional Canadian psychology, yet there is little consistency in understanding the similarities and differences between these two specializations. Although much research has been conducted on this topic in the United States, not all of these results generalize to Canada due to distinct characteristics in the development of the specializations within each country. The current study used a 32-page coding instrument that addressed over 300 variables to compare all CPA and/or ???-accredited PhD programs in counselling psychology (n = 4) and clinical psychology (n = 22) at the time of data collection, primarily using publically available information (e.g., Web sites, program handbooks, student manuals). Data analysis centred on parameter and inferential tests of difference and their magnitudes of effect. Results showed a large number of similarities but also many differences between the two specializations in Canada. Students seeking guidance on which of the two specializations better fits their academic/ professional goals can use this information to assist with career decision-making.

Keywords: counselling psychology, clinical psychology

Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) sections that include members heavily invested in direct service delivery to the public are amongst the largest sections: Clinical Psychology (n = 977), Criminal Justice (n = 401), Counselling Psychology (n = 358), Psychologists in Education (n = 323), and IndustrialOrganisational Psychology (n = 295; CPA, 2010). Upon making the reasonable assumption that a notable proportion of individuals who belong to the Criminal Justice Section are trained in either clinical or counselling psychology, it seems that those trained in counselling and clinical psychology dominate the landscape of Canadian applied professional psychology. Historically, applied professional psychology training in Canada did not emphasise professional specializations; instead, training was broad and generalist - typically including clinical, counselling, industrialorganizational, and school components (Conway, 1984). Today, however, applied professional psychology has branched into a number of distinct fields, although the ways in which clinical psychology and counselling psychology are similar and are different have not been consensually established.

There seems be more widespread awareness about the characteristics of clinical psychology compared to counselling psychology, perhaps partly owing to the fact that the CPA endorsed an official definition of clinical psychology in 1993 (Vallis & Howes, 1996) but not of counselling psychology until 2010 (Bedi et al., 2011). This is despite the fact that the CPA section on clinical psychology was established in 1991 (J. Conway, CPA Archivist and Historian, personal communication, May 14, 201 1), five years after the formation of the counselling psychology section. Another reason the characteristics of clinical psychology are more widely recognized might be because literature on the history of psychology in Canada has, for obvious reasons, focused on general departments of psychology. The development of certain branches of psychology (e.g., counselling psychology, educational psychology, school psychology) that are typically located in different university faculties (and in specialized psychology or even nonpsychology departments) is less documented in academic Canadian psychology literature. As a result, there seems to be ample misunderstanding amongst the general public, students seeking graduate study, academics, and even psychology professionals in regards to the similarities and differences between counselling psychology and clinical psychology. Although researchers in the United States have paid considerable research attention to this issue (e.g., Brems & Johnson, 1997; Fitzgerald & Osipow, 1986; Neimeyer, Rice, & Keilin, 2009; Norcross, Sayette, Mayne, Karg, & Turkson, 1998), scholars in Canada have not, and there remains little published literature (and no comprehensive, empirical research) on the similarities and differences between these specialties in Canada (although please see Arthur, 1971).

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Counselling vs. Clinical: A Comparison of Psychology Doctoral Programs in Canada
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