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Should you Choose Counselling, Psychotherapy, Psychology, Psychological Wellbeing Professional or Art Therapy as your Future Profession?
For those wishing to pursue a career in providing help and assistance to people suffering from mental health issues, there are a range of different avenues available. You might choose to take up counselling, a psychotherapy, a psychology or become a psychological wellbeing professional, or may go for a job as an art therapist if you’re more artistically inclined. All of these careers can be equally fulfilling, but how do you work out which one to pick? They all have some degree of crossover, and there are pros and cons to each of them. The first step to making your decision is to understand the distinction between them.
Theoretically, the main difference between counselling and psychotherapy is that counsellors work on a shorter term basis and help clients with life issues, for example divorce or the death of a loved one, whereas psychotherapists work over longer time periods with patients who have more complicated mental health issues. However, in reality, there is a substantial amount of overlap, with psychotherapists frequently engaging in work that should technically be carried out by counsellors and vice versa (Georgiou, 2017). Psychology is the broader discipline that psychotherapy and counselling fall within. In addition to carrying out therapy sessions, psychologists can also sometimes conduct other duties, for example conducting psychological testing and performing research protocols (Sherman, 2011).
Art therapists facilitate psychotherapy sessions that utilise arts media as the main mode of communication and expression. Art is used as a conduit for addressing emotional issues that may be distressing and confusing (British Association of Art Therapists, n.d. a). Psychological wellbeing professionals focus on helping patients to manage common medications, enable guided self-help, and manage referrals to other agencies. They are trained in identifying and assessing commonly occurring mental health issues, and devise shared treatment plans with patients that are both evidence-based and personalised (British Psychological Society, n.d.).
There are substantial differences in the qualifications that are required for each of these professions. In the UK, those wishing to be a counsellor are required to spend between three and five years gaining either a diploma or a degree. Counselling qualifications require undergoing a work placement and spending a stated number of hours on the job.
Psychotherapists require a master’s degree in psychotherapy, but their first degree doesn’t necessarily have to be related to the field. Their training is relatively extensive and can take over five years to complete (Georgiou, 2017). In order to become an art therapist, it is necessary to carry out a two-year master’s degree in art therapy. Art therapists typically also require first degrees in either art or another relevant subject. They also need professional experience working in either healthcare or therapy provision (NHS, n.d a.).
A psychology degree is required to work as a psychologist (Education and Skills Funding Agency, 2017). These degrees typically take three years to complete (Gockelen-Kozlowski, 2011). It is also necessary to gain a specialist postgraduate qualification accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS). This qualification should relate to the specific area of psychology that you want to work in (Education and Skills Funding Agency, 2017).
In terms of the qualifications that are required, psychological wellbeing is the least demanding of the four career options. Those wishing to become psychological wellbeing professionals need to take a graduate-level qualification accredited by the BPS. The necessary training involves 45 weeks of academic work at one day’s study per week and four days of supervised practice (NHS, n.d. b).
It is notable that in other countries, these requirements differ, for example in Switzerland, arts therapists need a vocational qualification as opposed to a degree. This profession is also unregulated in some nations, but requires registration with the Health and Care Professions Council in the UK (UK Government, 2017), as do psychotherapy, counselling and psychology (Health and Care Professions Council, n.d. a; Health and Care Professions Council, n.d. b). Psychological wellbeing professionals are required to register with the BPS (NHS, n.d. b).
Where job security is concerned, counselling, psychotherapy and art therapy typically fare less well than psychology and psychological wellbeing. Whereas psychologists and psychological wellbeing professionals are frequently employed within the private or public sector, many art therapists, counsellors and psychotherapists are self-employed (Kasket, 2017). However, they are not necessarily lower paid. Psychologists earn an average salary of £36,495 (Brennan, 2017) and psychological wellbeing professionals typically earn between £21,909 and £35,225 (Howarth, 2016). Art therapists usually earn between £26,302 and £48,034 (Halder, 2016), counsellors earn between £20,000 and £40,000 (Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, 2017a), and psychotherapists earn between £26,250 and £55,000 (Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, 2017b). Psychologists and psychotherapists appear to fare the best in terms of their salaries. Psychological wellbeing is the worst option with respect to this issue.
However, money is not always the main motivating factor for entering into a profession; some might be more concerned with the level of prestige involved in each of these career choices. Psychologists are usually more respected and held in higher regard within society than those in other related fields, for example arts therapy (Moon & Belkofer, 2014). That is not to say that psychology is more rewarding though, as clinical psychologists frequently spend a great deal of time diagnosing and labelling conditions, but little time tending to their patients’ needs. Art therapists, counsellors and psychotherapists guide clients through difficult times, which some might find more fulfilling. It all depends on how much you value directly caring for patients.
It is clear that all five professions have advantages and disadvantages associated with them. Ultimately, your choice of career comes down to your own individual priorities. If you’re money motivated then perhaps psychology or psychotherapy are the best options for you, whereas if you enjoy both art and psychology and like to support others in times of need then art therapy is the obvious pick. The final decision is in your hands, and is dependent upon your personal preferences and motivations.
Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (2017a). Counsellor. Retrieved from https://www.prospects.ac.uk/job-profiles/counsellor
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Brennan, S. (2017, 16 April). How does your pay package compare to everyone else’s? The surprising average salaries for 145 jobs revealed (and train drivers earn more than architects). Daily Mail. Retrieved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article%2d4412440/Average-salary-145-UK-jobs-revealed.html
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Health and Care Professions Council (n.d. b). Protected titles. Retrieved from http://www.hcpc-uk.co.uk/aboutregistration/protectedtitles/
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Kasket, E. (2017). How to become a counselling psychologist. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
Moon, B. & Belkofer, C. (2014). Artist, therapist and teacher. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publishers.
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