Counseling Vs. Consulting Psychology Difference

Industrial psychologists may help improve workplace safety and efficiency.
Industrial psychologists may help improve workplace safety and efficiency. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Psychologists diversify into a number of specialties. Although the image of a counseling psychologist providing talk therapy to individuals, couples and families usually comes to mind, psychologists also involve themselves in research, education, industrial enterprises and government work. Psychologists who consult for private enterprises and government agencies use their understanding of human behavior for purposes very different from therapy.


Counseling, or talk therapy, revolves around a therapist-client relationship, in which the therapist supports individuals through their emotional, behavioral and psychological issues. Although techniques and approaches differ widely, counseling psychologists share a common goal of helping individuals improve their lives. Psychologists have a duty to maintain confidentiality and to work in their clients' individual interests. Therapists are frequently considered part of the health care profession, with many working in clinical settings, including hospitals and clinics. In certain situations, psychologists may work in interdisciplinary teams with physicians, nurses and psychiatrists.


Psychologists who consult have different relationships and rules. Their clients are usually organizations, ranging from major corporations to small law firms. Their duty is to their clients, who look for insights on human behavior in order to achieve goals like efficiency, safety, behavior management and organizational change. In consulting work, psychologists do not usually focus on individuals, and their goals are not therapeutic. Relationships do not require confidentiality, although non-compete agreements and discretion may be involved in their work. Additionally, consulting psychologists are normally advisers, and are not part of the organizations they serve.

Industrial Psychologists

Industrial psychology focuses on designing systems to elicit particular human behaviors within organizations. Companies engage industrial psychologists for various types of projects, including designing workspaces that promote employee productivity, developing human resource policies that increase worker satisfaction, evaluating worker efficiency, creating new company cultures and facilitating successful transitions during reorganizations and mergers. Industrial psychologists give their clients human perspectives from an outsider's point of view.

Legal and Government Consulting

Some psychologists make a living as expert witnesses in legal cases. Attorneys hire them to review cases and provide their professional opinions on human motivations and mental conditions. Additionally, some psychologists consult on legal cases and help attorneys prepare them. Law enforcement agencies also use forensic and criminal psychologists to help solve criminal cases and prosecute suspects. Jails and prisons have psychologists on hand to manage and treat difficult and mentally ill inmates.

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