How Do School Psychologists Differ From Guidance Counselors?

school psychologist vs guidance counselor

Schools today strive to meet the educational and social needs of their students, addressing the environments in which they live as well as the educational setting. What is the difference between a school psychologist and a guidance counselor?

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Both Work With At-Risk Students

Both the school psychologist and the counselor work with students who are deemed at-risk for failure because of emotional or educational problems. Psychologists are usually funded through special education monies; they primarily target students with identified disabilities. Counselors work with the entire school population. They do perform individual counseling, but the bulk of their involvement is with groups that teach social skills, deal with specific issues (for instance, children experiencing grief over the loss of a family member), and attempt to stem chemical dependency.

Both Employed by the Schools

Guidance counselors are employed by the school in which they work. That is why they are able to spend time with groups and working with the general student population. School psychologists are often employed by a group of schools and they divide their time between them, so they must provide services mainly to students identified as the most in need of intervention. In addition, hospitals use the services of school psychologists in their pediatric wards, mental health facilities use them, and youth corrections employ school psychologists. Sometimes they work on a contract basis with the institutions.

Their Roles Differ

According to “St. Mary’s,” school psychologists often help to identify children with at-risk issues. They also plan interventions and help implement them before assessments are done. The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act provided that schools could strategize and put accommodations into place before actually beginning a formal assessment of a child. If the accommodations are successful, no formal action need be taken. While both the counselor and the psychologist work in setting these interventions, it is the psychologist who evaluates their success and consults on Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). A counselor’s role in the interventions often includes working with the students, faculty and the families to assure the success of the intervention. In addition, though, counselors handle daily behavioral issues. In high schools, counselors work with students to plan course schedules and to deal with college-related matters.

Educational Requirements Differ

Licensing requirements differ between states. “Get Educated” says in general, credentialing as a school psychologist usually requires three years or more of graduate-level study including 1200 hours of supervised internship. That translates to an EdS or a Doctorate of Education in Psychology. In addition, psychologists usually hold specialists degrees or certification. They earn an average salary of more than $65,000 a year. Counselors are credentialed by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and other Educational Programs. Those requisites are two years of graduate study (a master’s degree), and 600 hours of internship. The average salary for a school counselor is above $55,000 a year.


Both school psychologists and school counselors work with children to help them achieve success in their educations. Duties of the psychologist, though, tend toward specific children while counselors work with a more diverse population.

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