The field of psychology covers research and applied work in broad and various domains, one of which is counseling psychology. This area of specialty unifies themes of career development, prevention and health, and education. Counseling psychologists work in a variety of settings including academia, organizational psychology, private counseling practices, psychotherapy, consultation, and assessment services.
Counseling psychology is a fast-growing field, gaining popularity and momentum as counseling psychologists across the globe conduct groundbreaking studies and innovative research. Many psychologists publish articles and books available to the mainstream population, making them an influential force outside the science realm. Today’s counseling psychologists work as professors, therapists, best-selling authors, and expert researchers within the fields of science and psychology. They are innovators and educators designed to teach, train, and counsel.
About the Psychologist
Another common job title within mental health counseling is that of a psychologist. Whereas therapists and counselors may be considered more alike than different, the difference is more pronounced for psychologists.
A psychologist is similar to mental health counselors and therapists in that they also work to improve their patients’ mental and emotional health. The techniques and frameworks that they use tend to differ, however. Additionally, psychologists are more likely than counselors to treat patients with severe mental disorders. With this in mind, becoming a counseling psychologist will typically require a higher level of education, such as earning a PhD in Counseling Psychology.
About the Therapist
A therapist is an individual that has been professionally trained to provide some form of therapy to a patient or client that addresses either mental or physical disorder. Examples of therapy used in the context of physical medicine can include physical therapists and occupational therapists. In the context of mental health, the terms mental health therapist and psychotherapist are common.
As with counselors, therapists will often specialize in addressing particular client issues, such as marriage and family issues, substance abuse, etc.
About the Counselor
The term counselor is used to broadly refer to a professional trained in the fields of psychology, counseling, social work, or a range of medical fields such as nursing. Mental health counselors, specifically, are those professionals working in a mental health capacity.
Mental health counselors perform many functions and responsibilities. Their duties include conducting patient evaluations, providing education and informational resources to their clients, and making suggestions that the client or patient can use to solve the problem they are seeking counseling to address. Often, mental health counselors will specialize in addressing a particular issue, such as substance abuse, sexual abuse, marriage and relationships, or family counseling, among others.
Difference Between Therapists and Counselors
If the two definitions above sound very similar, it’s because they are. Mental health counselors and therapists occupy the same professional space, treating the same issues within the same patient populations. Even within the industry, you can find the terms used interchangeably in some contexts.
However, the key difference between counselors and therapists lies in the approach to treatment that they take.
As a practice, counseling often addresses specific problems, challenges, or behaviors in a patient’s life in a very practical way. A counselor working with a patient who suffers from anxiety might, for example, provide the patient with different tactics that they can use to ward off a pending panic attack. Or they might give an alcoholic patient a set series of steps to follow when they feel a craving coming on. In this regard, there is a certain problem-solving approach inherent in counseling.
Therapists work to help their patients address similar issues, and often provide the same advice that counselors might. However, a key difference is that therapists often seek to go deeper by helping the patient understand the how and why behind a challenge.
For example, what scenarios tend to bring on an alcoholic craving and why; what situations are more likely to trigger a panic attack and why? What is the root of these issues? They seek to identify the source of these issues through a combination of talk therapy and other frameworks.
As such, counseling is often (though not always) a short-term approach, arming the patient with tools they can put into action immediately to begin living a more healthy life. Therapy, on the other hand, is often a longer-term process that can last months or even years as the therapist and client seek out the root of the issues being addressed to make lasting change.
Despite these differences, there is significant overlap between therapists and counselors, and they will often borrow from each other’s playbook. Additionally, both therapists and counselors will typically be master’s level clinicians licensed by the state in which they practice.
A Master of Science in Counseling Psychology is a commonly held degree, and common licenses include Licenced Mental Health Counselors (LHMCs) and Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs). Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) may also hold the title of counselor or therapist.
Best Psychologists, Therapists and Counselors Review
Below are most influential counseling psychologists alive today. Individuals selected for the list are worldwide leaders in the field, global thinkers, and influential philosophers aimed at shedding light on the psychology field. The psychologists chosen as influential leaders have offered extensive insight to the field based on research and publication, have received recognition with awards and honors, and have actively educated the counseling psychology community.
1. Susan Blackmore
Susan Blackmore began her career in psychology as an advocate of the paranormal. Her work has transitioned over the years and her current research interests include evolutionary theory, consciousness, meditation, and memes. Blackmore is a visiting professor at the University of Plymouth and holds degrees in psychology and physiology from Oxford University.
While her PhD from the University of Surrey is in parapsychology, Blackmore no longer works on the paranormal. She writes for the Guardian newspaper, Psychology Today, and is the author of over eighty book contributions.
2. Michael Posner
Michael Posner is Professor Emeritus at the University of Oregon and an Adjunct Professor at the Weill Medical College. A graduate of both University of Washington and University of Michigan, Posner’s research interests include neural mechanisms and structures underlying selective attention.
Current research includes the exploration of brain development and the interaction of genes and experience within normal and atypical development. Posner combines the work of psychology and neuroscience, making him a leader and innovator in the study of brain development.
3. Martin Seligman
Martin Seligman is best known for his theory of learned helplessness and innovation in the study of depression. Seligman is the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center where he also oversees the Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology.
Aside from authoring twenty books and 250 scholarly publications, Seligman is the leading authority in fields of resilience, depression, optimism, and pessimism. Seligman is the recipient of the American Psychological Society’s William James Fellow Award and the James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award. He lectures worldwide to educators, mental health professionals, and parents.
4. Howard Gardner
Known as the developer of the theory of Multiple Intelligences, Howard Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He also works as an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Harvard University.
Dr. Gardner has won numerous awards for his research and has received honorary degrees from twenty-nine universities. Over the past two decades, Gardner and close colleagues have been involved in the education sector, designing performance-based assessments.
5. Philip Zimbardo
Psychologist and professor emeritus at Stanford University, Philip Zimbardo has spent fifty years educating and studying the field of psychology. Zimbardo received his doctorate in psychology from Yale University with areas of research in shyness, madness, terrorism, and evil.
He is most recognized by his controversial Stanford Prison Experiment, which showcased the ease with which high-performing college students cross the grey line between good and evil. Today, Zimbardo teaches at Palo Alto University and lectures worldwide. His current research focuses on the hero within, and what pushes individuals to become either evil or heroic.
6. Robert Trivers
A notable Rutgers University faculty member and Crafoord Prize award winner, Robert Trivers is one of the most influential evolutionary theorists actively researching today. Graduating from Harvard University and heavily influenced by Charles Darwin and W.D. Hamilton, Trivers has spent his career studying social theory in all organisms.
Trivers has published numerous books and journal articles. The most well known book, The Folly of Fools, focuses on the logic of deceit and self-deception in human life.
7. Steven Pinker
Experimental psychologist and recognized as one of the global leaders on human nature, Steven Pinker is a Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. Pinker has taught at MIT and Stanford and his research on visual cognition has won numerous awards and prizes.
He holds eight honorary doctorates and has published many books. His most recognized works include The Language Instinct and How the Mind Works. Pinker was recently named as Time magazine’s “The 100 Most Influential People in the World Today.”
8. Elizabeth Loftus
Cognitive psychologist and expert on human memory, Elizabeth Loftus is best known for her research on eyewitness memory and the misinformation effect. She has conducted research in the fields of childhood sexual abuse and recovered memory.
Loftus’ work has received numerous honors and awards, and she holds six honorary degrees in a variety of fields from universities and colleges. Loftus is currently a distinguished professor of social ecology at the University of California, Irvine.
9. Richard Wiseman
The only person to hold Britain’s Professorship in Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire is Richard Wiseman. His research and publications has given him the recognition as the “most interesting and innovative psychologist” alive today.
He is the most popular counseling psychologist on Twitter with over 130K followers. His current research includes a range of topics spanning from luck to the psychology of deception and persuasion. He is a consultant to the television show The MythBusters.
10. Vilayanur S. Ramachandran
A neuroscientist and psychologist known for his work in the fields of visual psychophysics and behavioral neurology, Vilayanur S. Ramachandran is one of the leading counseling psychologists of today. His work includes autism, phantom limbs, and visual perception.
He is currently a professor at the University of California, San Diego, where he is also the Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition. His books have grabbed worldwide attention, particularly his 2010 release of The Tell-Tale Brain.
11. Alison Gopnik
Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, Alison Gopnik is a world-renowned counseling psychologist known for her work in cognitive and language development. Her writing regularly appears in Slate and The New York Times, and she is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal.
Gopnik regularly appears on television, and is known for her presence on The Colbert Report. Her work at the Berkeley Child Study Center focuses on children and the development of mathematical models to help them learn.
12. Kurt Fischer
As the leader of an international movement connecting biology and cognitive science to education, Kurt Fischer is a Harvard University professor and founding president of the International Mind, Brain, and Education Society. His research focuses on student learning and problem solving, as well as the concepts of self when forming and maintaining relationships.
Fischer is a visiting professor and scholar at the University of Gronigen, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Geneva. His primary office is stationed at Harvard University.
13. Brenda Milner
Still actively working at the age of 95, Brenda Milner is recognized as the pioneer and founder of neuropsychology. She is a professor at McGill University’s Department of Neurology and a visiting professor of psychology at Montreal Neurological Institute.
Her life’s work has earned her the prestigious Gairdner Award and more than twenty honorary degrees. Her current research includes brain region identification and the association of spatial memory and language. In 2014, Milner was awarded the Kavli Prize in Neuroscience.
14. Geoffrey Beattie
Psychologist and minor celebrity, Geoffrey Beattie is recognized for his numerous appearances on British television and studies in nonverbal communication. Beattie is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society and graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge.
His research has covered the psychology behind sports, focusing heavily on the lives of boxers both in and out of the ring. Beattie is active in boxing and sports, training most of his life. Beattie regularly broadcasts on radio and created a documentary series for BBC entitled Home Truths.
15. Theodore Burns
Theodore Burns is the Chair of Section Chairs for the Society of Counseling Psychology and American Psychological Association. An Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at the Alliant International University in Los Angeles, Dr. Burns has received multiple awards, grants, and fellowships.
In 2010, he was awarded the Association for LGBT Issues in Counseling Service honor. He actively serves the LGBT community and those living with HIV/AIDS, bringing awareness to the population. In 2014, Burns accepted a Core Faculty position at Antioch University in Los Angeles.
16. Amelio D’Onofrio
A clinical professor and director of the Psychological Services Institute at Fordham University, Amelio D’Onofrio is the founder of the Institute of Psychoanalytic-Existential Psychotherapy at Fordham. His work delves deeper into the patient understanding, focusing on unconscious processes and how they play a significant role in therapy.
D’Onofrio operates a part-time private practice in Westchester and New York City, and offers consultation to numerous schools and agencies on clinical practice and patient well being. He graduated from Fordham University in 1995.
17. Robert Cialdini
Regent’s Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Arizona State University and theories of influence are among Robert Cialdini’s most recognized accomplishments. His 1984 book entitled, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, has sold over two million copies and put him on the New York Times best seller’s lists for decades.
His current research includes the effects of social norms on decisions to conserve energy. Cialdini is a graduate of the University of North Carolina and leader in such topics as altruism, favorable self-presentation tactics, and compliance.
18. Barbara L. Fredrickson
A social psychologist, counselor, and professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Barbara L. Fredrickson researches emotions, positive psychology, and social relationships. After earning her doctorate degree from Stanford University, Fredrickson taught at the University of Michigan for ten years before taking an appointment at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Frederickson has received numerous awards and honors, including the American Psychological Association’s Templeton Prize in Positive Psychology – an award that earned the professor and counselor a $100,000 grant to assist with future work.
19. Thalia Eley
A graduate of Cambridge University and University College London’s Institute of Child Health, Thalia Eley is a professor of developmental psychology at King’s College in London. Her publications include over 140 academic articles, with extensive research on genetic and environmental factors and their relation to the treatment of anxiety and depression.
She has conducted studies surrounding cognitive behavior therapy for child anxiety and exposure therapy in treating adult phobias. In 2011, Eley was awarded the Macquarie University Research Excellence Award for her study on childhood anxiety.
20. Brian Knutson
Currently on staff as an Associate Professor at Stanford University’s Department of Psychology, Brian Knutson’s area of focus lies in the neural basis of emotion. A 1993 graduate of Stanford University, Knutson focuses his study on the neurochemical and neuroanatomical mechanisms responsible for emotional experience.
His research covers clinical disorders, addiction, and economic behavior. His publications include over eighty peer-reviewed articles and recognition for over 8,000 citations of his work.
21. Peter McGuffin
A practicing psychiatrist and geneticist from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Peter McGuffin is recognized as a pinnacle leader in psychiatric disorders and schizophrenia. His psychiatrist training was completed at the Maudsley Hospital in London, where he was awarded the Medical Research Council Fellowship to pursue studies in genetics.
He has been the acting president of the International Society of Psychiatric Genetics since 1995. McGuffin has been heavily involved in research on twins and the link between psychiatric disorders and depression among this population.
22. Stephen Kosslyn
Stephen Kosslyn is a counseling psychologist, author, and educator specializing in cognitive psychology and neuroscience. Formerly the John Lindsley Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, Kosslyn has won notable honors such as the Guggenheim Fellowship and Cattell Award.
His research includes the study of mental imagery, visual display design, and how people exhibit individual differences when performing particular tasks. Kosslyn has published over 300 scientific papers and authored and co-authored fifteen books. His work is used to universities and college settings throughout the world.
23. Andrew Meltzoff
Appearing on PBS and ABC regularly, as well as other media outlets, Andrew Meltzoff has gained international attention for his long-term research on young children and memory. He is the author of two books about learning in early stages of development, and has received numerous honors for his selected works on the imitative brain and social cognition.
A graduate of Oxford University, today Dr. Meltzoff teaches at the University of Washington and is a co-director of the university’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences.
24. Elizabeth Spelke
Elizabeth Spelke is a cognitive psychology at Harvard University’s Department of Psychology. She is also the director of the Laboratory for Developmental Studies, where she studies and defends the debate on cognitive differences between males and females.
After attending Radcliffe College and Yale University, Spelke received her doctorate from Cornell University. She has received numerous honors and awards, including the National Academy of Sciences Prize in Psychological and Cognitive Sciences honor in 2014. She has written for the New York Times and New Yorker.
25. Uta Frith
Most recognized for her research and insight on autism spectrum disorders, Uta Frith is a Fellow of the Royal Society and Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development at the University College London. A graduate of King’s College London, where she completed her PhD on autism, Dr. Frith has spent her career investigating the cognitive processes involved with dyslexia and autism.
She believes in research that is relevant to understanding autism and providing a better quality of daily life for those affected. She is an advocate and leader supporting women in science and co-founded the UCL Women Network.
26. Susan Carey
Harvard University graduate and current professor for the Department of Psychology at Harvard, Susan Carey is a world-renowned psychologist and counselor. Known throughout the globe as an expert in language acquisition, she was the first woman to receive the Rumelhart Prize in 2009, giving way to women thought leaders in the field.
Before joining the faculty at Harvard, Carey taught at MIT and NYU. She is the author of numerous journal articles and a book entitled Conceptual Change in Childhood. The work reconciled Piaget’s research on animism.
27. Hans-Werner Gessmann
Known for his work on the causation factors of dyslexia, Hans-Werner Gessmann is a German counseling psychologist, university professor, and psychodramatherapist. He is currently recognized for being the only empirical researcher in the psychodrama field, offering over 140 articles in publication pertaining to the subject.
Gessmann founded the prestigious training center in Duisburg in 1973, known as the Psychotherapeutic Institute Bergerhausen. To date, it has trained over 1,500 psychotherapists. At the beginning of 2013, Gessmann was named appointed as a visiting professor at State University Smolensk.
28. Carol Dweck
Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, Carol Dweck has become recognized for her research in the fields of motivation and social psychology. Her research focuses on origins of social, personality, and developmental psychology and how they bridge together with self-regulation and mindsets.
Dweck is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including Distinguished Scholar Award in 2013 for the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. Her key contribution to social psychology focuses on her theories of intelligence, showcased in her 2006 book entitled Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
29. Roy Baumeister
A Francis Eppes Professor of Psychology at Florida State University, Roy Baumeister is known for his research on the self, irrationality and self-defeating behavior, self-regulation, and the need to belong. His current research focuses on self-control and decision-making.
Baumeister received his doctorate from Princeton University and has focused his interests in sociology and social networks, sexual orientation, and the self and identity. He is the author of six books and numerous journal articles. He is active in social media and known for his provocative studies in erotic plasticity.
30. Albert Bandura
The most cited counseling psychologist alive is Albert Bandura, a David Starr Jordan Professor Emeritus of Social Science in Psychology at Stanford University. Bandura’s contribution to the field of psychology spans nearly six decades and includes areas of specialty in therapy, personality, social cognition, and behaviorism.
Bandura is recognized as the most influential psychologist of the twentieth century and was awarded the Grawemeyer Award at the age of 82. He remains a critical influence in the fields of social learning, aggression, and social behavior.