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Psychology vs. Human Services

​The fields of human services and psychology both include an interest in helping individuals cope with problems of living. However, there are a number of important differences between these two fields and in the education typically required to work in each field.

What’s the ​difference between psychology and human services?

Psychology is a science focused on developing a thorough understanding of the human mind and behavior. This means that psychology emphasizes conducting research and developing theories that advance our knowledge of human behavior. 

Undergraduate studies in psychology:

  • Tend to emphasize scientific thinking and an understanding of the scientific method
  • Typically require students to study a very broad range of human behavior extending far beyond topics in mental health and counseling.
  • Typically are not solely aimed at preparing students to work in helping professions

Students of undergraduate psychology programs are well prepared to enter graduate school in psychology, where they can seek more specific training in one of the helping-focused subfields of psychology such as clinical, counseling or school psychology, or in one of the many other subfields, such as developmental, social, industrial-organizational, cognitive, or biological psychology. 

Undergraduate degrees in psychology can prepare students not only for a practice-based career in helping others, but also for careers in psychological research, psychological testing, or working in academia. For those that intend to continue on to 4-year undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology, focused coursework in psychology and psychological theory are usually the most helpful.

Human services is an applied field aimed at meeting human needs through direct prevention and resolution of problems experienced by people. As an applied field, human services places less emphasis on research and theory than psychology does. 

Both fields contain professionals who provide individual and group counseling. However, in human services there is an additional emphasis on developing and maintaining social service systems that provide for basic needs, such as food and shelter and in providing guidance on how individuals can access such services.

Undergraduate studies in human services:

  • Tend to emphasize the development of skills and competencies useful in providing help and in working within human service systems
  • Typically require students to complete significant coursework that will directly prepare them to help people meet their needs
  • Tend to place less emphasis on coursework designed to provide a comprehensive understanding of the human mind
  • Are typically focused on preparing students to work in the helping professions

As a main point, a degree in human services is not typically the ideal preparation for advanced study in psychology and could lead to students needing to take additional courses. It is intended largely for direct preparation for entry into the human services field, and not necessarily as a foundation for further academic coursework in psychology or social work.

If questions still remain about which career goal and degree path might be the best fit for you, we invite you to contact us in the Psychology Department, or our colleagues in the Human Services department, and we’ll be happy to meet with you and talk about how QCC can help you achieve your goals.