What are the main differences between psychologists, therapists and counselors?

What are the main differences between psychologists, therapists and counselors?

When you are looking at becoming a mental health professional, it is important to understand all of the different avenues available to you. This exciting and sometimes overwhelming career has various roles and job titles to explore. 

It is essential to comprehend the differences between the roles to help you align your interests and career. Once you do some research, choosing the right path is much less daunting. 

The top three common job titles to pursue in the mental health realm are psychologist, therapist, and counselor. Keep reading below to discover the differences between these job titles. Find out how similar and how different the roles are as you delve into more detail. 

Of course, there is a bit of overlap between these three different careers; however, there are vital differences that are important to understand before you pursue your career. 

What defines a Therapist?

Therapists have been individually trained to offer a form of therapy to a client or a patient that covers a physical or mental problem. Therapy examples for physical issues can include occupational and physical therapists. 

In the mental health context, psychotherapist and mental health therapist are common terms. Similar to counselors, therapists may choose to specialize in specific issues including substance abuse, family or marriage difficulties, etc. 

What exactly is a Counselor?

A counselor is a popular term used to describe a mental health professional who has training in social work, counseling, and psychology. It may additionally cover those who are in medical fields including nursing. Specifically, mental health counselors are professionals who specialize in mental health. These counselors have numerous responsibilities and functions. 

Common duties include completing patient evaluations, offering informational resources and education to their clients and making suggestions that the patient or client can utilize to solve the issue they are undergoing counseling for. 

Mental health counselors often choose an area to specify in regarding a certain issue including sexual abuse, family counseling, substance abuse, relationship and marital counseling and others. 

Main Differences Between Mental Health Counselors and Therapists 

Therapists and Mental Health Counselors work in the same professional arena. They work with clients and treat similar issues in certain instances. It is common to find the two definitions used interchangeably in certain contexts within the industry. 

There are essential differences between therapists and counselors regarding the kind of treatment approach they utilize. 

Mental Health Counselors

Mental Health Counselors often address challenges, problems, or behaviors in a client's life in a practical manner. For instance, a counselor treating a client suffering from anxiety may offer the patient a variety of tactics they can rely on to fend off a potential panic attack. 

Helping them recognize the patterns and triggers and offering solutions of steps to try if a situation is pending. These counselors may work with an alcoholic client and offer some steps to take the next time they feel a craving kicking in. Within counseling, there are some specific problem-solving approaches available to be shared.

What is the definition of a psychologist? 

A psychologist is another kind of mental health counseling job title. Counselors and therapists are often considered more alike instead of different. However, differences are more pronounced for psychologists. 

This career is like therapists and mental health counselors in that they strive to improve their clients emotional and mental health. The frameworks and techniques that psychologists rely on are different. They are more likely to work with client's who have significant mental disorders compared to traditional counselors. 

This means that choosing to pursue a career as a counseling psychologist will generally require a higher level of education. It is common for psychologists to have a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology. 


Therapists often work with their clients to address similar problems. They may offer many of the same solutions as counselors. The main difference is that therapists tend to go deeper with their clients to help them understand the why and how behind a problem. 

They may look at what the triggers are before an alcoholic craving occurs. They may explore different situations that are more likely to trigger a panic attack and why. Finding out what is at the root issue is the goal. They look to identify the source of the problem by combining talk therapy with other fundamentals. 

In this regard, counselors are often but not always considered a short-term approach. They give the client tools they need to succeed and ones that can be immediately actioned to help them live a healthier lifestyle. 

Conversely, therapy is generally a longer process that may take months or years to unravel since the therapist is working with the client to seek out the root issue to make lasting, positive changes.

Counselors vs. Therapists

Even with these key differences, there is a major overlap among counselors and therapists. It is common for them to rely on similar strategies at times. Both counselors and therapists will be master's level clinicians who are licensed at the state level where they practice. 

Commonly held licenses include LHMCs or Licenced Mental Health Counselors, LCSWs or Licensed Clinical Social Workers may additionally hold the title of therapist or counselor.  LPCs are Licensed Professional Counselors. A popular degree is a Master of Science in Counseling Psychology. 

How To Decide On The Right Career For You

Entering the mental health realm means it is vital to understand the different job functions of each career. This is important to help you pick a career path that lines up with your goals and your interests. There are a variety of different variations with the job titles above; however, the most familiar are psychologist, therapist and counselor. 

While these three careers are related in numerous ways, the differences are additionally significant. They can drastically change your career trajectory. Speak with each profession you are interested in to gain additional insight and clarity. 

Each one of these options can lead to a diversified and rewarding career. However, the subject matter you will often be dealing with can be traumatic and stressful, so it is imperative to have some techniques to help you stay calm, rested and focused.