Therapist explaining to male patient during session at home office
Maskot/Getty Images

The terms counseling and therapy are used in different ways. These two types of professionals are not the same.

The differences are due to education, training and licensing standards.

Overall, both counselors and therapists help clients work through their mental health and life challenges. The key differences between the two are:

  • Degree requirements
  • Specific kinds of supervision.
  • There are licenses and certifications.

The choice is mostly about finding a mental health professional who can help you with Your goals.. You want to choose someone who you feel comfortable talking to.

Cost, insurance coverage, and how many sessions are needed for a particular treatment approach are some of the practical considerations.

It is important to find a licensed and regulated professional when choosing a therapist or counselor.

You can learn more about the differences between counselors and therapists to help you find the right program.

The terms “counselor” and “therapist” are sometimes used casually to refer to mental health professionals who offer counseling or therapy. Sometimes you might switch between one word or the other, without really thinking about it.

The term therapist and counselor are used in different ways. Their training and licensing are not the same, but they have some of the same skills.

What is important is finding a professional that can provide the services you need.

Make sure you look for a licensed professional when you are in counseling or therapy. Life coaching is not licensed or regulated. Life coaches do not have any professional standards.

Counseling treatments

According to the American Mental Health Counselors Association, licenced clinical mental health counselors take a holistic approach to mental health. This approach focuses on your overall well-being as a person.

Strengths-based approaches are taken by licensed clinical mental health counselors. Treatments are focused on your strengths and abilities.

The American Counseling Association notes that counselling is often goals-focused. You may come to counselling to work on goals for your mental health, overall wellness, or career or education milestones.

Treatment areas include:

  • Individual, couples, family, and group therapy.
  • trauma
  • marital or relationship issues
  • Substance use or alcohol use.
  • struggles with anger or low self-esteem
  • loss or grief
  • anxiety
  • Depression.
  • Multiple issues, such as post traumatic Stress. disorder.

A counselor will usually focus on present day problems that may be affecting your mental health. They can help you with your mental health.

Some people think that the way that counseling treatments look at issues from previous relationships, past experiences, or trauma may not be as thorough.

Different counselors may use different frameworks. Ask the counselor about their approach to counseling. You can decide if it is a good fit by knowing what to expect.

Therapy treatments

Treatments that benefit your mental health are what therapists focus on. Therapy sessions can happen.

  • Individual therapy is one-on-one.
  • with your family or partner.
  • in a group setting

The kinds of conditions treated by therapists are often the same as those treated by counselors. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, conditions treated with therapy include:

  • Stress.
  • Loss or grief.
  • Family issues or relationship issues.
  • Depression.
  • anxiety
  • There is a disorder of the brain called the Bipolar Disorder.
  • There is a psychological condition called post traumatic stress disorder.
  • Other mental health conditions.

Both therapists and counselors may be trained in specialized forms of talk therapy. This involves verbalizing your problems to help work through solutions that may also involve changes to your thinking and behaviors. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one option.

Therapy is meant to help you relieve your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Asking a therapist what techniques and approaches they will use to help is important. This can help you find the right strategy.

Some say that therapists focus more on human behavior than counselors do. The training and approach of an individual may be more important than the differences between professions.

Some therapists may work with more complex issues than counselors. The specializations can overlap.

Counselor and therapist specialties

You may notice that therapists and counselors are similar in their treatment areas.

  • The therapies for child and adolescent.
  • There are therapies for individuals, groups, couples, or families.
  • Behavioral therapies.
  • Substance use treatment.
  • support for anxiety or Depression.
  • Therapy for loss or grief.

Counselors and therapists are trained in their specialty. They hold licenses or certifications that are required by their state.

A therapist must be licensed in the state they practice in. The therapist needs to pass an exam in their state to get a license.

The process for counselors is typically similar. To work as a professional counselor, state licensing is also required. All states require counselors to pass an exam before they can receive a license.

You can ask a therapist or counselor about their license.

“It is important to consider the educational level of the mental health professional you are dealing with. A professional with a master’s or doctorate degree will be able to provide their services.”

Counselor qualifications

“A minimum of a master’s degree is required for counselors to treat patients in a clinical setting. Counselors take courses related to their specialty as part of their education.”

Counselors also have to gain a certain amount of experience before they can be licensed. This practical training happens under the supervision and guidance of a more senior counselor. Usually, a counselor needs to do 2,000 to 3,000 hours of supervised experience before they qualify for licensing.

“A counselor can offer mental health services during the supervision period. They won’t have their full license until they do.”

Counselors and therapists can pursue additional certifications related to addiction or marriage counseling.

You might have come across the term “counseling psychologist.” This is a different type of professional who can offer mental health services. Counseling psychologists have doctorate level degrees in psychology. They are licensed as psychologists, not counselors.

Therapist qualifications

“A master’s degree in a subject relevant to therapy is required by therapists. These degrees are related.”

  • The Master of Social Work is a degree.
  • A master of arts degree in marriage and family therapy is required.
  • A master of arts in psychology is required.
  • A master of arts in counseling psychology is required.

Some therapists get doctorate level education.

Like counselors, therapists need to gain experience before they can get a licence. A therapist will be supervised and given guidance during this time.

For Marriage and Family Therapists, the period of supervision is usually about two years long. Therapists with a MSW degree will typically have 2 to 3 years of supervised experience before qualifying for licensing. If you’re thinking of working with a therapist, feel free to ask them about their specific education and training.

Therapists can offer services while they are in the supervision period. Therapists need to pass a licensing exam after the supervision period is over.

Some psychologists or psychiatrists who offer therapy may refer to themselves as therapists. But becoming a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist requires different education and training. Psychologists need a doctoral degree such as a PhD or PsyD. Psychiatrists attend medical school to earn a MD or DO degree, and often have additional training in mental health topics.

Depending on your treatment needs, you can choose between a counselor or therapist.

Counselors and therapists can offer services in their own practices. These professionals may work in other areas.

  • Group practices.
  • There are schools.
  • universities
  • There are assisted living facilities.
  • Clinics.
  • social services

Therapists and counselors can work with individuals in one-on-one sessions as well as with couples, families, and groups. Some also specialize in working with children through a technique called play therapy.

Here are some tips on how to choose a professional that will help you.

Looking for ways to support your mental health and well-being? Try Healthline’s FindCare tool to connect with mental health professionals nearby or virtually so you can get the care you need.

Short vs. long-term treatment

“You might be seeking help to deal with short-term concerns that don’t relate to a long-term mental health condition. You might be looking for treatments that can help with a long-standing situation.”

  • Anger issues
  • anxiety
  • Depression.
  • trauma
  • addiction

For example, a marriage counselor or therapist can help couples work toward resolving disruptive short-term problems for a healthier relationship.

One of these professionals can help you discover the underlying causes of these issues, along with negative past experiences that may apply to the situation.

The decision depends on a lot.

  • Your goals.
  • “Your clinician’s approach.”
  • The cost of therapy and the time available to devote to it.

Education and background

“You may consider a mental health professional’s education and background.”

For example, if you’re seeking help for Depression. or family-related issues, you may want to choose a professional with expertise in this area rather than one who specializes in couples therapy.

Finding a professional who understands where you are coming from can make mental health treatment more comfortable. Some therapists or counselors have training or experience that they specialize in.

  • People with trauma or abuse.
  • People of color.
  • People with different sexual and gender identities.

“Don’t hire a professional who doesn’t have the necessary education, training, or licensing.”

Budget and location

Your budget and location are other considerations.

If you have insurance, you may want to call your insurance company to inquire about your mental health coverage and get a list of in-network professionals to help you save money on your treatment.

If you are a student at a school, you may be able to take free mental health sessions if you choose to.

A clinic or community health center may offer options at a reduced cost for therapists and counselors.

Online and remote options

There’s also the option of therapy apps that offer the ability to host online sessions anytime.

Many of the apps that offer sessions for free or at a lower cost require a one-time purchase or monthly subscription fee, which may be less expensive than regular counseling or therapy sessions.

Need a diagnosis?

“Counselors and therapists are trained to help assess and treat mental health issues, but most don’t make formal diagnoses.”

If you are looking for a mental health diagnosis, you may want to see a clinical psychologist.

Counselors and therapists are mental health professionals who can help you with a variety of issues to achieve a better quality of life.

There are still some differences between the two professions, even though the terms “counselor” and “therapist” are often used interchangeably.

First, narrow your search to a few professionals and ask for free consultations with them. You may ask about their education and training. You can continue forward with your preferred therapist.

You may work with more than one counselor or therapist over the course of your treatment.

You can access a wide range of specialists who can address every aspect of your mental health.