Differentiating Between Therapists and Counselors

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Searching for a mental health provider can be confusing, given the large number of professionals practicing in that field. Psychiatrists, therapists, counselors, and even social workers are all mental health professionals. Knowing the difference between each of these providers and what services they offer can save you a lot of time and resources.

Two terms that are commonly used interchangeably are “therapist” and “counselor.” Although both roles have certain similarities, there are substantial differences in training, education, and licensing. Working with a therapist or counselor ultimately boils down to your goals. Other considerations may include insurance coverage and cost. You should check with your health insurance, conduct an NPI lookup, or ask for referrals before deciding on a healthcare provider. Regardless of your choice, it is essential to consult only licensed medical professionals. Read on to know the differences between therapists and counselors.

Who is a therapist?

Therapists are licensed mental health specialists who treat conditions including schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder.

Therapy aims to ease symptoms and improve the quality of a patient’s life. While all therapists pay more attention to behavioral patterns and research, each professional employs a different technique. Knowing a therapist’s technique beforehand can help you find the best strategy for your unique needs. Therapists address issues such as grief, loss, stress, depression, and other mental health conditions.

Who is a counselor?

Counselors are mental health specialists trained to assess patients and guide them in decision-making, problem-solving, and other attitudinal changes. The American Mental Health Counselors Association states that licensed mental health counselors use a holistic approach to address the overall welfare of individuals. 

Counselors are often goal-oriented and can focus on different areas such as education, marriage, mental health, or career. Counselors also focus on areas such as trauma, substance abuse, anxiety, low self-esteem, anger issues, PTSD, and depression.

In general, counselors can evaluate a client’s mental health and work with them to reduce symptoms. However, different counselors have different approaches. Before making a decision, be sure to know the counselor’s methods.

Differences between therapists and counselors

While counselors are trained to help patients overcome life challenges, therapists diagnose and treat mental health conditions. However, there are some gray areas. Counselors typically come in contact with mental health patients, and therapists also support people with life challenges. Moreover, both professionals typically encounter similar populations. 

The difference between counselors and therapists include the following: 


  • Has a fixed number of sessions
  • Support patients facing complex issues
  • Focuses on the future
  • Provides short-term care


  • Continues with patients till there’s an improvement
  • Offers comprehensive mental health services
  • Focuses on events that happened in the past
  • Provides extended care

Despite the differences, therapists and counselors have some things in common. For example, both professionals are trained to handle talk therapy. As the name suggests, talk therapy involves discussing the patient’s problems while trying to develop behavioral changes. Some therapists have more advanced training and address more complex issues than their counselor counterparts. 

Things to Consider

If you have struggled with your mental health and need to talk, you should seek support. Deciding to go for therapy or counseling is a great first step. While searching for the right provider for your needs, there are certain things to keep in mind. One of the most important factors is the practitioner’s training/licensing. This can help you decide whether to move forward with them or find other alternatives. Other factors to consider include the following: 

Find a professional who specializes in your challenges.

Working with licensed therapists or counselors who are experts in your peculiar challenge is advisable. This includes professionals with experience and advanced training in that area. 

Find a professional you’re comfortable with

Whether you’re consulting a therapist or counselor, you must feel comfortable with the provider. This can play a huge role in your recovery process and make sessions more enjoyable. One way to gauge the comfort level is by scheduling free consultation calls with the therapist or counselor. 

Be Patient

Meeting set goals in counseling or therapy don’t happen overnight. It usually takes time to see results, and you must be patient. If you commit to the process and play an active role, chances are you’ll achieve more success in a shorter period. Before you begin therapy or engage a counselor, evaluate your readiness for these procedures. If you choose to go ahead with the process, patience is necessary to achieve your desired goals.

Although the roles and methods of counselors and therapists may overlap, there are tangible differences between both practitioners. The comfort level around any practitioner is important, as it can affect connection, honesty, and results. You should also stay open-minded and allow room for withdrawals or setbacks. If you feel the practitioner’s methods are inefficient in your case, you should discuss it with them or move to another practitioner.

Author Profile

Adam Regan
Adam Regan
Deputy Editor

Features and account management. 3 years media experience. Previously covered features for online and print editions.

Email Adam@MarkMeets.com

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