Difference Between Counselor and Therapist-Which Do You Need?

Your first step to a better mental headspace can be overwhelming. Searching for the right mental health professional, meeting up with them, and working on yourself is a long and arduous journey. So, it is vital to put your best foot forward when you begin this voyage.

What does this mean for you? It means that you should try to find the best navigator to help you along. Your mental health professional will be your guide in this journey of self-discovery, so you might as well choose someone you like. You could be struggling with anger management issues to binge eating disorders, but you do not have to bear this pain alone. You have the prerogative to choose from several different mental health professionals. Your choice might depend on many factors, including your health insurance and referrals from friends. Some people rely on their gut and choose someone they like. 

Another factor is choosing between different categories of mental health professionals (MHP). You can choose a social worker, psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, or therapists. These categorizations depend on the degrees and experience of these MHPs.

Two of the commonly used terms for MHPs are counselors and therapists. But they are not interchangeable terms. Both are separate and distinct from each other. We will do an in-depth analysis of the therapist vs a counselor debate to clear up the inherent confusion.

What is a therapist?

A therapist is a licensed and trained MHP who helps people resolve intricate feelings and solve their problems. Most therapists have Master’s level or Ph.D. level degrees in their fields. These fields can be diverse.

 Family therapists counsel both families and couples. They may deal with a family as a group and resolve any simmering issues between the patients. They might also teach patients conflict resolution strategies that can be useful in a home environment. Most family therapists are also social workers who are supposed to monitor families for any problems that require outside intervention. If a family deals with domestic abuse, then a family therapist can help both the victim and the abuser. A marriage family therapist is a subcategory that falls under family therapists. These MFPs help couples with any issues they might face during their relationship. A colossal portion of a marriage family therapist’s work is to solve any couple’s communication problems.

Substance abuse therapists help people who are addicted to alcohol or drugs. They help addicts navigate their life after surviving substance abuse—people battling substance abuse face many issues, such as eating disorders, depression, and anxiety. Most substance abuse therapists work in treatment centers and help addicts detox from drugs and alcohol.

What is a Counselor?

These are MHPs with a Master’s or Ph.D. level degree in counseling. They use counseling techniques to treat patients, and they treat issues such as depression, anxiety, and anger management problems. Counselors also have a different treatment plan than therapists as they concentrate on individual experiences. So, all of their treatment plans get optimized according to the need of the patient. Counselling uses a mixture of treatment and counseling to help their patients. Most counselors have an integrated approach to patient treatment. Hence all of their work is solution-oriented. The biggest drawback is that counselors can not prescribe medication to patients.

Counselors are likely to pass a licensing exam.

What should I do before choosing an MHP?

First, you need to consider the cost of the whole thing. Check whether your health insurance covers mental health issues or not. Some insurance plans cover mental health services and prescription plans. If your insurance plan covers mental health, look through the directory provided by your insurance provider to find an approved MHP. You can also find other professionals with the American Psychological Association’s Psychologist Locator. Those without insurance should consider asking social workers for help. They might also talk to nonprofits to get affordable mental health resources.


Even though the terms counselor and therapist are interchangeable, both refer to different types of MHPs. One has more training than the other. Another focuses more on the group rather than the individual. It is necessary to consider the qualification of an MHP before deciding on someone, but you should remember your own needs and requirements. It will help if you also go through any reviews of the MHP before going for your first consultation. Do not be afraid to change your MHP if you are not happy with them. Your satisfaction comes above all other considerations.

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