I write a lot of books on how to be happier, and so people are always asking me if there’s a difference between a counselor versus a therapist. So I wrote this quick guide to explain how they differ.
Firstly, a counselor is a professional trained in psychology, counseling, and social work. There can be different specializations for counselors.
For example, mental health counselors work in a mental health capacity and are trained in this field.
A therapist is trained to provide therapy to patients or clients that address their mental or physical disorders.
When evaluating a counselor vs therapist and what they do within their specific field, it is important to understand that both these professionals occupy the same space and may often treat the same issues within the same patient populations. However, their treatment approach is different.
Counselors address specific problems, challenges or behaviors.
However, therapists dig deeper. They try to help patients understand the underlying cause of their problems and how to address those issues.
A counselor may help an alcoholic patient overcome their craving for alcohol by following a series of steps and measures.
But a therapist would go deeper and try to determine the cause of those cravings and the situations that trigger the patient to drink.
Hence, counselors use a short-term approach. And their focus is to arm their patients with the tools they need to overcome their problems.
On the other hand, therapists go after long-term solutions. They are trained to address the root of the issues to ensure the changes that the patients incorporate are more long-lasting.
Counselors need a master’s degree in counseling. For example, a Master of Arts in counseling (MAC), to be able to treat patients and must take courses focused on their specialty area. These courses typically include therapy techniques. Counselors must also do 2000 to 3000 hours of supervised experience before getting a license.
Therapists are also required to have a master’s degree in a subject relevant to psychotherapy, such as a master of social work, Master of Arts in psychology, Master of Arts in counseling psychology etc. Therapists that obtain doctoral-level education can do better in their specific field.
A therapist with a master’s degree in social work must have 2 to 3 years of supervised experience before getting a license.
Similarly, therapists specializing in marriage and family therapy need about two years of supervised experience before qualifying for a license.
However, therapists can offer services while they are in the supervision period and can pass their licensing exam once this period is completed.
They tend to focus on specific types of issues and/or disorders. For example, there are mental health counselors, couples therapists, grief counselors, and behavioral counselors. In addition, some therapists provide services to patients suffering from specific mental health disorders such as ADHD, OCD, depression, anxiety or bipolar disorders.
Since many different types of therapy are available, it is important to choose the one that suits you best. For example, when choosing a mental health professional for your needs, you need to evaluate the type of therapy they offer (in-person or online; individual vs group etc.), determine if those therapy options are short-term or long-term, do they fit your profile (as in your race, gender, religion, background, sexual orientation) etc.
For example, grief counseling to cope with the death of a loved one, postpartum counseling after having a baby, sex therapy, addiction therapy, divorce counseling, etc. Hence, it is important to identify your needs and decide which treatment works best for you.
There are also several different types of counseling or therapy techniques to choose from. Therapists can use cognitive behavioral therapy to explore the relationship between a patient’s behavior and their thoughts and feelings. Dialectical behavior therapy focuses on regulating emotions and accepting uncomfortable though and feelings. There is also eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) generally used to treat people with PTSD. This technique involves recalling a traumatic event while performing specific eye movements. Exposure therapy treats people with fear, anxiety, OCD, PTSD and phobias. Interpersonal therapy helps patients work on their relationships with others. These and many other techniques are used by counselors and therapists to help patients overcome physical and mental disorders.
Counselors and therapists help their patients and clients overcome challenges that negatively impact their physical and/or emotional well-being. Both professionals play an important role in their own capacity. However, both practice different treatment approaches and may use different techniques of therapy based on their patient’s needs, profiles and underlying issues.
It is important to obtain the required skill, knowledge and qualification to pursue a career in this field, whether one wants to be a counselor or a therapist. It is also equally important to determine which specific area to specialize in. You’ll then be better able to improve your skills and help people with specific issues like addiction, grief, anxiety or depression.
Plus I founded the couples therapist recommended video course called Secrets of Happy Couples.
I love sharing tools to help people live their happiest and most fulfilling lives.