Counselor vs. Therapist vs. Psychologist

Compare The Professions

In what ways do these three job titles differ? What differences are there in required education? What kinds of roles might one fill within these fields? What kind of licensure is required? All three are described below in detail so you can further your exploration of which field is the best fit for you.

Counselor

  • A Counselor can be a broad term or one that is a protected classification that requires higher degrees and board certification
  • Counselors work with their clients to discover the underlying causes of mental and emotional issues, using rapport, active listening and inquiries to help the client integrate and heal their issues.
  • Counselors may require advanced degrees depending on the state, or may only require a bachelor’s in counseling or a related field.
  • Counselors can perform a multitude of job functions in various social work and counseling organizations or as independent practitioners.
  • Counselors often do not have the same knowledge base, training and skill-sets offered by therapists and psychologists who usually have far more advanced educations.

Therapist

  • The Therapist is often a protected job title in many states including California and usually require licensure in order to legally practice.
  • Therapist is an umbrella term that can include many different job titles including but not limited to: Counselors, Licensed Clinical Social Workers, Marriage and Family Counselor as well as Psychiatrist.
  • A Therapist will often use behavioral cognitive approaches to therapy to change behaviors leading to client desired outcomes.
  • There are several degrees that can be paths to acquire the protected job title of Therapist. These include, but are not limited to: Master’s of Marriage and Family Therapy,
  • Master of Social Work (MSW), Master’s in Psychology Master’s in Counseling. A Doctorate in any of these fields also is sufficient for licensure.
  • There are a handful of states where Therapist is not a legally protected job title and can simply mean someone who has decided to become a therapist which may not have any degree requirement.

Psychologists

  • Most states require a minimum of a Master’s degree in Psychology to secure this protected job title. Some states may even require a Doctorate or Post-Graduate work.
  • In most cases, the title Psychologist can only refer to those who have been licensed by a state Psychology board to provide therapy.
  • Psychologists must adhere to rigorous standards regarding ethics and confidentiality. Some states may require additional standards for professional etiquette and behavior as provided by the state board.
  • Psychologists may be involved in providing therapy to patients within an organization, or in their own private practice.
  • Some Psychologists may elect to enter the educational segment of the field by teaching at a college or university
  • Psychologists will often lead teams who are conducting Psychological research in either an academic or private sector setting
  • A Psychologist will often be trained to use a behavioral approach when providing therapy for clients.
  • A Psychologist will routinely be called upon to assess and offer clinical evaluations of clients in regards to mental health and mental illness on behalf of an organization, or the court system.
  • A Psychologist will be expected to make decisions on which treatments to employ based upon current clinical research and best practices within Psychology.

Going into More Detail

The Psychologist is a protected classification within the mental health profession. The Psychologist has an advanced educational background that includes specific training based upon clinical research that seeks to understand human behavior and mental health conditions. The field of Psychology has a history stretching back over a century wherein human behavior and mental processes were studied in order to develop effective methods for dealing with mental illnesses and the changing of human behavior. The field of Psychology has also spent decades refining a rigorous ethical framework that includes patient confidentiality as well as codes of conduct that a Psychologist must adhere to in order to maintain licensure. One of the requirements to maintain board certification as a Psychologist, is to complete continuing education within the field to stay current on latest research, as well as best practices in the field. During the course of their education Psychologists will need to complete stringent training that includes the completion of thousands of hours of supervised practice in a clinical setting. This sort of rigorous training helps to ensure that clients who seek therapy from a psychologist can be assured they will receive care that is guaranteed to have high standards of ethics, professional behavior and confidentiality.

The title of Therapist can include many different fields of study that all will have their own unique approach to therapy for their clients. Some states have Therapist as a protected job title and others have no such restriction. However, many states protect the job title of Therapist and may only include those who have specific licensure for their specific discipline such as Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), Psychologist, or other board certified job titles. Those states that legally mandate Therapist as a protected job title help to ensure that those holding the title have a higher degree of education, professional etiquette, ethics and patient confidentiality due to requirements by the relevant state board certifications.

The job title of Counselor can be inclusive of both licensed Counselors as well as a variety of other vocations and can include even those with minimal training and education. The term counselor is often synonymous with the terms advisor and mentor. The term Counselor may encompass widely divergent occupations such as clergy, other spiritual advisors and even something as mundane as a financial advisor. Some people with little or not training still have tremendous integrity and may display a high degree of ethics, professionalism and client confidentiality. However, when there is a lack of licensure this can create the opportunity for bad actors and even criminals to claim the title of Counselor. Often having sessions with an unlicensed counselor is less expensive than seeing one of the licensed professions, but it can lead to bad outcomes and even personal danger for the client. For the practitioner while an unlicensed Counseling position might have a low barrier to entry, you also will not find it nearly as financially rewarding as a Licensed classification. Indeed, unlicensed practice also arguably has an even greater risk of malpractice suits as well as other liability due to not working within a protected classification that is far more likely to be insured, or otherwise protected against litigation.

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