Counselor Vs. Councilor: There Is A Difference

By Mary Elizabeth Dean

Updated March 20, 2020

Reviewer Deanna Daniels, LMFT

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There are many synonyms for "counselor" in the English language that sound the same but carry two entirely different meanings. These words are called homonyms. For example, the words "there" and "their" sound similar but they mean two different things. One is an adverb and the other is a pronoun. Even though they may sound the same in speech, it's important to use the right version for your case when writing.

Neither Their nor There

Two words that are often confused are councilor and counselor. This is important when looking for someone to provide advice or counsel. The word councilor is a noun defined as one who serves in a public position or on a council. There are many types of counselors one might need in life. There is legal counsel when you might require legal advice and then there is the counselor that you might seek for psychological or any other problems related to your life and mental well-being. We'll talk more about this later in the article.

Counselor, Counsellor, Councilor, Councillor

The words councilor, councilor, counselor, and counselor sound completely the same, but they mean different things. Each one refers to its own counseling programs within their relevant field of counseling. This means that the definition of counselor is relative to the type of counselor being referred to. For example, a camp counselor is a professional counselor who helps people with issues related to camping and the outdoors -- whereas a marriage and family counselor is a person who counsels people regarding sensitive issues in marriage and dating relationships. Marriage and family counselors may provide individual counseling, couples counseling, and even abuse counseling when domestic violence is part of the issue. Following is an example of common terms related to "counselor."

  • Councilor/Councillor: councillor is merely a variation of the word councilor, an alternative spelling that is preferred outside the U.S. It refers to a member of a council, such as a city council. The counselor definition refers to a public official who is responsible for creating rules and laws within their jurisdiction.
  • Counselor/Counsellor: A counselor (or counsellor), on the other hand, is someone who gives advice or therapy. A counselor can also be an attorney, a trial lawyer, or somebody who supervises young children, but the definition of counselor most commonly refers to somebody who provides behavioral health services in the form of talk therapy. It can also refer to a guidance counselor or school psychologist, frequently seen in schools or academic settings.

The English language has many homonyms and it can be hard at times to figure out what the meaning of a particular word is. The example above of the words "councilor" and "counselor" show just how different a word that sounds the same can be. But this isn't just a grammar lesson, let's dig a bit deeper.


A councilor is an individual who is a member of a council. They're elected, and they play an important role in casting the local laws. That's what a councilor is. More commonly used is the word "counselor," which most often refers to somebody that you'd see in a therapy setting, is somebody who gives psychotherapy advice or counseling services for issues like substance abuse, individual therapy, couples therapy, and family therapy. A counselor either advises people in one way or another, or they provide therapy. Regardless of whether your provider is practicing legal counsel or family therapy they offer some form of advice in a professional capacity.

Counselors or Attorneys

You may have heard the term counsel used about lawyers or attorneys. There are times when an attorney can provide legal advice or counsel to their clients, but they're not the only professionals who can provide counsel. Just as an attorney can give counsel, a therapist can as well, although it would not be of a legal nature. While an attorney might offer advice, a counselor may also provide therapy. However, a counselor who is a therapist doesn't necessarily provide advice alone, rather they also help people with their problems.


The Origin of the Word Counselor

We can learn a lot from looking into where a word comes from to understand how it's used today. So where does the word counselor originate and how do we use it now?

It comes from England. The word counselor, like the traditional spelling, came from Middle English, and it refers to an advisor, but it has evolved since then. We understand counselors to be therapists or advisors, people who guide us within their domain of expertise.

You've probably heard of a counselor who sees couples for therapy or a guidance counselor who works in schools. These mental health professionals are versatile and you can find them in a variety of locations. A counselor is a clinician that has a degree to perform counseling services. They require advanced training, such as graduate school, and they don't necessarily have a background in clinical research.

This can also be known as a therapist, with counselor serving as more of an informal term in some cases.

What's a Therapist?

A professional therapist is someone who is licensed to practice psychotherapy and behavioral psychology techniques for individuals, couples, and families in crisis or seeking advice. Today's therapists typically hold a master's in counseling, social science (or a higher degree related to social science. A licensed social worker or other mental health professional has to become licensed in their locality to provide general psychology services. Professional counselors are required to have a degree in counseling to provide general psychology and psychotherapy services. Examples of licensed therapists who have degrees outside of the general field of counseling are licensed social workers who are trained to act as life coaches, marriage and family therapists, and provide other forms of mental health counseling with community referral services.

People visit professional therapists for a variety of personal reasons. Getting abuse counseling for dealing with domestic abuse or speaking with an addiction counselor to create better outcomes for you and your family is nothing to be ashamed of. Professional counselors are trained in the art of behavioral psychology (among other methods) and can use this training to teach people how to make better life decisions. Counseling sessions are private and confidential. This means that whether you take part in individual or family therapy, that sessions with your licensed therapist,or licensed social worker for marriage and family therapy are protected by confidentiality.

When to See a Counselor

Everyone needs guidance on various issues from time to time, which is why many people seek out a counselor. Some people look forward to the encouraging and insightful words from counselors. Whether it's to work on your marriage in couple's counseling, going to see a grief counselor to work through the death of a loved one, or seeing an individual therapist for your mental health, counseling can help us get through difficult times. You can visit a counselor in your local area or you can see an online therapist if you'd prefer the convenience and ease of working with a counselor at any time in the privacy of your home.

Wondering If There Is More Than One Type Of Counselor?
Ask A Professional. Chat With A Licensed Mental Health Counselor Online Now.


Different Types of Counselors

When seeking a counselor for a mental health-related issue or social work consider the various types of licensed social workers and other mental health therapists available when conducting your search, and be sure to choose a licensed counselor. There are many types of people who claim to be able to help us out who do not have the credentials to do so. For example, while there are life coaches who are excellent at their jobs, due to a lack of regulation there are others who can cause people emotional damage. People who are suffering from mental health disorders or substance abuse issues should make sure that the professional that you choose has the credentials to competently provide the services you need to get better. If you need substance abuse counseling -- check with your therapy practitioner or social worker to make sure their credentials state that they have the education and experience to provide substance abuse counseling (in advance of your counseling session.) Selecting a licensed counselor is the most informed choice to make for your mental health.

Different specialties of mental health counselors include the following:

  • Marriage and relationship counselors work with married couples or couples who live together and are in conflict. Married couples often take words from marriage counselors to heart. (Be sure your marriage and family counselor is certified to practice in your location.)
  • Family counselors work with the family as a whole unit to provide social work and counseling services. While a therapist or social worker may see family members individually for more information -- the primary focus of the social worker is on the family as a whole.
  • Addiction counselors work with individuals who are addicted to substances or activities such as gambling or gaming. People who see addiction counselors are often referred for additional social work-related services like employment or housing services.
  • Grief Counselors work with those who have suffered a loss of a loved one to provide counseling, social work, and other support services to help family members progress through the stages of the grieving process.
  • Sex Counselors/therapists work with couples or individuals experiencing issues of a sexual nature or with sexual intimacy.
  • Mental health counselors work with individuals who have been diagnosed with depression and other mental health disorders that can be managed through a range of therapies.

These are just a few of the umbrellas under which you can find a mental health counselor specific to your needs. It's essential to research the type of counselor with the education and experience suited to provide the best help and guidance for your particular situation. For example, someone who specializes in the practice of forensic psychology may not be the choice if you're looking for a counselor who provides cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

If you broke your wrist, you probably wouldn't consult a podiatrist (or someone who practices forensic psychology) for treatment even though they may understand broken bones. Similarly, it's wise to select a counselor that has experience treating the issue you are seeking help to address. At BetterHelp, there is an entire network of licensed counselors with expertise in various areas of mental health and counseling. They are here to provide you with supportive counseling and the tools to help yourself. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people who have been helped.

Counselor Reviews

"I have come a long way. With the help of Alexis, I have accomplished things I thought I'd never do. I am glad I did this, it has benefited me so much. With the guidance and encouragement of Alexis, I am more confident in myself and I see a clear path to success and happiness. I have learned to control myself and not doubt myself. It is hard to let go but I know I will be fine and if I need she will still be here for me. Thank you Alexis you have truly helped me change my life. I am so grateful. I wish you the best!"

"Kristen helps me to see my life and myself from a different perspective. I tell her about my experiences and she is able to hone into another side of the story that I couldn't get working things out on my own. And I had tried, for a very long time. As someone particularly skeptical of counseling in general, it has been refreshing to speak and work with someone who genuinely recognizes that I am seeking help but reluctant to take it. Her patience and consistent inquiry have been the greatest asset for me and I appreciate my time with her."


The words counselor and councilor may sound the same, but they have very different meanings. Nevertheless, we all need some guidance sometimes. Don't be afraid to reach out when you need a helping hand! Take the first step today.

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