Counselor Vs. Councilor: There Is A Difference | How To Find The Best Counselor

By: Mary Elizabeth Dean

Updated March 16, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Deanna Daniels, LMFT

If you're curious about counseling, a mental health platform is a great place to start your research. While you might be able to find the answers to most of your questions, it can be a good idea to speak to a therapist about what they do and how they can support you. A therapist can help with a wide variety of topics, from dating and relationships or family dynamics, to career growth or personal confidence. 

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 in writing.

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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 for 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  supervises people while camping and spending time outdoors, giving safety advice and guidance—whereas a marriage and family counselor is a licensed mental health professional 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 involved. Below is an example of common terms related to "counselor":

  • Councilor/Councillorcouncillor 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 or city council official. A councilor is a member of some type of governing body, and its 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. 


A councilor is an individual who is a member of a council. A councilor is a member of a governing body who is 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 Great Britain. The word counselor, like the traditional spelling, came from Middle English, and it refers to an advisor, but it has evolved since then. Today, we understand counselors to be therapists or advisors, or 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. A counselor is a clinician that has a degree to perform counseling services. These mental health professionals are versatile and you can find them in a variety of industries. 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 earned a license in their locality to provide general psychology services, which usually require a few years of intensive training and practice. 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 marriage and family therapists who provide couples' counseling or family therapy services, or licensed social workers who are trained to provide other forms of mental health counseling with community referral services.

People visit professional therapists for a variety of personal reasons. Seeking abuse counseling for 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 by law.

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.

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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.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the difference between councilor and counselor?

The words “councilor” and “counselor” are often used interchangeably, but they actually refer to two completely separate positions. While counsel and council may sound similar, the positions they describe are vastly different, including where you might find the two posts, and what their posts entail. A counselor is an individual who offers advice, therapy, or a listening ear. Counselors are often found in camps, schools, and workplaces, and can help people determine basic mental health concerns, evaluate future opportunities and pathways, and similar concerns. A councilor, conversely, is an official holding a position within a governing body, the most common being a city council official. Councilors can also be found in large-scale government positions, in school administrations, and even within religious organizations. Councilors may be voted on by the public, or may be appointed by the members of the governing board to which the individual is being placed, or a higher board. Council and counsel—or councilor and counselor—are frequently confused, but both involve very different duties. One provides a public or private service involving laws and bylaws, while the other provides public or private services supporting health and well being.

Who is called Councillor?

The word “councillor” is an alternate spelling of the more commonly used word “councilor.” Councilors are typically called by this moniker when they are being identified within a body or group (“Councilor Milton”), or when they are being directly addressed (“What say you, Councilor?”). The words “councilwoman” and “councilman” may be used interchangeably with the word councillor, depending upon the context of the word’s use, and the habits and customs of the office being referred to or addressed.

How is a Councillor elected?

The exact manner in which a councillor is elected depends on the posting itself. In some positions, councillors are elected through local public elections, just as local public elections vote upon mayors. In other positions, councillors are appointed by other authoritative bodies, as is often the case within departmental councils; although a city councillor must be elected by their delegates, a department-specific councillor will most likely be appointed to their position by a vote of a higher governing board or a series of governing boards, as may be the case when councillors are elected to various city government departments.

Councillors typically run election campaigns much in the same way larger-scale political candidates run election campaigns—though small public election campaigns typically focus far more on signage and local newspapers than they do on television campaigns and other, more expensive campaign options. Following successful election campaigns, these councillors are then voted on by the individuals they represent, typically separated by districts within a city, county, or department.

Is a counselor a therapist?

Although a straightforward answer is always ideal, when the question is “Is a counselor a therapist,” the answer can be complicated. This is because different states and areas consider the terms interchangeable, while others consider the terms vastly different. A counselor can be a therapist; both are required to undergo training to effectively and safely provide a space with which to visit clients and determine the best course of action to improve mental health or an individual’s life’s trajectory. A counselor can also be one step below a therapist, without requiring the same degree of training or schooling, in order to claim the title.

The safest answer to this question is often “no.” This is because many states consider the title “therapist” as a protected one, which means that use of the term comes along with a legal obligation to undergo a certain amount of schooling or training. Therapists, in these cases, possess advanced degrees, and are qualified to offer therapy targeting mental health. Counselors, conversely, may only be required to complete basic certification courses, and may be found in positions that do not necessarily relate to mental health, as is the case with many school counselors and career counselors—individuals who are trained to offer guidance and advice in particular niches, rather than providing mental health services.

What do counselors do?

Counselors fulfill several roles, as the term is often used to describe a number of different professionals. Counselors within a specific niche or discipline typically do not possess advanced degrees, and are instead trained in learning how to work alongside clients to reach a goal or conclusion. Counseling is usually short-term in nature, and is not designed to treat mental health ailments; instead, counseling is designed to offer a guide o aid in reaching the conclusion or resolution with a specific issue or problem. Counselors may counsel individuals considering divorce, for instance, or may open a practice focusing on career or education counseling. Counselors can often be found within schools, from elementary up to post graduate institutions, offering students advice and roadmaps for their academic careers, stress management strategies, and similar concerns. Counselors may also be found in summer camps, day programs, and other short-term programs, as the need for mental health aid or guidance may arise, without the implications of long-term treatment, as may be the case with a child who is struggling at a sleep-away camp, or a student who is unsure what extracurricular path to take.

When should I see a counselor?

Seeing a counselor is an ideal option for individuals who are struggling with a short-term or small-scope issue. Mental health concerns, such as recurring bouts of depression or episodes of panic attacks, are best left to therapists or psychologists, while life concerns, such as career changes, relationship changes, and general life navigation are often best served by counselors. Friendships, marriage relationships, and familial relationships may all benefit from the intervention of counselors, too, as counselors are trained to provide targeted, focused counseling sessions, rather than trying to delve deep into recurring patterns, underlying symptoms, or underlying conditions. If you have issues with a relationship, a career choice, or an education choice, a counselor is likely to be a useful option for you. If you have recurring issues at work or school, or are unsure what it is you want to do with your life, you can also benefit from counseling sessions.

What are the qualities of good counselor?

First and foremost, a counselor should be able to provide evidence of their counseling education. Certifications and degrees are the most common means of identifying a counselor’s qualifications. When looking at a counselor’s credentials, always be sure to make certain the institutions they are certified through are reputable, licensed schools or licensing programs.

Good counselors typically have some type of referral system, or a means of learning from past clients to determine how effective their work is. Although not every good counselor will have an online presence or a whole host of client reviews, many good-quality therapists will provide some evidence of their efficacy and skill, whether that comes in the form of practice reviews, or in the form of school or vocation awards and mentions.

Good counselors can also be identified through their willingness to work with clients; a counselor who is unwilling to answer questions about their practice, their fees, or their typical processes is unlikely to provide the consideration and trust required to effective counsel others. Before selecting a counselor, ask for a small consultation or introduction, to get a better feel for whether or not the two of you will work well together. If the counselor refuses, or requests a full counseling fee for only a short consultation, it could indicate the presence of a red flag.

Finally, a good counselor serves as a guide, rather than a parent, or authoritarian figure enforcing an agenda. A good counselor will reflect questions back at their patients, and work to create a trusting, honest relationship with clients that allow clients to feel as though they are safe discussing their needs, and as though they are safe enough to be receptive to a counselor’s suggestions or ideas. If trust and openness are not present in the counseling relationship, the client is unlikely to receive the help they need.

Does therapy actually work?

While therapy may have once been a subject avoided in polite society, and regarded with some degree of contempt, there are truly massive bodies of evidence identifying the safety, efficacy, and importance of therapy for a large number of conditions and concerns. Therapy can be helpful for a wide range of needs, ranging from personality disorders to mood disorders, and smaller needs in between, including relationship counseling. Although therapy may not seem to be effective, even talk therapy has a significant history of efficacy, in addition to more intensive and involved forms of therapy, such as trauma therapy.

Who is called Counselor?

A counselor is someone who counsels people. Professionals who counsel people can come in many different forms, and can include therapists and specific counselor types, including career counselors, camp counselors and even counselors of the law. A law counselor is an attorney who gives advice about problems regarding law or criminal activity. In all of these cases, however, is a professional who counsels people dealing with personal problems, or individuals confronted with the need for guidance with their careers, education, or health. The term “counselor” is used in a variety of settings, including law practice, religious institutions, children’s camps, schools, and even corporations, and typically provide basic services regarding personal problems, referring people to more extensive help as necessary.

What does the counselor do?

A professionally-trained counselor can operate in a wide variety of settings. In college counseling, for instance, a counselor would meet with current and prospective students, and could set up class schedules, degree plans, or could even offer guidance on choosing a career and consequent educational path. In community counseling, a professionally trained counselor is likely to come into contact with a wider array of people, from diverse backgrounds and with diverse needs, and could counsel people regarding their careers, personal development, substance abuse support, and even marriage and family counseling. Community counselors are often called upon when a community has experienced a significant loss or sustained significant damage, as people within these communities often require a great deal of extra support and help with the trauma of loss.

How do I become a counselor without a degree?

Although there are some designations called “counselor” that do not necessarily require a degree—a camp “counselor” being the most common, when the term camp “volunteer” is often more appropriate—a counselor who delivers mental health advice is typically a counselor who requires a degree of some kind. In some states, addiction counseling does not require an advanced degree, but this depends on the state in question, and may not be true everywhere. If working in health and wellness are your goal, without having the time, money, or desire to get a degree, there are other ways to step into the field, a common way being through coaching certifications. Health coaches are often turned to as a form of lifestyle and health guidance, and do not require advanced decrees in order to command the designation.

What does a counselor do on a daily basis?

Although a Councilor is a high ranking diplomat or a member of a council, such as a city government, a counselor is someone who spends their days counseling individuals. As the ability to counsel has widened, and the availability of these services has continued to grow, the day-to-day operations of a counselor will vary widely, depending on the type of counselor in question, and the population they serve. A career counselor, for instance, might work in a college setting, advising incoming students and seasoned students on their careers, goals, and pursuits. A career counselor could just as easily work in a corporate setting, offering services to large-scale companies as needed. A guidance counselor will typically work in a school setting, though they may also be found in rehabilitation centers and community clinics, and often work with quite diverse populations, ranging from very young students in elementary school, to elderly members of a community. Although the term “counselor” might seem rather homogenous, it actually covers a great deal of operations, and the daily doings of a counselor will vary dramatically and widely, based on the setting in which they work—school, corporations, community centers, and more—and the populations they serve.

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