Counselor Vs Psychologist: Which Do You Need?

By Marie Miguel

Updated December 07, 2018

Reviewer Tiffany Howard, LPC, LCADC

Struggling with mental or emotional health issues and wondering who to go to for help? In this article we'll explain the differences between a counselor versus a psychologist and for which situations you may seek treatment from one over the other.


Unless you're in a mental health profession, you may find yourself using words like counselor and psychologist interchangeably. After all, on the surface they appear to do the same thing: help people who suffer from mental or emotional issues work through personal problems and live a healthier life. However, these two professions do actually have some differences that are worth noting for those considering using either of their services.

When it comes to understanding the differences between a counselor versus a psychologist there are differences in three main areas: level of education, level of specialization and what they are able to legally offer for treatment.



Both counselors and psychologists are licensed to practice within a given state. However, counselors typically have less formal education than their psychologist counterparts. At the highest level they may have a Master's level education and meet other specific requirements, such as a requisite number of supervised training hours and passing certain examinations.

Overall, though, their education is much more general purpose to prepare them to handle a wide range of patients. Psychologists, on the other hand, will have at least a Master's degree and often have Doctoral degrees as well and will have done an extensive amount of in-depth research into human psychology and thousands of hours of supervised training sessions to better help them understand the complexities of mental illnesses and how to treat them.


Counselors are trained to provide counseling to almost anyone who seeks their services and are typically not focused in one particular area of treatment. Whether that means they work as a social worker handling familiar disputes or as an online counselor coaching people through chronic anxiety, a counselor's main job is to talk with patients to help them work through their issues on a fairly general level. If someone needs treatment for a specific mental illness, a psychologist may be a better source of help. Because of their advanced education and research they possess more in-depth knowledge on certain mental health issues and can provide more tailored resources to a given situation.



When it comes to treatment counselors are able to do exactly what you'd expect-counsel. That means that are able to meet with patients and provide talk therapy to help return to a healthier mental or emotional state but dependent on the scope of their practice within their specific organization/agency, they may not be able to specifically diagnose a certain disorder. They can be considered as a kind of confidant who is able to give trusted advice. A psychologist is always able to diagnose mental disorders and provide extensive treatment for the specific condition, including prescribing medications in some states. And because psychologists offer much more in-depth treatment for specific mental illnesses they are held to rigorous confidentiality laws to protect the patient as they divulge personal details about their struggles.

What Does This Mean For You?

When it comes to your own mental or emotional issues only you can decide what type of treatment you need to recover. However, if you don't know where to start, connecting with an online counselor at a website like can be a great resource that allows you to begin your treatment journey in a convenient, private and more affordable way. While there is no guarantee that a counselor will be able to help you overcome your current struggles, sometimes simply opening up to someone can be what it takes to get you on the road to recovery.

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