Counselor Vs Psychologist | Is a Counselor or A Psychologist Right For You? The Answers to "Counselor vs Psychologist"

By: Dylan Buckley

Updated March 24, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Carnell Colebrook-Claude , MA, NCC, BC-TMH, LPC (Clinical Track), LPCC, LCPC, LIMHP, LSOTP

counselor vs psychologist

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Before you search for a mental health professional, we should also debunk a repeated myth. Some people may perceive psychologists as being "better" or "more qualified" when compared to counselors because of their education. However, this just is not true. No matter the degree level or the amount of clinical experience one has received, counselors and psychologists alike are expected to follow all ethical guidelines and provide the best level of care to their clients. Overall, the most important things to consider are,

  1. What issues you would like to address in therapy?
  2. What type of therapeutic relationship interests you?
  3. Which therapist best meets your needs?

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When it comes to your mental or emotional issues, only you can decide what type of treatment suits you best. If you don't know where to start, connecting with an online counselor at a website like BetterHelp is a great way to begin. You don't need to worry about sitting in traffic or taking time out of your day to drive to an appointment. You may access BetterHelp from the comfort and privacy of your own home. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing different issues.

Counselor Reviews

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It can be easy to mix up terms like "counselor" and "psychologist," but it's important to be well-informed on these matters, so you can find the professional who is right for you. If you have been experiencing problems with your mental health, help is available to you. Take the first step on your healing journey today.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is a psychologist and a counselor the same thing?

While a psychologist and a counselor are both mental health practitioners, there are a few differences between the two. Both professional counselors and psychologists hold a master's degree in psychology (or a related field).

Counselors often have a master's in counseling or a degree in psychology. This qualifies them to provide necessary counseling and addiction based services for mental health. However, counselors deal with plain therapy roles. That means that counseling usually has a shorter duration, lasting anywhere from just six sessions, and rarely more than six months of treatment.

What distinguishes a psychologist from a counselor is that psychologists must complete additional state-mandated clinical training before becoming licensed as a licensed professional counselor or licensed psychologist. Psychologists provide clinical mental health counseling based on research studies.

Furthermore, psychologists are more likely to work with individuals with serious mental illness. They train to perform psychotherapy with clients. They often focus on research and finding new methods to solve psychological issues. They also administer neurological and IQ tests. 
Nevertheless, many psychologists who work privately focus on counseling individuals. Many psychologists pursue careers as counselors.

Which is better counselor or psychologist?

No one is better than the other. That's because they have different procedures and scope of practice. Counselors and psychologists deal with different issues. Counseling's scope of practice follows almost the same set of protocols as those of licensed psychologists. A counselor will focus on specific problems and help a person address a particular problem, such as addiction or stress management. 

When counselors start, they get trained to provide necessary counseling services such as substance abuse counseling and family counseling. Psychologists supervise many counselors used in school settings, relationship issues, and career problems. 

Licensed psychologists like clinical psychologists take a clinical approach to therapy honed during their hundreds (or thousands) of clinical training hours. Engaging a psychologist is more long-term than counseling, which focuses on a broader range of issues.

The underlying principle is that a person's pattern of thinking and behavior affects how that person interacts with the world. Psychologists understand patterns in people's behavior that may interfere with reaching personal goals and have more satisfying relationships. 

Their scope of practice suits a job as a life coach who teaches how individuals can regulate their thinking and control emotional responses to stressful situations. They also deal with mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or anxiety disorder.

While a counselor might be more focused on helping you with symptoms (anxiety, stress, difficulties sleeping, etc.), a psychologist tends to work with less severe clients. A clinical psychologist will generally work with individuals distressed with more complicated mental health conditions, such as personality disorders and primary depressive conditions.

Can a counselor become a psychologist?

Yes. After a counselor reaches the master's level in counseling, they can become a licensed psychologist. This happens upon completion of the state-mandated clinical training programs. Hands-on clinical training programs give counselors clinical training in behavioral psychology, advice, and family therapy as a practicing mental health counselor.

First, they learn about the various fields in psychology, pick a specialty and degree. They choose their preferred area out of, e.g., research psychology, clinical psychology, industrial-organizational psychology counseling psychology? 

As a counselor, you intend to become a psychologist, you should do a psychology internship. Many states typically require a two-year observed internship. You will learn practical methods, and know if a specialty is right for you. Internships in clinical and counseling psychology need to be sanctioned by the American Psychological Association (APA) because jobs in mental health services sometimes require an APA-approved course.

Then you'd have to get your license to practice psychology. Every state requires that certain prerequisites are met before they can give you a permit. Meanwhile, you have to pass an exam and present a case study to a panel of psychologists in some instances.

What is the difference between counseling and counseling psychology?

While counselors and counseling psychologists execute several similar duties, there are some relevant distinctions between the two. Although they focus on helping people live better lives, they differ in their educational experience, range of practice, and work environment.

Counselors generally have at least a master's degree in either Psychology or counseling. They often treat emotive and relational problems and often work in a career or school setting. However, they don't offer psychological testing and talk therapy.

Counseling psychologists, in contrast, hold a Ph.D., Ed.D, Psy.D., or an advanced degree in counseling psychology. They tend to treat severe varieties of mental illness and found in medical and health hospitals. Counseling psychologists, however, can provide diagnosis and psychological testing.

So while counseling psychologists often handle psychological reviews and oversee diagnostic tests, counselors are sometimes restricted in terms of the tests they can administer. Still, state laws may determine the type of assessments a counselor can deal with and may need to be overseen by a psychologist. 

In conclusion, a significant difference between counseling and counseling psychology is the application of psychometric assessments in treatment. General counselors can provide the necessary mental health counseling and understand the results of psychometric assessments. 

When should I see a psychologist?

People who have chronic or acute mental health issues should see a psychologist for mental health counseling. Chronic mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder require psychotherapy as a method of treatment. If you suffer from chronic or acute mental diseases, a medical doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist for mental health counseling. 

However, if you notice any of the following issues, see your doctor who would refer you to a psychologist.

Supposing an issue produces substantial misery in your life, for instance, if your attention, zeal, and drive have reduced, or you lose passion for socializing, or you're just overwhelmed; if you experience anxiety, depression, or mania, you need to see someone. Where nothing you've done seems to help, or you've tried to talk to a friend, work out more, seek assistance online, or study various, yet you still feel the same way, visit a psychologist.

If you notice that your family and friends are tired of listening and don't answer your texts or don't take your call with no explanation), or you begin to overuse or abuse, e.g., alcohol, drugs or cigarettes, you would need the services of a professional. Whether it's gambling or watching pornography nonstop, it's time to reach out and talk to any of the life coaches at BetterHelp. These professionals are there to listen, and offer tools and techniques to improve your life.

Should I see a psychologist or psychiatrist?

When it comes to behavioral psychology, people often wonder if they should see a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Psychologists provide mental health counseling programs and psychotherapy treatment for people suffering from mild-to-moderate mental health disorders. Psychiatrists provide therapy and psychology-based medication management services for people with more severe mental health disorders like clinical depression and schizophrenia.

If you're looking for talk therapy and counseling programs like marriage and family therapy, substance abuse counseling, and psychological counseling services -- choose a psychologist. If you're suffering from moderate to severe mental disorders, require intensive monitoring and treatment -- a psychiatrist is your best option.

A psychotherapist will offer a safe atmosphere for you to open up and share your thoughts. They will work towards helping you cope with severe emotional behaviors. However, the scope of practice is a lot different from a psychologist.

For instance, a psychotherapist focuses on emotions and experiences you had growing up, and your present symptoms and issues, shedding light on how these experiences have shaped who you are today. A psychotherapist also deals with mental health conditions that have developed over a more extended period. This means that a psychotherapist will work with more complex mental health conditions, such as PTSD, OCD, and long-term anxiety disorders.

The main differences that exist between them are the types of issues they examine. A psychologist usually works with healthier patrons (those experiencing more surface-level emotional and social problems). In contrast, a clinical psychologist typically works with people suffering from more complex mental health conditions, such as personality disorders and major depressive disorders.


What are the types of counseling?

There are a wide variety of counseling specialties practiced in the US today. Many social work and counseling programs follow a curriculum designed to place candidates on the path to teacher licensure in their state of residence. Upon completing counseling clinical-based programs, counselors are eligible to complete advanced counseling programs that provide hands-on clinical training. 

Counselors must reach a master's level in their relevant field of counseling (in addition to completing the state-required hands-on clinical practice hours.) 

Counselors who haven't completed their clinical training aren't able to become a licensed clinical social worker until they've completed the hands-on portion of their training. A licensed professional counselor must hold a minimum of a master's degree in counseling, social science, or other psychology degrees and up to two-thousand hands-on clinical practice hours.

The following is a list of types of counseling services and kinds of psychologists available to provide social work, professional services, and support (in-person and online).

Health counseling

Health counselors provide health counseling related to mental and physical health services. A health counseling psychologist provides support, material therapy options, and counseling programs for people who need to take better care of their health by recommending treatments that include a healthier diet, physical therapy, and participating in a mental health counseling program.

School counseling

School or career counseling psychologists provide counseling services for students, faculty, and parents in public and private schools. School psychologists may provide career advice, mental health support, and referrals for clients under their care. School counselors usually hold psychology degrees or a degree in a similar field.

Family Counseling

There are family-based counseling programs designed to provide marriage and family therapy and family counseling support for families in crisis. Marriage and family therapists offer unbiased help and psychotherapy services in hospitals, clinics, schools, and online. You and your family may receive a referral to a marriage and family therapist from a medical provider, employee assistance program, or another counseling referral service.

Career Counselors

These professional counselors often focus on the practice of career-building, organizational psychology, and leadership development. The function of organizational psychology is to study human behavior in organizations and make assessments based on research findings.

Mental Health Counselors

Mental health counselors, offer a variety of mental counseling programs and services and act as a counseling psychologist. Licensed mental health practitioners (like the professionals at BetterHelp) can provide individual therapy, couples, therapy, marriage and family therapy, and other group therapy for people with chronic and acute mental health concerns.

Rehabilitation Counselors

These community-service based counselors offer counseling programs geared toward people with disabilities and other functional social work. A rehabilitation counselor can provide individual or family therapy to help people living with disabilities to cope and become more independent.

Grief Counselors - Also known as "bereavement counselors," grief counselors provide a counseling program and therapy that helps people cope with the death (or impending death) of a loved one, close relations, and others. These specialized counselors can be found in funeral homes, hospitals, and hospice facilities as they provide individual counseling and family therapy to bereaved persons.

Abuse Counselor - Abuse counseling professionals provide psychotherapy and related services for victims and survivors of abuse. Victims of childhood abuse, sexual abuse, or domestic violence go through abuse counseling. 

Substance Abuse Counselors - Counseling programs use a healing process to cure addiction and to remain in recovery. Substance abuse counseling programs provide community service, support, and psychotherapy services for people struggling with substance abuse addiction and those in recovery.

Educational Psychology - Professionals who practice educational psychology provide educational counseling and advice related to education. You may find educational psychologists who provide child development/educational counseling services in elementary, post-secondary, and graduate schools.

Child and Adolescent Psychology - Licensed professionals who provide child development and adolescent psychology specialize in early-childhood and adolescent development. These youths based therapists help children cope with childhood trauma and deal with the challenges of youth and adolescence. 

Can counselors diagnose mental illness?

Licensed counselors can provide general psychology diagnosis and treatment in their related fields of expertise. Diagnosis and procedures use clinical or counseling psychology methodologies and testing. However, it is subject to the education and training they hold. The word, counselor refers to a range of careers. However, psychiatrists, plus psychologists, give diagnoses.

Clinical Psychologists and school psychologists have advanced degrees and are trained to make diagnoses and offer personal and group therapy. They work with the school staff to maximize efficiency in school settings.   

Subsequently, the following mental health professionals can offer to counsel and with proper training, assessment; however, they cannot prescribe medication:
The Clinical Social Worker and licensed clinical social workers are counselors with a master's degree in Psychology, counseling, and other related fields. They train to make diagnoses and offer group personal counseling.

A mental health counselor also has a master's degree and experience with clinical work and can also diagnose. Besides a certified alcohol and drug abuse counselor, nurse psychotherapist, peer specialist, pastoral counselor, marriage and family therapists also train to offer a diagnosis.

How can you be a psychologist without a degree?

You cannot. In the United States, licensed psychologists are required to hold a minimum of a master's degree in psychology or related disciplines. They are also required to complete up to two-thousand hours of hands-on clinical training in the field of clinical counseling psychology to satisfy state licensing requirements.

States decide issues concerning health care governance. Each state determines job titles and descriptions for state mental health employees. Though requirements differ subject to where you reside, in general, psychologists throughout the country have to attain parallel stages of education and experience.

Every state requires professionals to satisfy specific requirements before they can obtain a license. Also, they must pass a national examination and, in certain circumstances, present a case study thesis to a board of psychologists. After they've met the prerequisites for their state, they become entitled to sit for the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), which is offered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. 

This examination is compulsory for all psychologists across the country. They have to pass with a score of at least 500 out of 800, from 225 multiple-choice questions. However, state conditions vary. 

Do you need a Ph.D. for counseling psychology? 

No. A minimum of a master's degree and up to two-thousand hours of hands-on clinical training are required to become a licensed psychologist. People who have completed the requirements are eligible for a license to practice general psychology.

Requisites for a license may differ by state. Still, they generally include holding a graduate degree, continued education, and in most states, proof of several thousand hours of tutoring under a licensed counselor.

Although there are several paths to a career as a counselor, Ph.D. programs in counseling psychology allows a broader scale of practice and provide patients with more therapy and treatment options.

Besides, it allows you to research new methodologies for providing treatment and teach aspiring psychologists and counselors, enabling you to impact the overall field significantly. Most counseling psychologists practice in schools, rehab units, hospitals, nursing homes, and private consultations with clients. So only careers in scholarly or research environments in higher education or specialized private practices majorly need counseling psychologists to have a Ph.D.

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