Commonalities And Differences Between A Therapist And Counselor

By: Nicole Beasley

Updated May 13, 2021

If you are going through a difficult time, either because of a situation or mental illness, you may be considering some therapy or counseling to help you. While many people use the terms counseling and therapy interchangeably, there is a very big difference. Likewise, there are differences between a therapist and a counselor.

To better understand the similarities and differences between the two and decide which is best for you, you first have to understand what a therapist and counselor are. Once you have that understanding, as well as what the goals and purpose of therapy and counseling are, you will be able to make a decision about which practitioner to contact for help.

What Is A Therapist?


A therapist is a professional that uses psychotherapy to treat mental illness and situational depression. Psychotherapy is a long-term treatment that is for chronic problems and focuses on gaining insight into those problems. Psychotherapy also uses techniques to overcome these chronic issues and provide coping skills for the future. The most common type of psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy, although there are many other types.

A therapist has a higher degree, usually at least a master's, if not a doctorate. Therapists may be psychologists, psychiatrists, or neither. They are trained in various forms of psychotherapy. They also have the knowledge and ability to diagnose mental health issues and refer you to a psychiatrist if medications become necessary. Some therapists are also psychiatrists, but not all. Some therapists may also offer to counsel in addition to psychotherapy.

What Is A Counselor?

A counselor is a trained individual that can initiate what is often referred to as psychotherapy. This is a short-term treatment designed for specific problems that have arisen, such as situational depression, grief, trauma, or other life events that cause you mental anguish. Counseling is not designed to treat mental illness, but it is a way for the mentally healthy to remain that way by getting help coping or talking through events or problems in their life.

Counselors may only have a bachelor's degree, although sometimes they have a higher degree. Counselors are rarely doctors, and they cannot prescribe medications. They may be able to refer you to a doctor who can prescribe medications, but this is not always the case. Counselors are really, for the short term, a benign solution to life's many stressors.

Similarities Between Therapist And Counselor


Although they are very different, there are some similarities between a therapist and a counselor. The similarities mostly lie in the treatment's general-purpose, the goals of treatment, and treatment effectiveness. These three points are very similar to both therapists and counselors.

Goals Of Therapy And Counseling

The primary goal of both therapy and counseling is to develop a safe, healing, and therapeutic bond between the therapist or counselor and the patient. This bond or understanding is important for making progress in whatever problems you may be facing. Other therapy goals or counseling may vary depending on the situation, the patient, and any mental health issues that may be exacerbating the problems.

Effectiveness Of Therapy And Counseling

Both counseling and therapy are highly effective when used appropriately. Psychotherapy has been proven to effectively treat many disorders, including bipolar disorder, multiple personality disorder, depression, anxiety, and others. Counseling, too, effectively helps people maintain their excellent mental health when problems arise that they cannot cope with alone.

Purpose Of Therapy And Counseling

The primary purpose of therapy and counseling are the same. The purpose is to understand one's feelings and behaviors and address issues affecting your life. The purpose of both types of treatment is to better your life and yourself. This is a worthy purpose, regardless of whether you go with therapy or counseling.

Differences Between Therapist And Counselor

Although there are a few similarities between a therapist and counselor, there are many more differences. The two are extremely different, especially when you look at how they work. Counseling and therapy, although the words are used interchangeably, are appropriate for different situations and patients.

Type Of Degree Or Practitioner

One of the biggest differences between a therapist and counselor is the degree that the practitioner holds. A counselor may only have a bachelor's degree. In fact, some counselors that also do substance abuse counseling may only have an associate's degree. Therapists have a higher degree, usually at least a master's, if not a doctorate. Some therapists are psychologists or psychiatrists, although not all.



Licensure is another big difference between counselors and therapists. There is no licensure required for counselors. Almost anyone with the appropriate education and training can be a counselor and use different therapy modes to benefit their patients. However, therapists have to be licensed in the state in which they practice. The type of licensure required depends on the practitioner, such as whether they are a psychologist or psychiatrist.

According to the Human Services Edu organization, one of the biggest differences between therapist and counselor is protecting the titles. Anyone can call themselves a counselor. However, in most states, the term therapist is protected. Only someone with the right licensure and degree will be able to call themselves a therapist legally.

Duration Of Treatment

The duration of treatment when it comes to therapy and counseling is also very different. Counseling is meant to be a short-term solution to life's many problems that can arise. It is not meant to be a long-term solution or a way to treat serious mental health issues. Therapy, on the other hand, is a long-term treatment. Many people undergo therapy for one year or more several times throughout their lifetime, depending on the problems they are facing. Therapy is meant to treat mental illness, while counseling is meant to treat the stress and anxiety that come with life's bumps in the road.

Difference Between Talk Therapy And Psychotherapy

The difference between talk therapy and psychotherapy is a big one. While the former is proven to be beneficial, it is just a way for people to cope with life's problems. While the ultimate goal is to help you better your life, the way that is done is primarily by learning how to cope and process what is happening to you.

Psychotherapy is an entirely different animal. Psychotherapy can treat specific mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, clinical depression, anxiety, and others. Psychotherapy is based on years of research and clinical trials. The different psychotherapy types have been researched, refined, and proven to help decrease mental illness symptoms.

Those who see a therapist for psychotherapy are more likely to see a psychiatrist for medication management of their mental illness. Because there is no cure for mental illness, psychotherapy may be necessary more than once and for a longer duration than counseling, which is a one-time situational treatment.

Type Of Problems Addressed

The types of problems that counselors and therapists address are also different. Counseling addresses normal life situations and problems such as losing a loved one, end of a relationship or marriage, end of a career, a traumatic event that happened to you or someone close to you, and other situational problems.

Therapists address different issues. Most people who get psychotherapy suffer from either situational depression, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, or another mental illness. These problems require longer treatment and more intense treatment.

Choosing Between A Therapist And Counselor


Choosing between a therapist and a counselor is fairly easy once you understand the differences. If you do not have a mental illness or are not suffering from depression, anxiety, or another such problem, you are probably better off talking to a counselor to help you cope with your life problems. However, if you are battling mental illness or more serious issues, a therapist will be what you need.

Finding A Therapist Or Counselor

Finding a therapist or counselor is very easy to do. You can talk to your primary care doctor for a referral, or you can talk to your health insurance provider to discover what your plan covers counselors and therapists. If you don't have health insurance or cannot get a referral for another reason, you still have options.

One of the best options for counseling and therapy is ReGain. ReGain is an online counseling service that specializes in growing healthy relationships. They offer both therapists and counselors, so you can find the provider that is right for you. It is fast and convenient to get started. All you need is a quiet, private place to talk, a smartphone, laptop, or tablet, and the time to dedicate to your treatment. ReGain is also available 24/7/365 to help you whenever it is convenient for you. With this option, there is no reason to put off getting the treatment you need.

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