Difference Between Psychologist and Counselor

Psychologist vs Counselor

Psychologist and Counselor are specialists who help people to get relieved from or reduce their mental problems. If you have a broken arm or a running nose, you go to a doctor to get treatment. But there are problems that are not visible yet require treatment. These are problems related with emotions, stress, or feelings that interfere with daily live of the person and cause trouble in his adjustment with others. The specialists who treat these problems are also doctors though they are called differently depending upon their qualification. Some of these specialists who have attended a school dedicated to provide training in ways people think and react and also how to help them cope better in life are called psychologists and counselors. There can be many reasons as to why a person seeks help of a psychologist or a counselor but the core desire is to feel better. If you are a person suffering from some emotional or mental problem, you may be confused with the difference between a psychologist and a counselor. This article intends to help you understand their specialties so that you can decide in a better way whose help and assistance you require in case you are suffering from any emotional problem.


Psychologist is a person who has completed 4 year degree course in psychology and then specialized in clinical psychology for a period of another three years to complete his master’s degree. In addition he has to undergo supervised training for another two years. After completing all these courses, the person becomes eligible to register as a clinical psychologist. A psychologist has been trained to look at behavioral aspects of mental problems rather than looking at biomechanical perspective. He is more likely to ask the patient about his past and present behavior, his feelings and his problems to arrive at the root cause. Psychologists have a better understanding and awareness of behavioral reasons of mental problems than others and they make treatment sessions according to the problem. Thus they adopt a personalized approach suiting the patient. A psychologist is not authorized to prescribe any medication to his patients.


One does not need any degree or specialization to start practicing as a counselor. However, to command respect from patients and also for better experience, any person who wishes to make it a profession needs to undergo 2-3 years of study in this field and then undergo supervised training to become a counselor.

Instead of the behavioral approach adopted by psychologists, a counselor tries to encourage the patient to direct the treatment session. He tries to make the patient come out as much as possible and listens and reflects, while challenging some of the statements made by the patient. He creates an environment where the patient is able to clearly see through his own problems and the reasons underlying these problems. Thus, without relying upon anybody else, the patient is able to overcome his problems.

In a broader sense, both psychologists and counselors are specialists who try to solve mental problems of people though adopting different approaches.

  • LPC-I

    With all respect, your information is somewhat helpful but not accurate at all when speaking of a counselor. To be a counselor, you have to have a Master’s degree in Counseling, and take an exam to become a Licensed Professional Counselor-Intern. Afterward, an LPC-I must complete a 3000 (yes, three thousand) hour internship, pass another exam, and then they become a Licensed Professional Counselor. The only term one can label themselves with without any degrees or licensing is “Psychotherapist”. In fact, to prove how easy it is to become a psychotherapist, one of my undergraduate professors had his pet cat certified!

    In regards to your description of what a counselor does, it only describes how a Person-Centered Licensed Professional Counselor would conduct their sessions. You didn’t discuss anything in regards to Behavioral Counselors (and there are many counselors as well as psychologist who use behavioral approaches), Gestalt Counselors, Cognitive Counselors, SFBT or even REBT Counselors, to name a few. Most current LPC’s use an eclectic approach drawing from all approaches, and this doesn’t necessarily imply that clients are encouraged to work things out on their own without relying on anyone else. In fact, SFBT Counselors are seen as the expert and help facilitate a solution for their clients.

    College studies differ between counseling and psychology, yet if you were to attend a therapy session with a therapist, and you were not told if they were a Counselor or Psychologist, you would have difficulty distinguishing which type of professional it was. Another difference, of course, is Pscyhologist have a doctorate degree, which trust me, doesn’t always make them a better therapist than a Counselor. The only other fairly large fact distinguishing a Counselor and a Psychologist is that Psychologist are able to administer projective tests such as the Rorschach (you show a client an ink-blot and ask them to tell you what they see). Otherwise, in a therapy session with either, there are numerous similarities.

    This is not meant to be a rude or angry reply. As a current LPC-I, your information is very misleading for someone who might be considering a field in counseling. I just wanted to make some clarifications.

  • Kristen from KristensGuide.com

    The information about how a psychologist is trained is incorrect. A 4 year undergraduate degree in psychology is not required. The master’s degree in psychology is often a 2 year program (not 3) and is often optional while working on a doctorate (5-7 years of study), which is followed by the state required amount of supervision, often 3000 hours (or 2 years depending on the state). The foundation of psychology programs are often focused on what’s “normal,” what’s abnormal, and how does the mind work. Specializations are added on.

    The information about counselors is incorrect. In most (if not all) states, a mental health counselor or marriage and family therapist must have a minimum of a master’s degree (often a 3 year program) and 3000 hours (or 2 years depending on the state) of supervision. Counselors may also go on to get a doctorate degree (3-5 years of study). The foundation of counseling programs are often focused on how life events and circumstances affect different people (not necessarily normal vs. abnormal but an understanding of differences), what’s “working” for the individual/family/etc., and what isn’t working. Specializations are added on.

    There are many types of therapists in addition to psychologists and counselors, such as associate psychologist (have a master’s degree and work with licensed psychologists), marriage and family therapists, clinical social workers, and psychiatric nurse practitioners. Most therapist positions require a master’s degree.

    Both psychologists and mental health counselors are trained in human behavior and mental processes and provide treatment for mental disorders as well as help mentally healthy clients adjust to changes in their lives. Both go through extensive education and supervision. Both must pass an exam and be licensed by the state. Both use a variety of therapeutic approaches, from listening reflectively to mental training to physiological interventions. Both often earn additional certifications or train in additional specialties.

    The differences include the following. 1) Master’s degree level practitioners (both in psychology and counseling) are primarily trained in the practice of therapy. 2) Doctorate level practitioners (both in psychology and counseling) are trained in the practice of therapy and in mental health research. 3) Clinical psychology tends to focus on treating diagnosed disorders (but not all psychologists focus on disorders). 4) Counseling tends to focus on helping people through difficult times in their lives without diagnosis (but not all counselors focus on non-diagnosed problems). 5) Insurance companies often pay for the treatment of diagnosed mental disorders but not for improving relationships or personal growth, and because psychologists are initially trained in the treatment of disorders, their services are often covered by insurance companies while counselors, who are primarily trained in personal growth, are still trying to gain acceptance on insurance panels. Since there is the growing realization that personal stress (e.g. from jobs, relationships, parenting, etc.) contribute to diagnosed mental disorders (e.g. anxiety, depression, etc.) as well as physical health problems (e.g. cardiovascular disease, headaches, etc.), counselors and other therapists are becoming recognized as an integral part of the healthcare system. 6) A therapist who has a master’s degree, rather than a doctorate degree, often has lower fees (because they don’t have as many student loans to repay and didn’t have to spend several additional years doing research for their dissertation).

    The important thing is to think about what the approach is of the individual professional you are hiring to help you. Even if a group of professionals all went to the same school in the same program and were supervised in the same agency, you would end up with a group of practitioners who each have their own focus, specialty, and approach based on their own experiences with clients, other professionals, other education programs, and life events. There are many clinical psychologists who practice using counseling styles and many counselors who practice using clinical styles, but both are capable of helping the client/patient with their mental health and life event issues.