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What Is the Difference Between a Counselor and a Therapist?

Aug
Mental Health August 11, 2021

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Choosing the right mental health professional can seem like a monumental task, especially when there are so many different terms that may leave you confused. Determining whether you’d like to see a counselor or a therapist requires that you understand what each type of provider does, who they typically see and the type of treatment they usually offer. In addition, the therapy that you are seeking may play a role in whether you see a counselor or a therapist, as well as whether you’ll need a prescription for medication. Read on to find out the main differences between these two practitioner types so you can decide which is the right fit for your specific mental health needs.

Similarities Between Counselors and Therapists

The terms “counselor” and “therapist” are frequently used interchangeably and usually because they do perform similar services. Both counselors and therapists are professionals who offer support, guidance and treatment for those with emotional, mental or behavioral concerns, as well as others who may simply need to talk with someone. Both professions often require education, training and licensing to provide care for patients.

Who Do Counselors Treat?

The types of therapy provided by counselors and therapists can differ and those they treat may differ as well. A licensed, professional counselor may work with individuals, families or groups. Counselors typically have less education than therapists, but to be licensed, they must have at least a master’s degree. They often specialize in one type of counseling, such as addiction or marriage counseling.

Keep in mind that some counselors who are not licensed with the state do see patients, so it is important to make sure the counselor you are seeing has the proper licensing if that is important to you. Choosing a licensed professional ensures they are regulated by the state and are using only approved therapy techniques.

Counselors may treat some of the following issues:

  • Substance abuse
  • Anger
  • Depression/anxiety
  • Marital discord
  • Loss/grief
  • Behavioral concerns in teens and children

Counselors work with clients of all ages and backgrounds, but they typically offer short-term counseling versus the long-term therapy that a therapist may provide.

Who Do Therapists Treat?

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In most cases, therapists have a higher level of education than counselors; sometimes up to a doctorate degree in psychology. Like counselors, they must be licensed by the state in which they practice, which requires adequate education, continuing education and testing. Therapists may also choose to specialize in a specific area, such as marriage and family therapy, couples therapy, group therapy and more.

Some therapists work in their own private practices, while others may be employed by local agencies, schools, social services, group practices or assisted living facilities. This means that they may treat a wide range of patients depending on a given type of therapy.

What Types of Treatment Do Counselors Use?

While all counselors do not use the exact same types of treatment, they usually follow a similar style. They often focus on helping their clients deal with negative behaviors and they help clients develop coping strategies to change or live with those behaviors. Counselors usually do not ask clients to rehash childhood issues or past concerns, but they instead work on current issues that can be changed. For example, a marriage counselor works with couples to solve short-term problems to improve their relationships.

A common treatment used by counselors is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of treatment focuses on identifying patterns and changing your reactions to your thoughts, actions or behaviors. CBT does not typically delve into past events but instead makes changes to present symptoms as treatment.

What Types of Treatment Do Therapists Use?

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Unlike counselors, therapists, and especially psychotherapists, may focus on past experiences or long-term mental health issues to help clients determine the root causes of negative behaviors. Some therapists work with groups, including couples and families, to focus on interpersonal relationships and group dynamics. They may look deeply into each person’s individual background to determine if something in his or her past is what is creating issues for the present relationship.

A therapist may use psychodynamic therapy, which is a type of psychoanalysis, as a treatment for long-term mental health disorders. This usually involves talking with a therapist about unconscious issues that stem from childhood or a troubled past.

Which Is Right for You?

With the above information in mind, it is important to remember that while counselors and therapists may use different therapy types, your relationship with the individual provider is perhaps the most essential part of your success. Consider your end goals and choose a practitioner who will help you reach those goals. Remember, if the relationship is not working for you, it is OK to find a different counselor or therapist. It is important that you feel comfortable with your treatment.

Bear River Mental Health has a staff of over 100 professionals trained in a range of disciplines, including counselors and therapists. We offer group and individual therapy for anyone in need of treatment. Contact us today to find a practitioner who can help you on your path toward healing.

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