What Is The Difference Between A Counselor And A Psychologist?

"It seems like counselors and psychologists do the same job. How do I decide which career is better for me? What’s the difference between the two occupations?"

asked by Shannon from Denver, CO

It can be confusing. There are so many different job titles in this field including counselor, psychologist, and psychotherapist. How does one differentiate? Counselors and psychologists do have a very similar job description. Both counselors and psychologists commonly meet with clients/patients to resolve their problems, they are both interested in human behavior, and they are both considered mental health professionals. However, there are a few key differences between the two.

First, counseling uses a wellness model while psychology using an illness model similar to the traditional medical model. The wellness model approaches clients in a holistic manner realizing that diagnosis of mental disorders is only one factor of a counselor’s job. Humans have strengths and challenges in life in many areas including emotional, mental, physical, relational, social, occupational, and spiritual.

A counselor encourages clients to use their strengths to maximize their potential in these areas and achieve the highest possible level of wellness.

On the other hand, psychology uses the traditional medical model, which looks for a diagnosis and aims to treat the symptoms. Psychologists rely more heavily on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) and proven research methods of treating mental health disorders. They tend to view the client as having a mental illness.

Second, counselors and psychologists may have different types of clients/patients. Counselors often treat marital, familial, and occupational issues while psychologists may deal more often with severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder.

In addition, the setting in which you work may be different depending on which career you choose. Do you prefer private practice or a hospital setting? Would you like to be more research-focused or more client-focused?

Finally, educational requirements are quite different for counselors and psychologists. A Master’s degree is required for counselors, and a Doctorate degree is required for psychologists. Licensing requirements vary as well and you will need to check with your state to verify these requirements.

So, when deciding on which career path to choose you need to consider your view on human behavior, your desired clientele, your preferred work setting, your interests, and your time commitment to college.

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