Therapist vs. Psychologist vs. Counselor

by drlazarus on November 14, 2011

Do you know the difference between a therapist, a counselor, and a psychologist?


  • Have an advanced degree in psychology
  • May do therapy, research, or be a professor at a university
  • Are licensed by a state board at the doctorate level
  • Obtain the highest level of education and training
  • Assess and diagnose disorders and mental health conditions
  • Determine treatments based on effective research based evidence
  • Adhere to the highest standards of practice


  • Can include psychologists, professional counselors (LPC), marriage counselors (LMFT), life coaches and social workers
  • Can have any number of degrees


  • One does not need a specialization to start practicing as a counselor
  • Instead of the behavioral approach adopted by psychologists, a counselor tries to encourage the patient to direct the treatment session.
  • In a broader sense, both psychologists and counselors are specialists who try to solve personal problems of people though adopting different approaches.

In-Depth Differences

A psychologist is trained to study human behavior and mental processes. Psychology degrees are available at all levels: bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate (PhD or PsyD – Dr. Steven Lazarus completed the PsyD certification). Advanced degrees and licensing are required for those in independent practice or who offer patient care, including clinical, child, counseling, and school psychologists.  Dr. Lazarus is a licensed psychologist and a licensed professional counselor.

The PsyD, which was created in the late 1960s to address a shortage of practitioners, emphasizes advanced training in therapy and counseling. Psychologists with this degree can practice therapy but are required to complete several additional years of supervised practice with patients before becoming licensed.

A psychologist will assess and diagnose a problem and determine what’s best for care.

A therapist is a broader umbrella term for professionals who are trained—and often licensed—to provide a variety of treatments  for people. Therapists can be licensed professional counselors, psychoanalysts, marriage counselors, social workers and life coaches, among other specialties. A therapist’s goal is to help patients make decisions and clarify their feelings in order to solve problems. Therapists provide support and guidance, while helping patients make effective decisions within the overall structure of support. When selecting a therapist, their education, licensing and professional credentials should be essential considerations.

Counselor is an unregulated term.  Some counselors may have undergone extensive training, others may have little or no training.

Bottom Line?

Before you trust your health to a professional, be sure to know their credentials, background, specialties, and training!

Set up a free phone consultation with Dr. Steven Lazarus, Adult Psychologist in Littleton Colorado

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Gary Williams September 4, 2014 at 8:23 AM

Actually…All 50 states have a licensure law in counseling (and a regulatory board). New York and California were the last to have a licensure law, both in just the last decade. There are some variabilities in the law between states, but as for instance, in my state one must obtain a master’s degree or beyond in a CACREP approved graduate program, pass a national examination, then work as an “associate” in the supervision of an approved supervisor until they have completed 3000 hours of direct counseling experience. The supervision requires no less than 50 annual direct supervision contacts until the supervisee completes the required process, and to the satisfaction of the supervisor. Only then can the supervise apply for licensure. So, it can easily take 4-8 years of training for many to complete the whole process. Further, and to much the surprise and dismay of many, the academic training in a masters level psychology program and a clinical counseling program are virtually the same.

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