The terms counseling and therapy are often used interchangeably. In actuality, counselors and therapists, or psychotherapists, are distinct professions with different scopes of practice and qualifications.

Those interested in becoming mental health counselors might consider earning a Master of Arts in Counseling (MAC) degree. Regis College’s online MAC program offers students the skill sets and knowledge necessary to succeed as counselors.

Defined Roles And Scope Of Practice

Understanding the core differences between counselors and psychotherapists translates to first knowing the responsibilities, focuses, and objectives of each profession.

Mental health counselors typically help people who have normal cognitive and behavioral functions work through difficult life events such as anxiety, depression, relationship problems, stress, grief, or addiction. Working on a short-term basis, counselors help their clients develop coping skills to deal with their issues.

Counselors may specialize in a variety of fields, including mental health, substance abuse, behavior, education, vocational, and school counseling and may work with individuals, couples, or families.

Typical job settings, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), include family services clinics, hospitals, outpatient care centers, educational facilities, and rehabilitation centers. They also may practice privately.

“Counselors may offer advice to clients, suggesting interventions or methods for working through their issues that are more directive than therapy,” writes social worker Kelly McClanahan in “The Difference Between Counseling and Therapy” for the mental health services website “However, if they encounter clients with emotional or physical trauma, they are supposed to refer those individuals to therapy.”

By contrast, psychotherapists generally deal with a range of serious mental health issues that are both broader and more detailed than what counselors address. They also typically work with their clients over long periods of time, altering clients’ behaviors and interactions with the world around them.

“A therapy session will offer more intense emotional work, perhaps using psychodynamic skills the therapist has acquired for determining underlying causes for behavior, or addressing issues that are pertinent to the client,” McClanahan says.

In short, counselors specialize in helping clients with a particular problem, such as stress or drug abuse, and actively advise them on finding solutions. Psychotherapists, on the other hand, address more extensive emotional and psychological issues and guide clients toward reaching their own conclusions rather than offering advice.

Differences In Qualifications

Counseling and psychotherapy differ in prerequisites as well as practice and also require different experience and academic degrees.

Aspiring counselors need a master’s degree in a relevant field, such as sociology or psychology.

Counseling coursework, techniques, ethics, and legal matters are covered in the counseling curriculum, according to “What Does A Counselor Do?” on the career information website Guidance counseling, academic development, social and behavioral issues, crisis intervention, and trauma counseling are common program topics.

In addition to classroom learning, candidates often need to choose an area of specialization, such as school guidance, rehabilitation, mental health, or substance abuse counseling. Most master’s degree programs also require a practicum, which can involve up to 600 hours of supervised fieldwork. Licensure also may be necessary for successful completion of the practicum.

Requirements for psychotherapists vary by state but typically include a doctoral degree in clinical psychology, clinical social work, or counseling, preferably with an emphasis on psychotherapy, according to, a website that provides career, school, and degree information for students. Receiving a Ph.D. also incudes a written exam, oral exam, supervised clinical work, and a dissertation.

Doctoral students must also complete two supervised years of clinical practice. Programs put a heavy emphasis on psychoanalytic psychotherapy, psychotherapy and medicine, and psychotherapy research.

Like counselors, new psychotherapists must be licensed and usually choose a specialty, according to “Guide to Psychiatry and Counseling” on Common choices include psychoanalytic or psychodynamic therapy, marriage and family therapy, behavioral therapy, and cognitive therapy.

Job Outlooks and Growth

Because they are separate professions, counselors and psychotherapists can expect different job outlooks and growth rates.

Here are the job summaries and outlooks for a few of the most frequent specialization selections for counselors, according to the BLS:

  • Mental health counselors help clients handle and conquer their mental and emotional problems. Employment for these counselors is projected to grow twenty percent by 2024.
  • Substance abuse counselors assist clients who are attempting to break their addiction to drugs or alcohol. Employment growth by 2024 for this profession is projected at twenty-two percent.
  • Education, vocational, and school counselors not only help students with academic and career planning, but they also address behavioral and attention disorders in the classroom. Employment in this area is projected to grow eight percent by 2024.

Psychotherapists may specialize as well:

  • Psychologists observe and study social, cognitive, and emotional behavior and processes, and can apply their discoveries and methods to clients. Growth in the field is slotted to increase nineteen percent by 2024.
  • Marriage and family therapists help clients work through mental and emotional issues they may have with their family or in their relationships. Employment growth in this area is projected at fifteen percent by 2024.

About Regis College’s Online Master Of Arts In Counseling Degree Program

Regis College’s MAC degree program is available to students interested in an online learning environment. Classes include theories of counseling psychology, counseling and gender, and group dynamics and behavior. Visit Regis for more information about its online counseling program.


The Difference Between Counseling and Therapy

Counselor Qualifications

Counseling Career Settings and Possibilities



Psychotherapist Qualifications

Guide to Psychiatry and Counseling

Mental Health Counselors Summary/Outlook (see also tab 6)

Substance Abuse Counselors Summary/Outlook (see also tab 6)

Education, Vocational, and School Counselors Summary/Outlook (see also tab 6)

Psychologists Summary/Outlook (see also tab 6)

Occupational Therapists Summary/Outlook (see also tab 6)

Marriage and Family Therapists Summary/Outlook (see also tab 6)