The Difference Between Counselors and Psychotherapists

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Most people do not realize that the term Psychotherapist can be applied to anyone who wishes to label themselves as such. In most states, there are no specific guidelines, training, or licensure credentials for someone to call themselves a “Psychotherapist.” This does not mean that some of those using the “Psychotherapist” label have not been trained in some sort of therapy. However, consumers of mental health services should look for treatment providers who do have to meet training and licensure requirements to practice.

Clinical mental health counselors are trained to assess and treat a variety of adjustment and mental health concerns. 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. Students undergo comprehensive training, with 60 credits of graduate level coursework to include over 700 hours of supervised field experience. MAC students learn about different assessment and theoretically-grounded therapy techniques. They must adhere to the ethical guidelines of the American Counseling Association ( and are required to apprentice for an additional two years of full time training under a licensed professional before becoming eligible to receive an independent license as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) or Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). This licensure designation is determined by the state granting the credential.

Licensed mental health counselors also need to maintain their skills, where someone calling themselves a psychotherapist may have no continuing education. As a matter of fact, those holding an LMHC or LPC generally must complete 30 hours of continuing education credits for every two-year renewal cycle. Someone with those credentials will have invested in staying current in their field.

Defined Roles and Scope of Practice

Mental health counselors typically cover a wide range of presenting problems. They may 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.

Clinical Mental Health Counselors are also trained to deal with a wide range of serious mental health issues. More serious types of presenting problems may require long-term therapy 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.

However, mental health counselors are trained in a variety of theoretical approaches, and the training they receive at Regis’s Master of Arts in Counseling helps them to determine which theory might work best for a given problem or client based on a biopsychosocial assessment of their needs.

In short, counselors and psychotherapists may claim to do the same work, helping clients with stress, drug abuse, or extensive emotional issues. However, counselors have specific qualifications in clinical training, ethics, and licensure, while psychotherapists do not.

A Counselor’s Qualifications

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 Cognitive and academic development, social and behavioral issues, crisis intervention, and trauma assessment and intervention are common program topics.

Most master’s degree programs also require a practicum and intership, which can involve up to 700 combined hours of supervised fieldwork. Additional post-master’s degree supervised hours are required before a candidate can be licensed. Most clinical mental health counselors take a national licensing exam. The Master of Arts in Counseling degree at Regis fulfills the educational requirements for 48 states and, thus, provides students with the essential foundations for success at passing this exam.

Job Outlooks and Growth

Here are the job summaries and outlooks for mental health counselors, according to the BLS:

    • Employment for mental health counselors is projected to grow twenty percent by 2024.


Counselors may practice in a variety of fields within mental health, including community or private mental health agencies, substance abuse treatment settings, behavior, education, vocational, and psychiatric and therapeutic school milieus. Counselors may work with individuals, couples, or families; they may also supervise other counselors, research treatment outcomes, or impact policy on mental health.

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. Those counselors holding the LMHC or LPC licensures also may practice privately, based on the guidelines within their state of practice.

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,gender and mental health disparities and group dynamics and behavior. Visit Regis for more information about its online counseling program.


Counselor Qualifications

Counselor Career

Counseling Career Settings and Possibilities
Psychotherapist Qualifications
Mental Health Counselors Summary/Outlook (see also tab 6)