The differences between counselors, therapists and psychologists can be confusing, and finding the right professional is essential to finding the right care. You may be looking for group therapy with your family, spouse, or peers, individual therapy to address obstacles in your life, or clinical therapy to address a disorder through medication. When it comes to counselors vs therapists, what’s the difference and which is best for you?
Counselor vs Therapist
Professionals who provide guidance, support, and treatment for mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders or obstacles are generally classified under three terms: counselors, therapists, and psychologists. Some of these terms are used interchangeably in conversation, though they are not technically the same. The biggest differences between counselors vs therapists are in their licenses, their patient makeup, and their approaches to treatment.
Since licensing and education significantly contribute to the differences between counselors vs therapists vs psychologists, their roles and definitions may vary from state to state. In Michigan, each professional’s unique role is best defined by the relevant regulatory body, such as the Michigan Board of Counseling (for counselors) or the Michigan Board of Marriage and Family Therapy (for therapists). Other states may have different definitions, and the scope of work or treatment may also differ.
It’s also important to keep in mind that counselors, therapists and psychologists specialize in treating different disorders and many use different approaches to treatment. It’s best to choose a professional who specializes in the disorder or obstacle that you are struggling with.
Counselor vs Therapist: Who They Treat
In Michigan, a counselor refers to a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). An LPC must have a master’s or doctoral degree in counseling, including classes in counseling techniques, counseling theories, group techniques, research, multicultural counseling, and more. These professionals can provide many types of therapy and work with individuals and groups. An LPC can obtain additional certifications to provide treatment for other disorders such as addiction treatment programs.
A counselor can treat any of the following issues, among others;
- Family and marital problems
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Uncontrolled anger
- Low self-esteem
- Life transition obstacles
- Loss and grief
- Behavioral issues in children and teens
In Michigan, a therapist may refer specifically to a marriage and family therapist, certified by the Michigan Board of Marriage and Family Therapy. Like counselors, marriage and family therapists must also obtain either a master’s or doctoral degree, however their studies focus more on family and group therapy and methodology.
A marriage and family therapist may provide;
- Couples therapy
- Marriage counseling
- Family therapy for parents and children
- Therapy for truant or struggling teens
- Group therapy for work situations
- Group therapy for children
A psychologist is similar to a therapist and counselor, but generally works with more serious conditions. Licensed by the Michigan Board of Psychology, psychologists must have a doctoral degree in psychology from an approved institution. Psychologists may also be specialized in research or academia. A psychologist requires an additional Medical Doctor (MD) degree to prescribe medication to treat mental or emotional disorders, and in this case may be called a psychiatrist.
Counselor vs Therapist: Treatment Approach
When comparing a counselor vs therapist in their treatment approach, counselors generally treat each person and their situation individually, and provide coping strategies that best suit their needs and personality. For example, a counselor may help a client practice cognitive behavioral therapy to treat anxiety, depression, anger, and other disorders or difficult emotions. If group therapy is a constructive option, such as for families or couples, the counselor may mediate role-playing situations.
A marriage or family therapist focuses more on group dynamics and interpersonal relationships. Though individual obstacles such as anxiety or depression may be addressed, the therapist will likely focus on treating these struggles in the context of the relationship. For example, a couple working through issues with trust may have to address one or both partners’ anxiety first.
A psychologist or, with an MD, a psychiatrist, generally focuses on the individual’s needs and care in order to achieve a safe and comfortable lifestyle. Since psychologists and psychiatrists often treat serious disorders, there may be special focus on preventing potentially dangerous behaviors and integrating successfully with peers.
Counselor vs Therapist: Which Should You Choose?
When choosing between a counselor vs therapist for yourself or a loved one, it’s important to consider your goals and expectations for therapy. If you want to strengthen your relationship with a loved one or work through a specific problem, it’s best to work with a professional who specializes in couples or family therapy, and this may be a counselor or a therapist. If you are seeking individual therapy to cope with stress, grief, anxiety, depression, or similar obstacles, a counselor specializing in these disorders will likely be the best fit for you. If you or a loved one is struggling with a disorder which seriously affects their lifestyle or endangers themselves or others, a psychologist or psychiatrist may offer the best type of care.
At Michigan Counseling Centers, we are the experts in resolving any issue that might be causing you discomfort. We currently offer services in Bloomfield Hills and Taylor, and plan to expand our services to other communities.
To inquire about or receive treatment, please contact us and we will follow up with you to schedule an initial consultation.