Counselor vs Psychologist

Alexander BuCher

Written by Alexander BuCher

Licensed Professional Counselor | Youngstown State University

Updated & Fact Checked: 05.24.2024

The mental health field covers various topics and specialties, from biological to psychological to sociological. So, who are the people who work in the mental health field? Two specialties of mental health include counseling and psychology. Both professions work toward helping people achieve their highest potential, but there are also many differences between the two. 

What is a Counselor? 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a counselor is someone who advises people on a range of issues, such as those related to alcoholism, addictions, or depression. They provide support and prevention to help clients recover from addiction, change behaviors, and improve mental health. Counselors work in community clinics, private practices, schools, and hospitals. 

What is a Psychologist? 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies psychologists as people who study cognitive, emotional, and social processes and behavior by observing, interpreting, and recording how people relate to one another and their environments. Psychologists use this information to help improve processes and behaviors. Many psychologists provide counseling and therapy services, however, a lot of them use their sessions for research and field development. Psychologists may work in hospitals, universities, and governmental agencies. 

Differences and Similarities Between Counselors and Social Workers

As previously mentioned, counselors and psychologists may both provide therapy services to clients, but there are many differences between the two professions. While counselors mainly provide individual, group, and family counseling sessions, psychologists are busy researching the dynamics of those people. 

What does a counselor do? 

Counselors have many responsibilities within the mental health field. Most of these services include providing individual, group, and family therapy sessions for those struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues. According to the BLS, people in this profession evaluate a client’s mental and physical health, develop and recommend treatment plans, work to identify barriers to achieving mental wellness, and refer clients to community resources as needed. The most common work environments for counselors include: 

  • Outpatient mental health and substance abuse centers (18%)
  • Individual and family services (15%)
  • Offices of other health practitioners (12%)
  • State, local, and private hospitals (9%)
  • Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities (9%)

What does a psychologist do? 

According to the BLS, the role of a psychologist is to study behavior and brain function by observing, researching and identifying behavioral or emotional issues, testing for patterns, and writing research on these topics. Psychologists may also work to provide therapy sessions for those struggling with mental health or substance use disorders. The most common work environments for psychologists include: 

  • Self-employed workers (28%)
  • Elementary and secondary schools (27%)
  • Ambulatory health services (21%)
  • Government (8%)
  • State, local, and private hospitals (4%)


Job Outlook and Salary

Counselors are in high demand due to a recent increase in the attention that has been placed on mental health in the United States. As a result, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects there to be an increase in the need for counselors by 18% by 2032. The average salary for counselors is $53,710. 

While the need for psychologists is set to increase faster than other professions, it is expected to grow at a lower rate than counselors. The BLS expects that the need for psychologists will increase by 6% by 2032. The average salary for psychologists is $92,740. 

How to become a counselor

The National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) is a governing body that helps regulate counseling licensure requirements in the United States. This body also creates the examinations that may be required for licensure in many states including the National Counselor Examination (NCE) and the National Clinical Mental Health Counselor Examination (NCMHCE). 

One of the first steps to becoming a counselor is to obtain a bachelor’s degree in any field. Often, people opt to receive this degree in psychology, however, people from all walks of life and educational backgrounds can apply to most master’s in counseling programs. 

The next step would be to obtain a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. The admission requirements for the program vary based on the college or university. Depending on the state, the graduate program may be required to be accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). After graduation, licensure requirements often involve taking and passing the NCE and/or the NCMHCE and supervised experience before becoming independently licensed. Upon receiving licensure, there are requirements for counselors to receive continuing education to renew their license. 

Important skills to possess as a counselor include compassion, communication, listening, and patience. 

How to become a psychologist 

The American Psychological Association (APA), is the governing body representing psychologists in the United States. According to the APA, the requirements to become a psychologist include education, clinical hours, examination, and licensure. 

Most state licensing boards require that those seeking licensure as a psychologist possess a doctoral degree in the field. Some states require that those seeking licensure obtain their degree from a college or university accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). 

The next step to becoming a psychologist would be to obtain the required clinical hours. In most instances, people seeking licensure need 2,000 hours of clinical experience in an internship and 2,000 in a post-doctoral program. Some states may require more or less depending on licensure requirements. 

Before obtaining licensure, the last step would be passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). This is created by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB)

Important skills to possess as a psychologist include analytics, communication, compassion, and problem-solving. 

Which Suits Me Better? 

Counselors work in clinical settings such as community clinics, private practices, hospitals, and schools. This profession is centered around effectuating change for individuals, groups, and families. Working as a counselor requires patience as working in this field often means helping clients with long-term goals. Counseling has many specialties including grief, trauma, and career. 

If you are more interested in the research and analytical aspects of mental health, then psychology may be the best option. This profession works by trying to understand behavior and publishing research versus spending individual time providing individual therapy services. Working as a psychologist often requires conducting studies and meeting with other professionals. 


The Bureau of Labor and Statistics

National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC)

Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)

American Psychological Association (APA)

Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB)