Question: What is the difference between a therapist and a counselor?

Answer: Nothing. You can stop reading now. Just kidding! Keep reading and learn some facts to
impress your friends. Everyone knows that a little mental health knowledge really livens up a

Here’s a quick rundown on the differences between mental health professionals. It doesn’t
cover everyone (so don’t send me angry emails, psychiatric nurses!) (although psychiatric nurse
is a very important and very cool profession in mental health!) but it will give you an idea of
how to understand our world a little bit and how we can best serve you!

Therapist is usually a catch-all term for those who provide therapy. So this is used
interchangeably with many professional labels. HOWEVER, there are Marriage and Family
Therapists, who are licensed as such (they will have the initials LMFT), and they provide therapy
in all areas, not just marriage and family!

Clinical Mental Health Counselors provide therapy under the full range of services, though
individuals normally specialize in a few areas (e.g. depression, ODC, substance abuse, etc.) and
in a few approaches (e.g. psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, existentialism, etc.).
They have their own particular license (LCMHC) and answer to the American Counseling
Association. There are other types of counselors with different licenses, like School Counselors.

Clinical Social Workers are very similar to CMHCs and MFTs, but their training includes
institutional settings and regulatory systems, so they often work with hospitals, prisons,
community agencies, etc. However, many work in private practice as well, as you can see at
Simply Thrive. They are licensed as LCSWs.

Psychologists (Ph.D.s) and psychiatrists (M.D.s or D.O.s) typically follow a medical model of
assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of a specific issue. CMHCs, CSWs, and MFTs do the same,
but usually they also incorporate a holistic approach of improving overall quality of life.

There is a lot of overlap between these professions – for example, all of them participate in
research and in clinical therapy. There are several other specialties not listed, because I don’t
want to make you read a book! But this should give you a starting point for your own mental
health journey. There are two easy ways to research which type of professional is right for you:

1. Look up the association tied to that specialty (e.g. National Association of Social Workers)
and it will explain what they do and how they are educated, trained, and licensed.

2. Google the initials after a professional’s name – it will tell you exactly what their license is,
which will tell you what type of therapist they are.

CarrieAnn Lefsaker

Mental Health Student Intern