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What is the difference between a Psychologist and a Counselor?

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A Psychologist is a health professional with specific training based on clinical psychological research into human behavior. Psychology has been studying the mental processes of human beings for over a century and has developed numerous effective methods for dealing with mental illnesses. It also has developed strict codes of ethics and confidentiality that all practitioners must adhere to in order to remain board certified. Psychologists all must regularly receive continuing education to stay current on a variety of topics and maintain licensure. Psychologists undergo rigorous training during their education and must complete thousands of hours of supervised practice in order to become licensed to practice on their own.

Counselors are generally Master’s-level psychotherapists who are focused exclusively on providing therapy to individuals, couples, or families. Counselors do not prescribe medications. Many counselors focus on common life issues, including stress and anxiety, mild to moderate depression, relationship conflicts, addictions and work or career development. Although counseling graduate programs include a great deal of psychology, the emphasis is more on working with “problems of normal living” rather than severe mental illnesses, though a degree in mental health counseling is an option.

Regarding the education requirements to be a psychologist or counselor-a master’s is preferential. This is one profession where more is better. Those with a bachelor’s degree in psychology may have the knowledge to work as a counselor. The Bachelor’s in Counseling can provide the foundation for the master’s or doctorate for those who want to pursue professional counseling as a career. However, those with a bachelor’s degree will have limited opportunities in entry-level positions. Unlike the degree in psychology, the Bachelor’s in Counseling is a relatively new major. Both the undergraduate and graduate degrees in psychology and counseling have numerous programs in the online and campus formats.

One similarity, and an extremely important one, is the subject of licensure as a psychologist or counselor. The master’s can be a terminal degree as far as career prospects are concerned. For example, master’s programs in psychology prepare students for careers — though usually not as professional psychologists. Though, most states allow individuals to work as school counselors with less than a doctoral degree. You need a doctoral degree to be licensed as a counseling psychologist, but you may achieve mental health licensure by studying counseling psychology at the master’s level. Graduates of master’s programs in counseling psychology are sometimes licensed as professional counselors.

All states require professional counselors to go through a licensing process. In order to be licensed, you need a master’s degree and passing scores on one or more examinations. Each state has its own licensure process. Counselors in Florida, for example, are licensed as Licensed Mental Health Counselors. The state of Washington regulates counseling-related professions at virtually every educational level: a Certified Advisor must have an associate degree in a counseling-related field while a Certified Counselor must have a bachelor’s. In order to practice independently in private practice or other non-agency setting (Washington), you will need to be credentialed as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. LMHC is the level that mostly closely corresponds to the professional counselor designation that many states use. To become a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, you will need a master’s or doctoral degree.

Another consideration is that the American Psychology Association (APA) does not accredit bachelor’s or master’s degree programs-only doctoral programs. But, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) does accredit master’s and doctoral counseling programs. Therefore, students choosing a master’s degree in counseling should concentrate their focus on CACREP universities/colleges. This may ultimately open more doors having a graduate degree from a curriculum that has been evaluated and meets or exceeds national standards.

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