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The English word therapy comes via Latin therapīa from Greek: θεραπεία and literally means “curing” or “healing”. The term “counselor” is often used interchangeably with “therapist” and even “psychiatrist. Counseling refers to a professionally trained individual helping others focus on correcting specific issues that affect their lives. More specifically, the American Counseling Association defines counseling as “a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals”.

The key words above are specific issues as relating to counseling. This could be a particular problem within a relationship, such as infidelity or divorce. The purpose of the professional counselor is to address means to resolve or alleviate the issue. Whereas, therapy usually entails dealing with a broader scope of issues requiring the therapist to delve into the cause and effect of the client’s current mental state. There are many different types of therapy and psychological approaches utilized in psychotherapy. These treatment approaches are called modalities, and examples of psychotherapeutic modalities include humanistic, cognitive behavioral, emotionally focused, feminist, and psychoanalytic.

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFTs) and Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs or LCPCs) both complete two year master’s programs; programs are typically 60 semester hours. A majority of state licensing agencies require or prefer MFT candidates to complete programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE). Before you can practice as a therapist or counselor, you will need to work with people in therapy in a supervised setting. This requirement might be fulfilled through an internship, a fellowship, or as part of your school coursework. Each state establishes its own licensing requirements, which can vary depending upon the specific license you are seeking.

A number of specialists can provide psychotherapy to clients, and qualifications to be a psychotherapist are generally determined by a state licensing board. In most cases, therapists have at least a master’s degree, though students in the process of obtaining a master’s degree may perform therapy under the direction of a supervisor. Therapist titles include licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), psychologist (PhD or PsyD), and licensed professional counselor (LPC).

Specific psychotherapy degrees are rare. However, those individuals interested in the field can also acquire master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology with specialized coursework. Certification is available, but requirements may vary according to state. The National Board for Certified Counselors offers a voluntary national certification in counseling specialties, including mental health counseling. Some states will accept this certification in place of their own certification exam; however, licensing to work in an independent practice as a psychologist requires a doctoral degree.

While there is theoretically a lot of overlap in the scope of LMFTs and LCPCs, this isn’t always the case in actual practice. Because psychotherapy defines a philosophy of treatment, master’s programs related to mental health are more likely to address psychotherapy within the context of a psychology or counseling psychology program rather than as a separate degree field of study. At the graduate level, there are several excellent programs to select from in mental health counseling. As further research, we recommend you read our article on the best online master’s degree programs in Mental Health Counseling.  Those interested in family counseling may read our piece on the top online master’s degree programs in Marriage & Family Counseling. Those studying the latter are usually expected to do at least half their clinical hours with couples or families. Mental health counselors typically put in 2,000 to 4,000 experience hours; this usually takes at least two years.