Are you interested in pursuing a career in counseling or therapy? Both of these fields can provide meaningful and rewarding work for those who are passionate about helping others. While the two share many similarities and overlap is common, the education requirements, licensing, treatment approach, job demand, and salary can vary.

In this article, we review each profession and the core differences that separate the two to help you decide if one fits your professional aspirations better. So, what’s the difference between a counselor and a therapist? Let’s find out!

What Are Counselors?

The term ‘counselor’ is an umbrella term that covers numerous industries and professionals, including various medical fields, social work, and psychology. Counselors aid people in developing strategies, finding personal insights, and solving challenges and problems through multiple solutions.

Here are a few counselor positions you may encounter:

  • School counselor
  • Career counselor
  • Mental health counselor

Each professional has a different focus, from school counselors who help guide students through their academic and personal lives to mental health counselors who help people with their mental and emotional health.

Certifications and licenses to become a counselor vary based on your career path but may include a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), or a Substance Abuse Counselor.

What Are Therapists?

Therapists are professionals trained in a specific type of therapy, such as family or marriage therapy. However, like counselors, the term ‘therapist’ is somewhat of a blanket term, as it can expand to physical therapies, such as rehabilitation or sports therapies.

Generally, therapists specialize in addressing specific client or patient issues. For example, a mental health therapist, also known as a psychotherapist, might specialize in treating patients with various mental health issues or behavioral disorders.

The schooling, certifications, and licenses you’ll need will vary based on your chosen specialty. In some cases, the requirements vary by state. Some certifications and licenses you may need include a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), Licensed Social Worker Advanced (LSWA), and Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW).

What is the Difference Between a Therapist and a Counselor?

The differences between therapy and counseling are minimal, as these career paths are incredibly similar. Professionals in both fields often share the same spaces, working in similar settings and with the same patient populations. There’s a significant amount of overlap; in some cases, the terms may be used interchangeably.

However, there are a few differences that separate the two, including:

Education and Licensing

Education requirements for counselors and therapists can vary drastically based on the specialty, program, practice, and state. For example, some states require mental health counselors to earn a master’s or doctoral degree in mental health counseling or a similar field. In contrast, addiction counselors may obtain certification with an associate degree.

Or, if you plan to work independently, you may need to obtain a master’s degree to get the proper licensing, while if you worked as part of an established company, you might not need one. Generally, students choose a field of specialty during their graduate programs, such as addiction, eating disorders, or family issues.

Since education and licensing requirements fluctuate by state, practice, specialty, and program, it’s essential to identify them before pursuing an education and career in your desired field.

Treatment Approach

While counselors and therapists may employ the same strategies to help their patients, common tactics may differ.

For example, licensed counselors might be more likely to focus on solving the problem by identifying tools as a solution. They might help their patients suffering from anxiety identify an action or practice that can help diminish or ward off the effects of a panic attack.

On the other hand, therapists often talk through the problem, giving patients a safe space to get things off their chests. They often delve deeper into the problem, evaluating all aspects to help the patient identify the root cause of it. Oftentimes, they use talk therapy and similar tools to achieve this result.


For many aspiring professionals, salary is a major deciding factor. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median annual wage for a counselor is $43,390, while therapists earn a median yearly salary of $60,800.

Of course, you may earn more or less annually in your career based on factors specific to you, including where you live, the specialty you choose, and your certifications or level of education.

Job Demand

The job outlook is another essential factor to consider, as it establishes an estimate for the percent change in employment opportunities through a set period. For soon-to-be counselors, the job outlook is excellent. It sits high above the average growth rate for all occupations (3%) at a whopping 18%.

On the other hand, the job outlook for therapists is also above the average growth rate for all occupations. While it varies based on specialty, the projected growth rate is generally above 3%. For example, the growth rate for psychotherapists is 6%, while it hovers at a projected growth rate of 15% for physical therapists.

Final Thoughts

Both therapists and counselors are trained professionals who help individuals in need of support and guidance. While they share many similarities, there are some differences between the two professions in terms of education, licensing, treatment approach, salary, and job demand.

Although a handful of differences distinguish the two, therapists and counselors can be excellent options for people passionate about helping others and making a difference in their lives. Ultimately, the choice is yours, and determining which profession aligns best with your aspirations and career goals is up to you!