Counseling professionals come from a wide array of educational and professional backgrounds, and so while you do have a good deal of choice available, this abundance of choice can make the selection process more confusing.

Here is a brief list with descriptions of the types of professionals that commonly offer counseling services today:

  • Pastoral counselors – these professionals typically hold a masters degree or higher in a counseling or psychology related discipline as well as some sort of theological degree. Pastoral counselors combine secular therapy techniques with spirituality from a faith based perspective. Pastoral counselors are often, but not necessarily, members of the clergy.
  • Psychologists – Psychologists have a doctoral degree in psychology and at least 2 years of clinical field experience. Psychologists can diagnose mental health problems but cannot prescribe medications.
  • Psychiatrists – psychiatrists are medical doctors that receive an additional 4 years of training in mental illness after the completion of medical school. Psychiatrist can diagnose mental illness, can offer counseling services and can prescribe medications (psychologists cannot prescribe medications).
  • Licensed Professional Counselors – These professionals have a master’s degree in counseling and a minimum of 2 years of supervised clinical experience. To achieve state certification, professional counselors must pass a state board exam.  
  • Marriage Therapists – A marriage or family therapist has training and certification similar to a professional counselor, but with a specialization on relationships.
  • Clinical Social Workers – Social workers who have earned a Master’s degree possess additional training in counseling.
  • Psychiatric Nurses – Nurses with a Master’s degree or higher and counseling training. In some states, these professionals can diagnose and prescribe medications.
  • Drug and Alcohol Addiction Counselor – These professionals have a bachelor’s degree at minimum and have received additional training in drug and alcohol abuse counseling.
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Page last updated Feb 28, 2011

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