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Counselor or therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist - what do you need, who should you see and what do all these different titles and terms mean anyway!?!?

Knowing you need some form of counseling or mental health treatment is one thing, knowing where to go and from who to get it from can be quite another!

Having a basic understanding of the expertise and services offered by different types of counseling professionals can help you to better understand your options and make a better health-care choice.

Here is a brief glossary of some of the different types of professionals offering counseling services today.

The Different Types of Counselors


A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has specialized in the treatment and emotional illnesses. After medical school, a psychiatrist (in America) spends a minimum of 4 years receiving specialized training and practical experience. A psychiatrist can offer counseling services but significantly, this type of professional can also prescribe medications such as anti depressants. Psychiatrists should have a medical license to practice in your jurisdiction and a board certification in psychiatry. 1


A psychologist is a person who has earned a doctorate in psychology and who has also completed 2 years of field training of which at least 1 year was in an approved internship. Psychologists can diagnose mental and emotional health problems and can offer counseling services but cannot prescribe medications.

Psychiatric Nurse – A psychiatric nurse is a certified nurse who has received additional training in the treatment and diagnosis of emotional and mental health problems. A psychiatric nurse can administer medications as well as offer therapy and counseling. In some states, psychiatric nurses with advanced medical degrees (masters or doctorates) are permitted to prescribe medications. 2

Clinical Social Worker

A clinical social worker is a social worker who has earned a masters degree and who has been trained in making mental health diagnoses and offering counseling services. To offer mental health services these social workers must have state licensure.3 Licensed Professional Counselor (or Mental Health Counselor) - Licensed professional counselors have a masters degree in counseling or in a related field. Before achieving state licensure, these professionals must participate in a period of supervised clinical practice (generally 2 years) and must pass a board certification exam. Licensed professional counselors can work independently and can provide counseling services but cannot prescribe medication. 4

Drug and Alcohol (Addictions) Counselor

Drug and Alcohol counselors generally have a university degree and have received additional specialized training in addiction counseling. Addictions counselors can diagnose addiction problems and can offer individual and group therapy. They should have a state license to practice.

Marriage or Family Therapist

A marriage therapist has a masters degree or higher in counseling or a related field and has received specialized training in marriage and family counseling.

Licensed Professional Counselors (Also sometimes known as Licensed Mental Health Counselors and Licensed Clinical Counselors)

These types of counselors have earned a Master’s degree or higher in a counseling field, have completed a minimum of 3000 hours of supervised clinical practice and have passed a state certification exam. These counselors are able to diagnose and treat mental illness and emotional and behavioral health problems but they cannot prescribe medication. Once state licensed, these counselors can work independently and can accept insurance as payment for counseling services. There are more than 120 000 state licensed professional counselors working in the US today. These types of counselors will offer a clinical experience that is similar in nature to that offered by clinical social workers or marriage or family therapists. 5

Art Therapist

An art therapist has a masters degree in art therapy or a related field and will use creative pursuits like painting or sculpture to help you express deep seated emotions.

Religious or Pastoral Counselor

A pastoral counselor is a member of the clergy who has received some training in counseling.
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Page last updated Jul 18, 2011

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