Counseling as a Profession: Types of Counselors

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  • 0:01 Who Is a Counselor?
  • 1:33 Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist
  • 2:50 Other Professionals
  • 4:13 Paraprofessionals and…
  • 5:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lisa Roundy

Lisa has taught at all levels from kindergarten to college and has a master's degree in human relations.

Who is considered a counselor? What distinguishes various professional counselors from one another? Is there a difference between paraprofessionals and non-professionals? Learn the answers to these questions and more in this lesson on counseling.

Who Is a Counselor?

When you think of counseling, what type of person comes to mind? Let's think about this question as we imagine the following scenarios:

  • Wanda is your hairdresser. Whenever you get a new hairstyle, she always listens to your problems and gives great advice.
  • Janice is a social worker. She helps her clients obtain community services that they're in need of.
  • You go to your high school football coach for advice. He is always there to help his players when they face a difficult challenge.
  • Your friend Joe lets you vent about your life whenever you golf together. His supportive attitude means a lot to you.
  • Dr. Smith is a psychiatrist. He monitors the treatment for your depression, and he prescribes your medication.

So, which of these people are considered counselors? It may surprise you that each of these people can be considered a counselor, though they are not all professionals. We will look at three different types of counselors in this lesson: professionals, paraprofessionals, and non-professionals.

  • A professional has an advanced degree, extensive training, and licensure in a particular counseling field.
  • A paraprofessional has sufficient training to obtain some type of counseling certification but does not possess an advanced degree.
  • A non-professional has not been formally trained as a counselor and does not possess a counseling certification or license.

Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist

The difference between a psychiatrist and a psychologist is probably the most significant professional distinction within mental health. However, these two professions have much in common and often work together in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health disorders. In fact, they have so much in common that people seeking treatment can be confused about what separates the two professions.

In a nutshell, a psychiatrist is a medical doctor, and a psychologist has a doctoral degree in psychology. Both specialize in prevention, treatment, and diagnosis of mental health disorders. Both have received extensive, supervised training in evaluation and treatment methods.

However, a psychiatrist's medical training has given them the skills to monitor any physical conditions that may be the result of a mental illness, such as high blood pressure. As a medical doctor, they are also licensed to prescribe medications. Many mental disorders are treated with drug therapy, and a psychiatrist will often spend a great deal of time focusing on medication management. Typically, a psychologist cannot perform medical procedures or write prescriptions.

Psychologist vs. Psychiatrist

Other Professionals

Of course, psychiatrists and psychologists aren't the only mental health professionals out there. Many other professionals, such as mental health counselors, psychiatric nurses, and social workers, are also available to provide counseling services.

A licensed mental health counselor is a professional with a master's degree in a counseling-related field, such as psychology. Mental health counselors are professionally qualified to evaluate individuals who come to them and to provide treatment in the form of counseling or psychotherapy. There are many different types of licenses that a mental health counselor can possess. A few examples are licensure as a substance abuse counselor, a marriage and family therapist, or licensed practical counselor.

Psychiatric nurses are registered nurses with specialized training in providing mental health services. Psychiatric nurses can evaluate patients and provide certain treatment, depending on their level of certification. They may also be able to prescribe and monitor medications under a medical doctor's supervision.

Social workers have at least a master's degree in social work. They are qualified to evaluate and treat mental health conditions. Social workers often provide case management and act as advocates for the client and their family as well.

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