Difference Between Counselor & Psychologist

A psychologist's work can help mental health workers, such as counselors, because their research is related to the diagnosis and treatment of patients. This article explores the distinctions between what counselors and psychologists do.

Comparing Counselors to Psychologists

The work that counselors do is practical, since they help patients determine what problems they have and how to cope with those problems. Psychologists may also treat patients, but their work is often more theoretical and may emphasize research about conditions, rather than the specific treatment of individual patients.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary Job Outlook (2014-2024)*
Counselor Master's Degree $45,202 (2017)** for Licensed Professional Counselors 22% for Substance Abuse and Behavior Disorder Counselors;
20% for Mental Health Counselors;
8% for School and Career Counselors
Psychologist Doctoral Degree $75,230 (2016)* 19%

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **PayScale

Responsibilities of Counselors vs. Psychologists

Counselors and psychologists are both mental health professionals. They see patients who have behavioral problems or other issues affecting their life. Counselors focus more on the individual and their issues and help their patients develop strategies to manage the problems they're having. Psychologists may also treat patients with issues, but they are often focused on researching things such as behavioral issues and studying a number of people with similar issues to form conclusions about how to diagnose or treat their conditions.


Counselors work with people to help them identify, process and address issues that are adversely affecting their lives. There are a number of specializations for counselors. For example, substance abuse counselors work with people who have addictions to substances such as alcohol, behavior disorder counselors focus on treating patients who suffer from things like eating disorders and mental health counselors work with individuals who are struggling with a range of mental health issues, such as depression. Depending on the counselor's specific focus they may work in offices, rehabilitation centers, schools or hospitals. A master's degree and license are required to be a licensed professional counselor.

Job responsibilities of a counselor include:

  • Meeting with patients individually or in groups
  • Talking to patients
  • Identifying specific issues affecting patient
  • Developing a treatment plan
  • Introducing strategies that can help patients manage their issues
  • Updating patient files


Psychologists are required to have a doctoral degree in psychology for most positions. Like counselors, they may specialize in different areas. Psychologists who are licensed may have their own practice and see patients individually, while others may focus on psychological issues that affect staff in their work environment. Their primary interest is in studying people to determine what factors are affecting their behavior, and this may involve tasks as varied as identifying emotional triggers or problems with a patient's brain and how it processes information. While psychologists do treat patients, they may be more focused on researching specific psychological issues.

Job responsibilities of a psychologist include:

  • Observing patient's behavior
  • Conducting research and gather relevant data
  • Diagnosing patient's condition
  • Identifying effective strategies for diagnosing patients
  • Determining how to treat patients
  • Presenting research findings in writing

Related Careers

Individuals thinking about a career in counseling may also want to explore the option of being a social worker, since social workers also help people cope with personal issues. Aspiring psychologists may also be interested in working as a market research analyst, since market research analysts focus on studying human behavior and use their understanding of consumers to advise companies about things like how much demand there will be for a new product.

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