What Is the Difference Between a Counselor & a Psychiatrist?

Counselors and psychiatrists work in the mental health field, but the nature of the issues they treat and how they treat them differs. Continue reading to learn more about the different education requirements and duties of these professionals.

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Comparing Counselors to Psychiatrists

A counselor is a professional who helps individuals identify and process issues in their life, such as addiction or grief, and works with them to develop strategies to manage those issues. Psychiatrists are medical doctors that specialize in mental illness. They can diagnose patients and determine how to treat them.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Outlook (2014-2024)*
Counselors Master's Degree $54,560 (for school and career counselors) $42,840 (for mental health counselors) $41,070 (for substance abuse and behavior disorder counselors) 8% (for school and career counselors) 20% (for mental health counselors) 22% (for substance abuse and behavior disorder counselors)
Psychiatrists Doctoral Degree $194,740 15%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Counselors vs. Psychiatrists

Counselors and psychiatrists are professionals who meet with clients/patients to provide ongoing counseling services. Their work can involve listening to people and discussing issues they're coping with. They may provide advice or guidance about how to cope with those issues. In some cases, they may also discuss issues with family members. Psychiatrists are also qualified to identify mental illnesses and formally diagnose patients. Since they are licensed medical doctors they can also prescribe medical treatments.


Counselors perform tasks that are related to a person's mental health. In some cases, they may be more specifically focused on the problems a person is facing, while in other areas of specialization they may focus on helping people with very specific needs or circumstances. For example, school and career counselors work with students to help them decide which classes to take and how to prepare for a career that interests them. Other counselors may work with people who are going through issues such as a divorce or struggling with conditions like bulimia. It may be possible to enter some counseling fields with a bachelor's degree, but most counselors need a master's degree and a license. Places they work include schools, hospitals, clinics and government facilities.

Job responsibilities of a counselor include:

  • Listening to clients
  • Helping clients identify and understand their issues
  • Providing a safe environment in which to communicate
  • Identifying triggers that lead to negative behaviors
  • Determining effective strategies to help client make healthy choices
  • Maintaining patient files


Psychiatrists must have a medical degree in psychiatry and be licensed. Their training may also involve completing a residency or internship. They specialize in working with patients with mental illnesses and may work in hospitals, mental health facilities or medical offices. Depending on where they work, their hours may vary and include evenings and weekends. Psychiatrists need to be good at listening to people and analyzing information to form conclusions so that they can effectively diagnose their patients.

Job responsibilities of a psychiatrist include:

  • Meeting with patients
  • Talking to patients about their health
  • Reviewing medical records
  • Sending patients for medical tests
  • Developing a plan for treating patients
  • Consulting other medical professionals

Related Careers

Another field those considering psychiatry may want to consider is psychology, since psychologists also counsel patients with behavior problems. If counseling is appealing, being a social worker may also be an option, since social workers also counsel people with personal issues.

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