Therapist, Counselor, or Psychologist?

Updated on September 02, 2011
A.B. asks from Sarasota, FL
10 answers

For a long time now I have felt like "talking with someone" would help me deal with some of my issues and tendencies in my life. I tend to overreact to negative things, I have a bad temper, and worst of all, I fixate on the past and stress about the future - even the distant future, like 20-30 years from now, what will this or that aspect of my life be like - instead of enjoying the present. I really want to try to "work on" these things so I've decided that it's time to go ahead and DO IT.
My question is what kind of provider would be best? I'm not really interested in a psychiatrist at this time b/c I'd like to avoid meds. I know what a psychologist does, but I'm unclear on what exactly is a therapist or counselor and how are they different? Would they accept insurance? Which would be best for my situation - I'm not having some kind of crisis I just want to better myself and my life. PS I would try church but my husband has zero interest in going and I don't want to go alone, or drag him there.

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Wow, thank you so much for these responses. They are so helpful. You all are wondeful!

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answers from St. Louis on

The names are kinda interchangeable kinda not. There is licensing to be a psychologist where the others are not. Still a psychologist will be referred to as a therapist and at time a counselor.

What I would recommend is a psychologist who is in a practice with a psychiatrist. That way you get the therapy and if needed have access to meds.

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answers from Chicago on

I have gone through counseling--on and off for a period of about 5 years, starting around the time I graduated from college. I want to encourage you to not get discouraged if you don't hit it off with the first counselor. I went through three or four different ones before I found one that "spoke my language". It is very frustrating to think you may have to start all over from the beginning with someone new, but when you find the right one and start making progress, you will find it was all worth it.

Good luck to you!!

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answers from Boston on

You could see an LMHC or LPC which is a licensed counselor/therapist. They have Master's degrees in psychology and after two years in the field they obtain their license and certification. They use a lot of psychotherapy which might be helpful in your situation. They are covered by some insurances. I am currently a LMHC student.

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answers from Glens Falls on

They are pretty interchangeable, but to present themselves as a psychologist would mean that they have a specific doctorate degree in psychology, whereas a limited license counselor or therapist might only have a masters degree. Some people make a distinction between therapy as long term and counseling as short term, but the terms are used fairly interchangeably as well. Given your goals, you might look into either a psychologist or a counselor that has had training in positive psychology, a relatively new field. Positive psychology differentiates treating someone to enjoy life rather than treating someone to simply relieve misery. You can read about this at:

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answers from Denver on

Technically, a psychologist tends to focus more on research, a counselor gives more guiding advice, and a therapist deals more with advice aimed toward changes in personality functioning. However, most don't adhere strictly to these titles and they are interchangeable. All three are licensed (in order to accept insurance). So you would be looking for any of the above that end in LPC, LCSW, LMFT. Or PhD or PsyD are people with a doctorate in psychology.

What you really want is to start looking, perhaps in your insurance directory, for someone that insurance accepts. Most likely, on a website, it will have a blurb about each one. They may say who they like to work with (anxiety, depression, whatever) and their approach. Once you narrow it down by that, give them a call to see if you feel a connection. Most will gladly to a quick phone consult. Ask them their approach to therapy- some let you do all the talking and give minimal feedback, some are very interactive and challenge you, some look a lot at your childhood history, etc. You will let them know your issues in a nutshell, they tell you how they work with clients, and you decide which one is the best fit for you.

Most get that you are anxious making this call, and make it very easy for you. If they don't- find someone else. You'll know who sounds right for you. Best of luck. If you have any other questions, let me know- I happen to be a therapist.

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answers from New York on

It depends on "why" you are going to them. All three are capable of engaging you in talk therapy, but each has a different training background and licensure/certificate.

I am/was a psychologist so I have the ability to diagnose. I have also worked with families and individuals in therapy. Counseling (in general) tends to be shorter in nature than therapy.

Just my advice- seek out a clinical social worker (LCSW). It doesn't sound like you are looking for a diagnosis so much as someone to help you work through your behavioral patterns. It also doesn't sound as though you would need to see someone for years. Go through your insurance provider list and just start calling people. Be specific in what you are looking to accomplish and they will let you know if they can help you.

Most psychologists and social workers have a psychiatrist that they refer to if needed.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

A Psychiatrist is only seen once every few months for about 10 minutes for a med check and to give out prescriptions. They do not do counseling. If you don't need meds then you have zero need to consider a Psychiatrist.

Depending on their degree a counselor, therapist, and Psychologist are basically the same thing. Sometimes a MSW or even a LPC could be the right choice for you.

An MSW is a Masters degree in Social Work. It is a world wide recognized degree that is usually accepted by any insurance.

An LPC is a person who has a Master's degree in some social science such as psychology that has tested and has received their certification that allows them to hold a license to perform and bill 3rd party insurance for services provided.

A Psychologist is a person who has a Doctorate in Psychology and is licensed as a Clinical Psychologist to treat patients and bill 3rd party insurance for payment.

A therapist often tends to treat one ailment or another, such as panic attacks, OCPD, or depression. I think most have one primary focus they really do well in and they do a good job in that area. They can bill 3rd party insurance too, although they can be just a Bachelors degree person they are usually in a clinic that has a primary Psychologist that is the "Supervisor" so they can bill under that persons name. I always hear the term used in drug and alcohol treatment. They often have several college students and one Psychologist on staff and do staffing's on the patients so the Psychologists is supervising this person's care.

There are many many people out there who proclaim to be licensed and are able to help. Please just call your insurance provider and get a list of who they will pay for services. That way if you do find someone that you click with you'll know if they are even an option.

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answers from Charlotte on


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answers from Tampa on

I have recently been going to a counselor at a local church. He has helped me to deal with a lot of my issues from my past and I have learned to enjoy life a lot more in the present. I would recommend him, but I live quite far from you :) I would look around the churches around you see if anyone if available.



answers from Miami on

Therapists and counselors both have a variety of approaches they might use in working with people. Those words are often used to mean the same thing, though there are "marriage and family therapists" who focus more on family and relationship issues while "mental health counselors" training focuses a bit more on individual treatment even though they also are prepared to work with families or couples. Some are more into just listening and reflecting back to you your own thoughts and feelings while others are more directive and intervene more in your process. Counselors and therapists do what a psychologist does without applying extra psychological tests or charging more for having a Ph.D. Insurance would cover either form of service as long as the person has a state license that allows them to do mental health treatment. I'm a licensed counselor myself in Miami and my approach works a lot with psychospiritual principles, healing the subconscious mind with hypnosis and other methods, and balancing the energy system with spiritual energy healing therapies. I help people actually change their patterns rather than just talking about the patterns.
Best wishes on finding support and guidance.

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