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Mental Health Counselor vs. Psychologist


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Counselors and psychologists play a significant role in treating mental health disorders. While both healthcare practitioners are dedicated to helping people stay healthy mentally and emotionally, they tend to differ in their job responsibilities and treatment approaches. Depending on the type of treatment you seek, these variations can substantially affect your entire experience and desired outcomes. Learn more about the fundamental differences between counselors and psychologists to understand the best treatment plan for you.

Who Is a Mental Health Counselor?

Counselor is a broad label referring to professionals trained in psychology, counseling, social work, and other similar fields who provide counseling services such as therapy and assessments. These professionals in the mental health field are known as mental health counselors. Mental health counselors assist individuals in coping with personal conflicts, life events, and challenges through talk therapy. This process involves the counselor listening to the patient’s problems and then collaborating with the patient to identify potential solutions.

A mental health counselor is qualified to provide counseling sessions to individuals, families, groups, and communities to treat mental health concerns, but they cannot prescribe medications. They can, however, collaborate with other medical specialists, such as psychiatrists and primary care physicians, to provide comprehensive, holistic care.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), counselors tend to work with specific populations, such as college students or the elderly and employ therapeutic techniques to help patients avoid or cope with mental and emotional health challenges. Counselors are knowledgeable about multicultural and diversity issues and human development from childhood to adulthood. They are less concerned with research, methodology, testing, and diagnoses and more concerned with developing relationships with patients and assisting in creating an impartial and inclusive environment. Many qualified counselors work in hospitals, inpatient or outpatient treatment centers, schools, private practices, and mental health clinics.

What Conditions Are Treated by a Mental Health Counselor?

Mental health counselors assist individuals in coping with personal struggles and mental health issues. Typically, this assistance is provided through talk therapy or psychotherapy to help patients make positive behavioral changes and develop coping skills.

Counselors usually specialize in particular areas. In general, they are qualified to assist someone with:

  • Family problems
  • Marital or relationship issues
  • Anger management 
  • Low self-esteem
  • Addiction or substance abuse
  • Loss or grief
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Stress
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Eating disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Phobia
  • Dementia
  • Adjustment disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Consider seeking help from a mental health counselor if you have experienced any of the following challenges for at least two weeks:

  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Struggling to concentrate
  • Having a loss of interest in hobbies or activities
  • Inability to complete everyday tasks
  • Suicidal and self-harming ideas

Mental Health Counselor vs. Psychologist - Futures Recovery Healthcare

Responsibilities of a Mental Health Counselor

Counselors use interventions and talk therapy techniques to help patients work through mental and emotional health issues like personal growth and adjusting to daily stressors. Their area of expertise is holistic wellness counseling for mental health improvement.

Responsibilities of a mental health counselor include:

  • Evaluating patients’ overall and mental wellness.
  • Assisting patients in developing the behaviors and skills needed to manage or overcome personal issues and difficulties.
  • Meeting with families to overcome obstacles to recovery. 
  • Practicing open communication and utilizing techniques to encourage better self-understanding. 
  • Educating patients on new skills to manage and overcome stress and emotional distress.
  • If necessary, monitor patients’ progress and refer them to other resources such as medical doctors or psychologists.

Types of Counselors 

Counseling is a broad category that includes a variety of specialized fields. This broad term refers to a variety of counselor subgroups, including:

  • Substance abuse counselors – These licensed counselors assist people struggling with substance abuse and other behavioral addictions. They engage with a specific patient population to examine what led to substance abuse, share and process feelings, enhance awareness of negative thought and behavior patterns, learn healthy coping skills, identify potential triggers, and develop a long-term strategy to maintain sobriety. Both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs depend heavily on addiction counseling, administered in individual or group settings.
  • Mental health counselors – specialize in assisting patients with mental health conditions to make positive changes in their everyday lives. Mental health counselors employ therapeutic practices and activities to assist their clients in navigating obstacles and developing healthy routines.
  • School and career counselors – These professionals help students and adults develop the skills needed for both academic and career success. In a school setting, guidance counselors work with students to determine their skills and interests, help them manage student life, and advance their academic and social skills. Career counselors assist individuals with skill development, career exploration, and selecting a relevant educational program. 
  • Rehabilitation counselors – Rehabilitation counseling helps people with physical, mental, developmental, and emotional disabilities learn to manage their conditions and work and live independently. Rehabilitation counselors work with these individuals to determine their strengths and limitations. Arrange for medical care, provide the patient with training, assist in job placement, assess medical reports, and assist the individual in developing job skills.
  • Marriage counselors – According to the American Psychological Association (APA), more than 40% of marriages terminate in divorce. While it is true that many marriages are destined to fail, some couples grow apart because they lack the skills to manage their problems. Marriage counseling, often known as couples therapy, is a form of therapy that focuses on marriages and relationships. Marriage counselors or licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT) are specifically trained to assist couples in identifying their issues and developing solutions. Marriage counseling is a safe environment for couples to air their grievances and discuss what’s on their minds.
  • Trauma counselors – These counselors work with people who have been affected by traumatic events on both a physical and emotional level. Counselors that provide trauma-focused therapy recognize and highlight how the traumatic experience affects a patient’s mental, behavioral, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. The purpose of trauma-focused therapy is to provide skills and strategies to assist patients in better comprehending, coping with, and processing emotions and memories associated with traumatic experiences, with the ultimate goal of enabling the patient to create a healthier and more adaptive interpretation of the experience.

Counseling Treatment

Counselors address the mental health of individuals primarily by focusing on stress management, crisis intervention, and interpersonal issues to promote the general wellness of their patients. Mental health counselors specialize in different types of psychotherapy, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – is a type of psychotherapeutic treatment that teaches patients how to recognize damaging thought patterns, understand how this affects their behavior, and replace these thoughts with more positive, realistic ones. Numerous mental health issues have responded favorably to CBT, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, phobias, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance misuse. CBT cannot heal the physical symptoms of many disorders, but it can help individuals better manage their symptoms.
  • Psychodynamic Therapy – is a type of talk therapy that focuses on helping people understand their emotions and other mental processes. This approach can help promote self-reflection, insight, and emotional growth, leading to better life decisions. Because psychodynamic therapy also focuses on a patient’s relationships with others in the outside world, this approach can help them improve their interpersonal relationships and pursue goals that will bring them more happiness and contentment.
  • Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) – is a short-term psychotherapy that focuses on your interpersonal relationships and social interactions, such as the amount of support you receive from others and the effect these relationships have on your mental health. IPT aims to improve your interpersonal communication and address issues that contribute to your mental illness. IPT can be useful for addressing attachment issues, loss, life changes and adjustments, and interpersonal conflicts. Although IPT was first designed as a short-term treatment for depression, it is also used for treating personality disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, bipolar disorders, and several other conditions.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) – is a structured therapy that encourages the patient to focus on their traumatic memory for a brief period while experiencing bilateral stimulation (eye movements), which is associated with a decrease in the vividness and emotion associated with the trauma. The goal of EMDR is to help the brain process traumatic memories, lessens their influence, and allows patients to discover more efficient ways to live their lives.
  • Biopsychosocial Assessment – Typically conducted at the start of therapy to evaluate biological, psychological, and social factors contributing to a patient’s difficulties. Biopsychosocial assessment is considered a holistic evaluation that examines a patient on all levels, including culture, school and employment background, family and marital problems, and medical issues, to better determine an individual’s needs.

Who Is a Psychologist?

A psychologist is a mental health professional who studies human behavior and works with patients to diagnose and treat mental health issues. One of their main objectives is to evaluate and understand their patients’ thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. 

Psychologists typically evaluate behavior through psychotherapy or psychoanalysis. They research and test theories using scientific methods when assessing behavioral patterns and may sometimes perform psychological assessments and personality tests. Psychologists may work with patients in private practice or other settings, such as hospitals, schools, community health centers, nursing homes, prisons, or rehabilitation centers.

Like mental health counselors, psychologists must also have an advanced degree in psychology and a license to operate in their respective states, and neither can prescribe medications to their patients. While there is much overlap between the roles of psychologists and counselors, psychologists are more likely to treat patients with serious mental health conditions and behavioral issues. In contrast, a counselor focuses on general health and well-being through talk therapy.

Responsibilities of a Psychologist

A psychologist provides mental and behavioral healthcare to individuals from various cultural, ethnic, and socio-cultural backgrounds. They help patients work through intellectual, emotional, social, or behavioral issues with behavioral assessments, diagnostic interviewing, clinical services intervention, emergency evaluation, and psychological testing. 

 They go about their field of expertise by:

  • Increasing the ability of people with mental health conditions to deal with their daily life.
  • Consulting with other health care providers to develop and provide services in mental health promotion, behavioral medicine, disease prevention, end-of-life care, and care for patients with chronic conditions. 
  • Joining the fight for better community mental health by advocating for actions and procedures to be taken.
  • Enhancing the profession’s effectiveness by doing research into factors that have an impact on mental health.
  • Work with other health care providers to develop suitable and effective treatment options for a patient as most mental illness requires multi-disciplinary treatment.

There are numerous reasons why you may wish to consult a psychologist. You should get help if you exhibit any of the following symptoms:

  • You have out-of-control thoughts, feelings, or behaviors that negatively impact your relationships, work, and overall sense of well-being.
  • You are having difficulty dealing with personal circumstances such as illness, the death of a loved one, divorce, or problems at work.
  • Your substance abuse negatively impacts your health, emotions, relationships, and obligations.
  • You need the assistance of an impartial and compassionate individual to sort through your feelings.
  • You are so depressed that life no longer seems worthwhile.

Types of Psychologists 

Most psychologists fall into one of five general groups, even though there are numerous subcategories.

  • Clinical psychologists – As the name suggests, clinical psychologists work in a clinical setting to evaluate, diagnose and treat a broad range of behavioral, emotional, or mental disorders. They help patients deal with personal issues or chronic conditions and may use different strategies and techniques. 
  • Developmental psychologists – These licensed psychologists are focused on studying human development, including physical, cognitive, emotional, intellectual, and perceptual growth. Developmental psychologists work in a wide variety of settings, including academia, schools, and healthcare facilities
  • Industrial-organizational psychologists – Psychologists in this field study issues related to work-life, including management styles, work ethic, productivity, and morale. Industrial-organizational psychologists work with leaders and managers to improve workers’ quality of life and solve workplace issues. 
  • Rehabilitation psychologists – Like rehabilitation counselors, rehabilitation psychologists help people with physical or developmental disabilities, and chronic health conditions manage their conditions and live independently.
  • School psychologists – These professionals help children and youth succeed academically, behaviorally, socially, and emotionally. School psychologists collaborate with educators, parents, and other professionals to create safe, supportive, and healthy learning environments that strengthen connections between home, school, and the community for all students. 
  • Neuropsychologists – These professionals specialize in understanding the relationship between the brain and behavior. Neuropsychologists have a doctoral degree in psychology and extensive training in neuropsychology and often work in research or clinical settings. 
  • Health psychologists – These psychologists utilize knowledge of psychology and health to improve well-being and healthy behaviors, especially at a population level. Health psychologists are specially trained to understand the psychological and emotional aspects of physical illness.
  • Counseling psychologists – These professionals assist people in dealing with personal issues and making difficult decisions in various aspects of their lives. Counseling psychology requires a deep understanding of personality, cognition, and communication. 
  • Forensic psychologists – These professionals investigate issues related to criminal behavior and the treatment of those who have committed crimes. The presence of forensic psychologists in courtrooms is frequently required, and their evaluations, assessments, and testimonies help inform the decisions of judges and juries. 

Why Is It Important to Seek Help for Your Mental Health Concerns?

If you are suffering from anxiety, stress, or depression, recognizing and addressing the conditions as quickly as possible will help you overcome them. And your quality of life will improve as your mental health disorder is treated and managed. Living with mental health conditions will always be difficult, but receiving proper treatment will make it much more manageable, allowing you to enjoy everything life offers without your condition interfering.

Aside from improved mental health, there are additional advantages to seeking mental health services. Physical health can benefit from maintaining good mental health by improving sleeping patterns, the immune system, and pain thresholds. Treating your mental health concern can also boost your productivity by focusing on everyday activities and providing you with the motivation to complete tasks on time.

Getting help for your mental health condition is critical, regardless of the treatment approach you prefer. Whether it’s medication, therapy, or mental health counseling, there’s something for everyone.

The Mental Health program at Futures Recovery Healthcare works tirelessly to assist individuals and families in obtaining treatment and support for a wide range of mental health disorders in a judgment-free environment. 

We treat depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, bipolar disorder, and other related conditions using a clinical, psychiatric, medication, medical, and wellness interventions and support. To learn more about our mental health care services, contact us online or call 866-804-2098.


Our team is here to guide you through your path to recovery.

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