A Guide to Psychotherapy vs Counseling from Grace College Skip to content

May 13, 2021

Psychotherapy vs Counseling: Understanding Mental Health Terminology

Maybe you’ve felt called to clinical mental health counseling, but you don’t know what area to go into yet. Psychotherapy, counseling, and psychiatry are not all the same, so where do you start if you want to enter the field? 

Some of the most common terms for treatment and occupations in mental health can be confusing. Many of these words are interchangeable and can vary in connotation from person to person. The following sections help clarify what certain terms, such as psychotherapy vs counseling, mean — but to get an in-depth understanding of these concepts, the best way to begin is looking at online clinical mental health counseling master’s programs like the one here at Grace.

Psychotherapy vs Counseling

Psychotherapy and counseling both use psychological methods to help clients with a mental or emotional problem or disorder.

Some people make a small distinction between the two terms. “Counseling” is a brief treatment that targets a specific symptom or situation, while “psychotherapy” is a longer-term treatment that attempts to gain more insight into someone’s problems. However, many people use the terms interchangeably.

One caveat is that “counseling” can be used in other contexts. For instance, someone may receive career counseling or a couple may receive premarital counseling, which changes the meaning of the term. In the context of mental health, however, “counseling” often refers to “psychotherapy” or “therapy.”

Psychiatrist vs Psychologist vs Therapist

Three occupations represent some of the most common careers in mental health.

  • Psychiatrist: Psychiatrists are physicians who diagnose, treat, and help prevent disorders related to the brain. They can evaluate a patient’s health, make a diagnosis, and design a treatment plan. Psychiatrists can prescribe a wide range of drugs and recommend inpatient hospitalization or outpatient treatment. To become a psychiatrist, candidates need to complete four years of medical school after receiving a bachelor’s degree. Then they complete a residency program in psychiatry and pursue board certification in the specialty.
  • Psychologist: Psychologists study behavior and cognitive, emotional, and social processes. They can conduct research, administer tests, and perform psychotherapy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) identifies many types of psychologists, such as clinical psychologists, forensic psychologists, school psychologists, and social psychologists. Psychologists typically need a doctoral degree in psychology, as well as state licensure to practice.
  • Therapist: Therapists help clients with mental or emotional problems or disorders. They accomplish this through the related terms of counseling, therapy, and psychotherapy. The BLS uses “mental health counselors” and “marriage and family therapists” to identify this category of mental health providers. Many therapists’ work is guided by major mental health counseling theories. A master’s degree in psychology, clinical mental health counseling, or a related field is needed for entry into this career, as well as state licensure.

There’s more to the psychotherapy vs counseling distinction than meets the eye. All three of these featured mental health professionals can provide therapy. In most cases, psychiatrists are performing therapy less often than in previous eras. Instead, appointments typically consist of brief consultations with patients and medication management; psychiatrists may refer patients to psychologists or therapists for talk therapy (or psychotherapy), according to The New York Times.

Psychologists generally have greater scope of practice than therapists or mental health counselors. The additional training that psychologists receive (most have a Ph.D. or Psy.D.) enables them to perform more tests, including personality, performance, aptitude, intelligence, and other types of psychological tests. Therapists or mental health counselors are more limited in the tests they can administer, but they have the knowledge and skills to provide high-quality talk therapy.

Becoming a Counselor

We hope the distinctions of psychotherapy vs counseling are more clear for you now. Maybe one of the professions mentioned above stands out to you, and you can start pursuing your new field with confidence!

As you start to investigate programs to equip you for your career, you will find that none of the clinical mental health counseling masters programs are quite like Grace Online’s degree. Grace’s program is for you if you are serious about creating an impact in a counseling career and are looking to complete your graduate degree online. With a master in mental health counseling online, you will be trained to help guide and assist people with their personal troubles. This program is also committed to the professional and interpersonal development of the student which is essential for effective counseling practice.


Learn more about this program today!