What’s the Difference Between a Professional Counselor, a Social Worker, a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist? By Dyanne C. Bresler, LCPC, RN

I’d like to talk about the difference between a licensed counselor, a social worker, a psychologist and a psychiatrist.  There are similarities, because they are all trained to support mental health, and they all talk with the goal of addressing thoughts, feelings, and behavior, so it’s easy to see why people might be confused. Here is some help:

  1. What is the difference between a professional counselor, a psychologist and a psychiatrist?

The differences in these professions can be summarized by differences in education focus and degrees. Professional counselors have a graduate degree in counseling. A master’s degree is the entry level requirement. While counselors can diagnose and treat mental disorders, counselors focus on wellness, career development, client empowerment and client strengths as opposed to psychopathology. Counselors are also experts in addressing the needs of different cultures. Psychologists have a graduate degree in psychology, and licensed psychologists typically have a degree in clinical, counseling or school psychology. Of all the mental health professions, psychologists are the best trained in conducting research. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have usually completed a residency in psychiatry. Their niche is prescribing psychotropic drugs.

  1. What is the difference between a counselor and a social worker?

As mentioned above, counselors have a graduate degree in counseling, usually a master’s degree. Social workers have a degree in social work, and the entry level is a bachelor’s degree. For a social worker to provide the types of services professional counselors do, a master’s degree in social work is required, typically with a degree in clinical social work. Social workers are trained to assist individuals with more basic needs than counselors. Social workers are thoroughly trained in case management skills to assist families in meeting their food and shelter needs. If you are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy, social workers are trained to focus on the lower levels of the hierarchy, and counselors are trained to focus on the higher end of the hierarchy. However, in practice, many social workers do counseling and help individuals with personal issues even though counselors get much more training in this area.


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