Licensed Therapist / Counselor Career Guide

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Licensed Therapist / Counselor

What Is a Licensed Therapist or Counselor?

Both counselors and therapists use treatments that help people find relief from a wide range of problems. They both help people find meaningful ways to manage stress and loss, as well as personal, professional, and relationship issues. They also help people with mental health conditions.

Both therapists and counselors have a graduate degree, at minimum. They often work closely with psychologists, psychiatrists, and other healthcare providers. Many patients seek counseling and therapy services for a wide range of reasons, and physicians can refer or recommend their patients to a counselor or therapist for help with an existing problem.

What is the Difference Between a Counselor vs Therapist?

Licensed mental health counselors and licensed mental health therapists are instrumental in guiding their patients through various personal, professional, and mental health challenges. They are professionals who help their patients by using specialized counseling and therapy techniques. These important healthcare providers have many similarities but are not technically the same.

So, what's the difference? And what route should you choose? These two specialties have important distinctions in training, education, and licensure. We’ll break down the counselor vs therapist similarities, differences, and other important information you need to know about these rewarding career paths.

Licensed Counselors

Counseling is often more goal-focused than therapy, is typically shorter-term, and tends to address specific problems or challenges. Some licensed counselors specialize in mental health and are licensed mental health counselors.  

Licensed Therapists

Therapy is often a long-term approach to mental health and other challenges. Therapists typically work with their patients on an extended or ongoing basis.

The skills, methods, and specialties of licensed mental health counselors and therapists overlap, but their backgrounds and training differ. Each profession is tremendously important to their patients' mental health, well-being, and overall quality of life. Now, let’s learn more!

What Does a Licensed Therapist or Counselor Do?

The daily general responsibilities of licensed counselors and therapists can vary slightly depending on their area of specialty. Here are some typical duties and tasks for these professions:

  • Meet with patients to listen to and discuss their struggles, problems, and reasons for seeking therapy and counseling.
  • Create goals aligned with each patient’s specific needs.
  • Teach effective strategies and methods to help manage problems and achieve goals.
  • Provide professional insight on managing stress, relationships, mental health, and overall well-being.
  • Offer treatment modalities such as talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, body or somatic awareness, and experimental, play, or art therapies.

The treatment modalities offered by therapists and counselors can vary based on their training and experience. Therapists and counselors may provide different services that help the populations in which they specialize. Mental health therapists may offer slightly different services than marriage, relationship, substance abuse, or trauma counselors.

How Do You Become a Licensed Therapist or Counselor?

We’ll break this question into two sections, as the steps to becoming a therapist or counselor are slightly different.

How to become a licensed therapist

  • You will need to have a master’s degree. Some options are a Master of Social Work, Master of Psychology, or Master of Marriage and Family Therapy.
  • You will need to gain approximately 2-3 years of supervised experience under an experienced therapist before you will be able to become a licensed therapist.
  • Each state currently requires licensed therapists to take and pass a licensing exam. Once you become licensed, you can begin seeing patients on your own!

How to become a licensed mental health counselor

  • You will need to have a master’s degree in counseling.
  • You will need to gain approximately 2-3 years of supervised experience under an experienced counselor before you can become a licensed mental health counselor.
  • Each state requires mental health counselors to take and pass a licensing exam. After passing your exam, you can see patients independently!

How long does it take to become a licensed therapist or mental health counselor?

It can take about four years to get a bachelor’s degree, another two to three years to achieve a master’s degree, and another two to three years of supervised experience. This adds up to eight to ten years of training for this impactful career path, although you are often able to begin working in the field prior to finishing your supervised experience.

FAQs About Licensed Therapists or Counselors

What skills does a Therapist or Counselor need?

Licensed therapists and licensed counselors need specific skills and professional training to provide the best care to their patients. Here’s a little more information:

  • An advanced degree in counseling, social work, psychology, or therapy.
  • Supervised experience in therapy, counseling, and mental health services.
  • Skill and experience in providing the treatment modalities they offer.
  • Excellent people skills.
  • Great at communicating, listening, and relating to a wide range of people and experiences.

Work Settings For a Therapist or Counselor

Licensed therapists and licensed mental health counselors can work in an extensive range of environments. Here are some common work settings:

  • Mental health clinics
  • Telehealth counseling and therapy services
  • Private mental health, counseling, or therapy practices
  • Social service agencies
  • Crisis recovery centers
  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Non-profit organizations

Both therapists and counselors typically work daytime or evening hours. Many counselors and therapists see their patients in person, but the field of telehealth and remote therapy/counseling is consistently growing! This leads to greater access to therapy and counseling, as well as the opportunity for therapists and counselors to work from home and have flexible schedules.

Common Cases a Therapist or Counselor Encounters

Licensed therapists and counselors see a wide range of cases and conditions. Here are some of the most common:

  • Relationship difficulties in family, child, adolescent, marriage, and couples-specific populations.
  • Personal and professional counseling.
  • Grief counseling after a loss.
  • People struggle with thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
  • Mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, different phobias, and more.

How To Advance Your Career as a Therapist or Counselor?

You have several options to advance your career as a licensed therapist or counselor. You can specialize in one or more areas of therapy or counseling and further your education and training in your chosen path.

Many therapists and counselors choose to begin working for themselves and open and run their own private practices. You can also further your career by mentoring or teaching new therapists and counselors. You can move into leadership, management, and director roles.

Education Requirements & Helpful Certifications for a Therapist or Counselor

After achieving a bachelor's degree, you will need either a master’s degree in a therapy, counseling, or social work-related field. After receiving your degree and license, you can become certified to show your dedication to your field and your patients.

  • Most therapists and counselors must maintain their Basic Life Support (BLS) CPR certification.
  • Counselors can choose to achieve their National Certified Counselor (NCC) certification.
  • Therapists can go on to achieve their Master Therapist designation.

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