“Counseling” vs “Therapy” Is There a Difference Between a Counselor and a Therapist?

A lot of people mean the same thing when they use the terms, but in California “counseling” and “therapy” may actually be very different things. Why does the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, under the direction of the California Department of Consumer Affairs, protect the terms therapy and psychotherapy? Well, there is a very good reason.

Let’s face it; anyone can give you advice about your life or relationship. But in California, to legally offer “therapy” (or psychotherapy, family therapy, individual therapy, marriage therapy, or marital therapy), a person must be a licensed clinician. This license can only be obtained by completing an eight to ten-year-long series of steps the Board of Behavioral Sciences has said are needed to provide meaningful relationship help. Here are some of those steps:

  • Complete a four-year college degree in psychology, sociology, or social work.
  • Obtain a post-graduate degree such as Clinical Psychology, Clinical Social Work, or Counseling Psychology from an accredited post-graduate program at a qualifying university (to be accredited, a program has to include specific courses in important areas of human behavior).
  • Complete a residency—student placement in a volunteer position working with troubled individuals, couples, or families under the supervision of the university.
  • Complete a minimum of 104 weeks of supervised clinical work (practicing under the direct supervision of a licensed professional in the work setting) for a minimum 3000 hours of experience across a variety of counseling settings (individual, group, family, crisis, etc).
  • Pass a series of oral and or written examinations designed to test candidates’ ability to remember and apply the information obtained to specific cases.
  • In order to stay current with the latest scientific information, continue to attend at least 18 hours of additional classes every year licensed.

The Board of Behavioral Sciences and the Department of Consumer Affairs protects the terms “therapy” and “psychotherapy” so people won’t get confused about what they’re getting. After all, anyone can offer marriage or relationship advice. Certain people without any of the above training and preparation can even offer marriage counseling. But in California, only a licensed professional, who continues to meet all the above standards, can offer therapy, psychotherapy, marriage therapy, or marital therapy.

When it is as important as your life, where do you want to go for help?


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