Counselor vs. Therapist: A Salary Showdown

By Jared Levenson - Reviewed on September 4, 2023
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When it comes to mental health counseling, a variety of professions work towards providing help and support. Among these are counselors and therapists.

While both roles aim to assist individuals in navigating their mental health, key differences distinguish them.

Our Online Mental Health Review Team is highly qualified to write about the salary comparison between counselors and therapists. Consisting of experienced mental health professionals, including licensed therapists, counselors, and psychiatric nurses, our team brings a wealth of practical experience and knowledge in the mental illness field.

Now, let’s delve into a detailed comparison of salaries between a counselor and a therapist.

Because not only do these differences lie in their job responsibilities and educational requirements but also in their potential earnings.

Understanding the Roles: Counselors vs. Therapists

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  • Counselors tend to work with individuals facing life challenges on a more short-term basis. Their approach is often practical, focusing on functional problems to be solved for each individual.
  • On the other hand, therapists treat severe mental illnesses and health conditions continuously, offering a more exploratory and holistic approach.

Both roles require licensure and a bachelor’s or graduate doctoral degree. However, the nature and duration of their training can differ, influencing their earning potential.

The Earnings: Counselor vs Therapist Salary?

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Regarding mental health professionals’ salaries, a range can vary depending on location, experience, and specialization.

Here’s a comparison between the salaries of counselors and therapists, with data points gathered from various online sources:

Counselors :

  1. The average salary for a Counselor is $20.95 per hour in the United States. (source)
  2. The average Counselor salary in the United States is $59,208 as of August 27, 2023, but the range typically falls between $52,582 and $67,066. (source)
  3. Licensed Professional Counselors with this license earn +30.70% more than the average base salary, which is $69,631 per year. (source)
  4. The average Licensed Mental Health Counselor salary in the United States is $71,845, but the salary range typically falls between $64,485 and $79,689. (source)
  5. Mental Health Counselors made a median salary of $49,130 in 2021. The best-paid 25% earned $69,260 that year, while the lowest-paid 25% made $38,630. (source)

Marriage and Family Therapists:

  1. Are you considering a career as a Marriage and Family Therapist? These dedicated professionals earn around $25.64 per hour across the United States. (source)
  2. The typical salary range for a Marriage and Family Therapist in the United States is between $49,170 and $80,318, with an average salary of $63,930 as of August 27, 2023. This range can help you understand what you expect to earn in this field. (source)
  3. Professional certification can make a significant impact on your earnings. For example, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists tend to earn about 30.70% more than the average base salary, which equates to approximately $69,631 per year. (source)
  4. Earning potential can vary depending on your specific role. For instance, the average salary for a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the United States is $71,845, ranging from $64,485 to $79,689. (source)
  5. It’s also helpful to look at median salaries. In 2021, Marriage and Family Therapists had a median salary of $51,340. The top 25% of earners in this field made $91,230 that year, while the lowest-paid 25% made $38,630. (source)

These figures are averages; actual salaries can vary based on location, experience, specialization, and more.

What is the difference between a therapist and a counselor?

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Understanding the difference between a therapist and a counselor can help you make the right choice for your unique needs.

  • Education and Training: Therapists typically have more advanced training, often holding a doctorate, while counselors usually have a master’s degree.
  • Treatment Focus: Therapists often focus on long-term mental health issues, while counselors might concentrate on specific life problems or crises.
  • Therapeutic Approach: Therapists often use a more comprehensive range of therapeutic approaches, whereas counselors might use specific, targeted interventions.
  • Duration of Treatment: Therapy can be long-term, while counseling is typically shorter and more focused.
  • Regulatory Standards: Both therapists and counselors must meet licensing requirements, which vary by state and specialty.

Is a counselor a therapist?

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Let’s clarify a common question: Is a therapist the same as a counselor?

  • Overlap in Roles: Both counselors and therapists provide mental health support, but their focus may differ – like two sides of the same coin.
  • Educational Differences: While both professions require advanced education, therapists often hold doctoral degrees, compared to master’s degrees for counselors.
  • Counseling Focus: Counselors tend to concentrate on specific life issues or transitions, offering targeted strategies and coping mechanisms.
  • Therapy Focus: Therapists generally delve deeper into long-term mental health issues, treating complex psychological conditions.
  • Licensing Varies: The terms “counselor” and “therapist” are often regulated differently by state, affecting their scope of practice.

What is the difference between a clinician and a counselor?

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Let’s switch gears and discuss another common confusion point: clinicians versus counselors.

  • Role and Responsibility: A clinician, a broad term often used for health professionals involved in patient care, may diagnose and treat mental disorders, while a counselor typically helps people navigate life’s challenges.
  • Education and Training: Clinicians often have advanced degrees and clinical training, whereas counselors usually have a master’s degree in counseling or a related field.
  • Scope of Practice: Clinicians may provide a wide range of services, including medication management, while counselors generally focus on therapeutic conversations and strategies.
  • Treatment Approach: Clinicians might use a medical model to approach mental health issues, while counselors often use a wellness model, focusing on strengths and resilience.
  • Duration of Care: Clinicians often manage long-term care for chronic mental health conditions, while counseling is typically more short-term and goal-oriented.

What is the highest-paying type of counselor?

How Much Do Counselors Actually Make?

Embarking on a career in counseling can be as rewarding financially as it is personally, especially when you’re aware counseling psychology is one of the highest-paying specialties in the field.

  • Psychiatrist: As medical doctors who can prescribe medication, psychiatrists often earn top salaries in the mental health field.
  • Industrial-Organizational Psychologist: These professionals apply psychological principles to the workplace to improve productivity and employee satisfaction.
  • Neuropsychologist: Specialists in how brain function affects behavior and cognition; neuropsychologists often command high salaries.
  • School Psychologist: Working primarily in educational settings, school psychologists can earn higher than average salaries, particularly in some geographic regions.
  • Clinical Psychologists: These professionals diagnose and treat various mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders, often earning robust salaries.

Remember, while potential earnings are substantial, finding a counseling specialty that aligns with your passion and skills is critical to long-term satisfaction, overall mental health, and success.

Which Mental Health Profession is Right for Me?

Choosing the right mental health profession is a profoundly personal decision, and understanding the different roles licensed mental health has can help guide you toward a fulfilling career.

  • Psychiatrist: If you’re interested in the medical side of mental health and want to prescribe medication, consider becoming a psychiatrist.
  • Clinical Psychologist: If you’re drawn to diagnosing and treating mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders through therapy, clinical psychology could be your path.
  • Counselor: Counseling might be a good fit if you’re passionate about helping individuals overcome specific life challenges or transitions.
  • Social Worker: Social work could be your calling if you want to link people with the resources they need to improve their mental health while addressing societal factors.
  • Psychotherapist: If you’re fascinated by how the mind works and want to help clients explore their thoughts and feelings in-depth, consider psychotherapy.

Remember, choosing a mental health profession is not just about where you can make a difference but also where you’ll feel fulfilled and inspired.

TraitLab to Discover If You’re A Counselor Or Therapist

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Navigating a career in psychology can sometimes feel like traversing a vast, complex labyrinth. With so many paths, how do you pinpoint the one that best aligns with your unique personality traits and professional aspirations?

This is where TraitLab comes into play, which we note in our TraitLab review.

  • TraitLab offers a comprehensive, science-backed personality test for just $24 that can provide valuable insights to guide your career decisions in psychology.
  • Whether you’re a doctor, therapist, mental health professional, coach, or any other professional within the mental health sphere, this tool can help you understand your inherent strengths, preferences, and potential areas for growth.
  • It’s a small investment that may illuminate the right path, saving you time, money, and uncertainty in the long run.
  • The data gathered from this assessment can be particularly beneficial for those who value staying up-to-date with current scientific publications and are open to leveraging technology to enhance their career trajectory.

Remember, every career journey is unique, and understanding your personality traits is an essential part of that journey. TraitLab can serve as your compass, guiding you toward a fulfilling career in psychology that aligns with who you are.

Counselor vs. Therapist Salary Conclusion

While the earning potential for counselors and therapists is relatively close, therapists generally have a slight edge due to their broader scope of work and longer-term client relationships.

That being said, the deciding factor often comes to specialization and location. A counselor in a high-demand specialty or high-cost-of-living area might out-earn a general therapist in a lower-demand or low-cost space.

Finally, please comment below if you have questions about counseling, therapy, or respective salaries.

You may also suggest your favorite mental health software you think the Online Mental Health Reviews platform should review next. Our team would love to hear about your experience!

If your organization is considering a mental health tool, please email us to request a review. If appropriate, we will secret shop the service your organization wants to learn more about and leave a comprehensive review.

Additional Reading

For more distinctions between various mental health jobs/terms, please see our articles covering: counselor vs therapist, psychiatrist vs psychologist (depression), therapist vs psychologist, depression, LPC vs PsyD, clinical psychologist, counseling versus coaching, mentors vs sponsors, psychotherapy vs CBT, therapy quiz, trauma coach vs therapist, therapist vs life coaches, hospital vs psych ward, and psychologist vs social worker.

If You Are In Crisis

In a moment of crisis, it’s crucial to prioritize your safety over waiting for an online therapy session. If you feel a threat to yourself or others, please dial 911 immediately. If thoughts of self-harm are overwhelming you, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available at any time by dialing 988.

They’re there for you 24/7. Additionally, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357) offers free, confidential assistance round the clock every day of the year. This line serves as a lifeline for those grappling with mental health or substance abuse issues, offering treatment information and guidance.

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