What's the Difference?

What's the difference between the various mental health professionals?

One of the hurdles in finding a therapist is wading through the various kinds of mental health professionals. What professional focuses on medication versus therapy? Are some better trained than others?

The main answer is "it depends". The individual therapist is always more important than their degree, certification, licensure or other qualification. Most of the professional's expertise will come as they specialize their continuing education and experience. Professionals in the field know the little quirks or distinctives between the various helping professions, but we also recognize that those differences blur when it comes to looking at individual therapists. It's most important that you get a trusted referral and question the professional you are considering until you are comfortable with them.

However, to help you sort through some of the initials and titles we have provided this page.


Generally, a professional must be licensed to legally provide counseling or therapy. Professional licenses are state regulated, meaning each state can establish their own laws for what is required for each license. National groups, however, lobby to keep laws somewhat uniform. Education, exams, supervision and experience are common components in applying for licensure. State laws typically protect titles like "professional counselor" and "marriage therapist" allowing them to only be used by those they license. 

Consumers are advised to make sure the professional they hire is licensed (or is a recognized student pursuing licensure) as licensure protects the consumer in many ways. Most states, for example, protect confidentiality for clients seeking therapy with a licensed professional. Licensure also requires compliance with a professional code of ethics and provides the consumer with civil, criminal and/or professional recourse if needed.

Note that some teach that it is more important to work with a Christian counselor than someone who is licensed. Respecting the Church's right to counsel it's own people, states typically allow anyone working under the umbrella of a church to call themselves a counselor without verifying any training.

You can learn more about the licenses provided by your state by contacting your state licensing board (start by checking with your Secretary of State).




Professionals are certified after meeting specific education and/or examination requirements. It may be a step toward licensure (i.e., National Board Certified Counselor is required by many states for licensure as a counselor) or specialization for someone who is licensed (i.e., Certified Sex Therapist). Generally, certification is made by a national board of peers. Certification does not in itself qualify someone to practice therapy in most states unless they are under supervision working toward licensure.


Bottom line? When interviewing a counselor, find out who licensed and/or certified them and check out the organization. Most are credible. Some are not. 

All Building Intimate Marriages, Inc. counselors are either licensed by the State of Georgia or are pursuing that license (meaning we have met, or are meeting, the state requirements). We are also certified by various bodies (i.e., National Board of Certified Counselors, American Board of Christian Sex Therapists). View our individual pages to check out our qualifications.