Which Type of Counselor is Right for You?

how couples counseling helps

Breaking Down Different Types of Counselors

When you look for a counselor, you will find out pretty quickly that there are many different types of practitioners. I am Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT), but several other types of counselors exist as well. Do some research and find out which type of counselor makes the most sense for your personal situation. For example, do you want to focus mainly on issues related to your relationship or family, or do you want intense individual counseling with someone who can prescribe medication? The counselor you choose might depend largely on their specialty and degree, so here is a little background on some of the main different types of counselors.

Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT)

MFTs are licensed to work in their state and provide mental health services surrounding issues of relationships. After getting a graduate degree in marriage and family therapy, MFTs also complete 3,000 hours of an internship under the supervision of another licensed MFT where they work with real clients. A marriage and family therapist helps you get to the core of your emotional issues, and will often look at problems from the context of the relationships in your life. An MFT often works with couples, but can also provide individual counseling. Within the MFT field, counselors use different theoretical approaches. I use Emotionally Focused Therapy.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

A LCSW has a graduate degree in social work, and has also passed a state or national exam to become licensed. A licensed clinical social worker has to complete hours of clinical supervision, which can be different depending on the state they live in. LCSWs practice psychotherapy, and can help you with mental health issues that get in the way of your everyday life. A LCSW has studied things like sociology, social work, human behavior, growth and development, and they also know a lot about research methods.


A psychologist has a Doctorate degree in psychology. Psychologists are educated to deal with mental illness, behavior problems, and diseases of the brain – they are trained specifically in patterns of human behavior and how the brain works under different emotions and conditions. A psychologist must go to school for between five and seven years to get their Doctorate, which usually includes conducting their own research and taking an internship. A psychologist can work with either individuals or couples.


A psychiatrist goes to medical school and gets her M.D. They are trained to diagnose and assess mental illness, and they are allowed to prescribe medication because they are medical doctors. A psychiatrist has gone to school for formal training, and then completed a residency at a medical practice or hospital before they are fully licensed. Many psychiatrists are specialized in one particular area, such as children or addiction. Psychiatrists look at things from disease, behavior, personality, and life experience perspectives.

Life Coach

A life coach is not required to have any formal training, and they are not allowed to diagnose or treat mental illness. Instead, a life coach is there to help you figure out what your goals are in life and then stay on track to meet them. A life coach doesn’t necessarily help you deal with your past – they are just there to keep you motivated to achieve goals like education or finding a new job.

The type of counselor you see might really shape your experience. If you think you want to work with a MFT, give me a call or book an appointment online and let’s see if I can help you!

About Jennine Estes, MFT

Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA. Certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples. Supervisor. I write relationship and self growth advice for my column Relationships in the Raw. Creator of #BeingLOVEDIs campaign. MFC#47653