How to Choose a Counselor or Therapist

We're all subject to the pressures that come with everyday life, relationships, and responsibilities. Service members and their families face the added challenges of relocations and deployments. With everything you have to manage in your life, you or someone in your family might feel overwhelmed and want to talk to a professional with a different perspective. For those times, a counselor or therapist may be the answer. Read on to learn more about the different types of counselors, their qualifications, the kinds of problems they address and how they can help.

Medical and non-medical counseling

The words counseling, therapy and psychotherapy are often used to describe the same process. Counseling may be designated as either medical or non-medical. Medical counseling specifically addresses issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, child abuse or neglect, domestic violence, suicidal ideation and other medically diagnosable issues.

Non-medical counseling addresses issues such as improving relationships at home and work, stress management, adjustment difficulties (for example, returning from a deployment), marital problems, parenting, and grief or loss.

Counseling and therapy can take place individually, with another person (a spouse, for example), with a family, in a group or in some combination of these. During counseling sessions, you work with a trained professional who talks to you about self-identified problems and helps you find ways to cope with them. For example, the counselor can help you identify patterns of thinking and behaving that either benefit or work against you.


Non-medical counseling is confidential with the exception of situations that are required by state laws or federal and military requirements to be reported (for example, domestic violence, child abuse, threats of harm to self or others and other ‘duty-to-warn' situations).

Different types of counselors and therapists

Several different types of counselors who meet professional standards and licensing requirements may provide counseling or therapy for a wide range of issues, including parenting, grief and couples or family relationships. The following information will help you better understand the different types of recognized counseling specialists and how they are qualified to help:

  • Social workers have a master's or doctoral degree in clinical social work. They are trained to understand how people are affected by their environment, including family and culture, and can provide individual, family and group counseling.
  • Marriage and family therapists have a master's or doctoral degree in psychology, education or social work; postgraduate certification in marriage and family therapy; or both. They usually focus more on practical counseling and are trained to deal with interpersonal relationships, including family and couple conflicts.
  • Mental health counselors also have a master's or doctoral degree in psychology or education. As with many counselors or therapists, mental health counselors specialize in helping people cope with a particular problem. Others may specialize in a particular area, such as educational or religious counseling.
  • Psychologists have a master's degree - and possibly a doctoral degree - in psychology, education or social science. Psychologists are specially trained to use psychological and educational testing to help identify and resolve problems. Like other types of counselors, they work in many settings, including mental health centers, hospitals and clinics, schools and private practice.
  • Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors specially trained to assess, diagnose and treat a patient's mental and physical condition, often working as part of a team with other professionals. They are able to hospitalize patients and, in most states, they are the only therapists who can prescribe medication. Psychiatrists treat people with more severe problems and collaborate with primary care physicians as well as therapists to implement and manage a medication regimen for clients.
  • Certified pastoral counselors are members of the clergy with specialized training in psychotherapy. All service members have access to pastoral counseling by trained, qualified military chaplains through their commands and installations. These counselors are ordained by individual religious denominations before entering the military. Once commissioned, they are further trained and certified to provide assistance to service members of all faiths and their families.
  • Licensed professional counselors generally have a master's degree in counseling or in a related field and provide general mental health counseling services.

Regardless of which type of counselor or therapist is right for you, the important thing is that you find the help you need when you need it. Military OneSource can provide you with further information about where to go from here.




Find programs and services at your local installation.

View a directory of installations

Service members, family members, surviving family members, service providers and leaders rely on Military OneSource for policy, procedures, timely articles, cutting-edge social media tools and support. All in one place, empowering our military community.