Behavioral Health Counseling is focused on the individual as an active agent in their own health and healing through learned skill development and informed choices. An individual is educated, trained, and coached to develop the skills and/or insight to improve their health and quality of life with assistance from a professional.

Behavioral health is defined as an “interdisciplinary field dedicated to promoting a philosophy of health that stresses individual responsibility in the application of behavioral science knowledge and techniques to the maintenance of health and the prevention of illness and dysfunction by a variety of self-initiated individual or shared activities.” (1)

Behavioral Medicine is focused on a practitioner applying principles of psychology and allied health professions (including psychiatry, sociology, education, counseling, nutrition, exercise physiology, nursing, and social work) to the treatment of medical conditions. A patient is treated by a health professional using behavioral techniques to manage or recover from an illness or chronic condition.

Behavioral medicine is defined as an “interdisciplinary field concerned with the development and integration of behavioral and biomedical science, knowledge and techniques relevant to health and illness and the application of this knowledge in prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation.” (2) 

While there is significant overlap between the two, behavioral health tends to emphasize preventative and educational efforts, whereas behavioral medicine tends to emphasize treatment and rehabilitation efforts. Behavioral medicine practitioners are licensed health professionals, typically psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, or psychiatric social workers, while behavioral health practitioners are counselors, educators, nurses, or therapists, and are not necessarily licensed as health professionals.

The key difference to keep in mind is that if a practitioner is treating a diagnosed medical condition, they must be licensed and/or supervised by an appropriate licensed health professional. If a practitioner is teaching a person to improve their general health or manage their life circumstances more effectively, then having a license as a health professional is not necessary.


(1)   Matarazzo, J.D. (1980). Behavioral health and behavioral medicine: Frontiers for a new health psychology. American Psychologist, 35, 807-817.

(2)   Schwartz, G.E. & Weiss, S.M. (1978). Behavioral medicine revisited: An amended definition. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 1, 249-251.


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