Counseling vs. Psychotherapy

Mental health counseling and psychotherapy are often considered to be interchangeable therapies that overlap in a number of ways; however, there are many differences a potential client should be aware of before making the decision to seek counseling verses psychotherapy. Both services involve evaluating, diagnosing, and treating mental and behavioral disorders, but mental health counseling typically provides shorter-term support that is solution-focused rather than managing chronic symptoms of mental illness. Counselors help individuals, couples, families, or groups attain optimum mental and emotional health by helping them deal with family, parenting, and relationship problems; stress management; life transitions; self-esteem; educational and career goals; and aging. The therapeutic work is done by a Master-level clinician. The counselor’s goal is to equip the client with problem-solving and coping skills that will allow the client to overcome or avoid certain challenges outside of counseling. Counselors do not aim to develop a long-term relationship with clients. In most cases, the initial issues that brought a client to counseling can be addressed in 4-12 sessions. Occasionally, counseling will continue beyond that timeframe if additional challenges are discovered. Specific disorders such as depression and anxiety can be treated by a counselor, but clients with severe or chronic symptoms will typically require treatment with a psychologist who has a higher level of training.

Psychotherapy is a longer-term process of treatment that identifies emotional issues and psychological problems that have been built up over the course of a long period of time. It involves examination of the background to problems and difficulties and helps you understand your feelings, thoughts and actions more clearly. Psychotherapy is often utilized to treat mental health disorders, such as Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, etc. and involves empirically-supported treatments, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy. It is most often conducted by doctoral-level psychologists.