Counseling vs Therapy: What Are the Differences?

According to the latest statistics, around one in five Americans regularly make use of mental health services. Yet, only 5% of adults suffer from a severe mental illness. 

That’s because you don’t need a serious issue to engage in therapy or counseling. Anyone can benefit from these services. 

So, if you need someone to talk to, keep reading to discover the ins and outs of counseling vs. therapy and which one might suit you best.

What Is Counseling?

Counseling usually takes place over a limited time frame until you’ve resolved a temporary issue. You can let counseling guide you on matters to do with your marriage, family relationships, or work life.

It focuses on specific issues over a specified time. Counseling can help you develop ways to cope with stress or manage your relationships in general. 

Typically, you’ll learn tools to help you cope better with troublesome situations. In some cases, a counselor may refer you to a therapist for help treating underlying issues. Nowadays, technology has also made virtual counseling possible. This is an excellent alternative, especially beneficial for those who may feel stigmatized or uncomfortable with in-person therapy.

What Is Therapy?

Therapy takes place over a longer period and centers more on your internal, individual issues. Often, therapy focuses on your worldview, thoughts, behaviors, and the reasons you do the things you do.

For instance, depression sufferers may work with a therapist to explore how this malady impacts their life and how to cope with it better. 

Counseling vs. Therapy: Applications

Due to the similarities between these two professions, it’s vital to consider a few options before settling on the best fit for you. Each therapist and counselor has a different approach and may offer individual, family, couples, and group counseling. 

These are the basics you need to know:

Counselor Services

Most counselors take a holistic and strengths-based approach to their interactions with patients. That means they focus on the overall person, including their strengths and abilities.  

In most cases, counseling focuses on achieving certain goals related to mental health, overall wellness, and life milestones like your career or education.

These are the most common types of counseling:

  • individual, couples, family, and group therapy
  • Trauma counseling
  • Relationship or marriage counseling
  • Addiction counseling
  • Anger counseling
  • Grief counseling
  • Anxiety and depression counseling
  • Multi-faceted counseling

Typically, counselors focus on how current problems are hampering your overall well-being and mental health. They’ll assess these factors and help you reduce the symptoms to feel better.

These treatments rarely delve deeply into issues such as past trauma and experiences.  

Therapist Services

Counselors focus on treating specific conditions like PTSD, anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder, but they also help in all the cases mentioned above.

Like counselors, they use talk therapy to get to the root of your problems and resolve them. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most widely-used techniques used to delve into your past to look for solutions to current issues. 

Therapists tend to focus more on human behavior and research than counselors do, but this varies from therapist to therapist. They may also consider medical solutions like prescribing propranolol for anxiety

It’s important to keep exploring your therapy options until you find an approach that works for you. 

Differences Between a Counselor and a Therapist 

Often, we use the terms ‘counselor’ and ‘therapist’ interchangeably. That’s because many of these professionals offer both counseling and therapy services, despite their different qualifications.

There is a significant overlap in their areas of specialization, and both may offer the following services: 

  • Group, individual, and couples therapy
  • Adolescent and child therapy
  • Behavioral therapies
  • Substance abuse counseling
  • Anxiety or depression support
  • Grief therapy

Therapists with higher level training can address more complex issues within the same specialization than counselors do.

The key differences between these two professions revolve around training, education, and licensing. 

Counselor Credentials 

Counselors need a Master’s Degree in Counselling to treat patients in a clinical setting. Their studies center on areas they’re interested in, including applicable therapy techniques.

Once they’ve completed the necessary studies, they must gain between 2,000 and 3,000 hours of practical experience under the guidance of an experienced counselor. Once they’ve completed this, they can apply for a license to offer counseling services.

Many counselors opt to complete additional qualifications related to their specialization once they’re licensed.  

A counseling psychologist has a doctorate in psychology and must have a psychologist’s license. 

Therapist Qualifications

Like counselors, therapists must complete a Master’s degree or Doctorate related to psychotherapy. These include:

  • Master of Social Work
  • Marriage and Family Therapy
  • Psychology
  • Counseling Psychology

Therapists need to complete two to three years of experience under the auspices of a qualified therapist before they can write their licensing examination and achieve their license.  

Psychologists and psychiatrists may also offer therapy services, but these clinicians train at medical school to earn a Ph.D., PsyD, MD, or DO degree. 

Apart from educational qualifications, these professionals may charge wildly different prices, and health insurers have different criteria when it comes to covering treatment, too. 

It’s important to choose a counselor or therapist you can afford in the long term and always work with a professional who’s licensed to work in your state. 

Get the Help You Need

Both counselors and therapists focus on helping you resolve the issues that are plaguing your life and relationships.

These discussions revolve around deeply personal issues. So, it’s vital to work with someone you feel comfortable with when considering your options regarding counseling vs. therapy.

You can work with more than one of these professionals if you prefer. Remember, their counseling tips might not always be what you want to hear. It’s important to work with someone who is objective about your failings, so don’t let this sway your decision. 

If you’d like to find out some things you do want to hear about, keep browsing my blog for more tips on how to get your life on track. 


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