The terms counseling and therapy are often used synonymously. There are, however, core differences between psychological counseling and psychotherapy. For one thing counseling is generally a more short-term solution as opposed to therapy which is more long term and focuses on a wider scope of issues.
What do Therapists do?
You may ask the question, “What does a therapist do?” Therapists focus primarily on long term treatment. The role of a therapist is to help patients highlight and address feelings and issues. These issues vary greatly. Your therapist might discuss dissonance, which is the uneasiness one might feel when actions, feelings and thoughts do not resonate. They might discuss projecting, which is manifesting your concerns and feelings onto another as a defense mechanism. Both of these therapy terms are probably familiar to you and there are many others that your therapist may discuss with you.
What is the Role of Counselors?
Counselors tend to be the front lines of dealing with trauma and suffering. They focus more on advising and encouraging patients and clients. The role of a counselor is to be the first level of engagement, similar to paramedics who are responsible for “patching up” the wounded before they receive more thorough level of care at a hospital. In contrast, a psychotherapist is like a doctor at the hospital. They have more refined skills to treat deeper damage. Unlike counselors, therapists often take on the responsibility of a patient’s long-term care.
Counseling vs Therapy
In the context of mental health, counseling refers to a a relatively brief treatment period focusing primarily on behavioral modifications. For example, drug & alcohol counselors often work in rehab settings, trying to help clients stay sober. Unlike therapists, they tend to work in group settings with multiple clients.
Counselors do not have the tools or the time, however, to resolve the underlying trauma. As Dr. Gabor Maté, a well-respected addiction doctor, explains, “The question is not why the addiction, but why the pain.” Very rarely do counselors address such deeper issues. In contrast, therapists focus not only the addiction but the childhood suffering behind it. But such therapy takes time and effort.
Key Differences Between Counselor Vs Therapist
Here is a list of some of the differences between a counselor vs therapist:
- Counselors do not require an advanced degree to provide services.
- “Therapist” is a protected title that requires licensure to operate.
- Counselors mainly work in the context of institutions like rehabs, clinics, and schools.
- Therapists primarily work in private practice, providing long-term treatment.
- Counseling focuses on particular problems like addiction or stress management.
- More long-term, psychotherapy focuses on a broader range of issues.
While counselors provide relief and support in a crisis like drug interventions and grief management, therapists handle long-term mental health challenges. For example, a counselor is not qualified to singlehandedly treat bipolar disorder or clinical depression. Such chronic mental health issues require the advanced expertise of a therapist. Often, a therapist works in conjunction with a psychiatrist or doctor, who can help with medication management, thus prescribing drug regimens when needed.
Reach Out to a Counselor or Therapist
Hopefully this article has provided background on the differences between a counselor vs. therapist and has given you the confidence to reach out for help. Before an appointment with a counselor or therapist, write out the answers to the following questions:
- Issues and concerns that led to this decision to get help – what was the trigger?
- Any significant stresses or recent life changes, even if they seem disconnected
- All medications, vitamins or supplements taken by a teen, including doses
- Questions to ask at a first session to raise your comfort level
Counseling and therapy can often work in conjunction with each other, providing complementary services to help you in achieving a happier, more fulfilling life. If you are in need of guidance when seeking the help of a counselor or therapist, reach out to Teen Rehab and we can help you find the support you need to move forward.