Counseling and Psychotherapy

Many people are confused regarding counseling and psychotherapy. It is important to know the difference and which type of professionals provides what type of services.

Counseling is usually associated with providing advice. You may seek the “counsel” of an attorney when you are having a legal problem or you might seek out a financial counselor or advisor if you are having money problems.

In the area of mental health, counseling is generally associated with helping more or less “normal” people receive guidance and/or advice for problems of everyday living. For example, a student might meet with his high school guidance counselor to help decide on which college to apply to. Counselors may or may not be licensed or certified. Counselor training in the area of mental health may vary from someone who has no degree to those who hold a college degree or more typically, a 1-2 year master’s degree. A recent show highlighted a former prostitute who counseled current prostitutes to help “persuade” them to get out of the “profession” and offered a variety of social services to help in the transition. In this instance, it was felt that the individual’s past “experiences” were more helpful in counseling these individuals than a formal degree.

Psychotherapy is usually associated with people having “deeper” or more serious problems. Depression, anxiety, anger are often the targets of therapy. Psychotherapy is more often thought of as “long term”, occurring over a period of months and years, whereas counseling often occurs over a shorter period of perhaps days or weeks.

Because some people often have complex issues, problems and personalities, mental health professionals treating such people and conditions need advanced training and certification. Doctoral level psychologists are often considered the profession best suited to provide “psychotherapy,”  although social workers and other mental health professionals are legally permitted to do “therapy” with clients.

In practice, most mental health professionals would probably say they provide BOTH counseling and therapy. It is often left to the consumer to decide which mental health profession and provider has the background, credentials, skills, experience and personality that best fit their needs.

With the rise of the internet, counselors and psychotherapists often have websites to help clients make better decisions in choosing the mental health professional that is right for them.

In private practice, counselors generally charge less than psychologists and other doctoral level providers and those with more experience charge more than those with less experience.

There are many styles of counseling and many approaches to psychotherapy. Both counseling and psychotherapy place a heavy value on the importance of establishing rapport with their clients. There is an expression, “people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” Beyond caring and rapport, counselors and psychotherapists have specific skills designed to help clients achieve their goals beyond simply talking with a friend, relative or concerned individual.

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