There is an array of reasons why individuals seek the services of a mental health care professional, such as a psychologist, psychotherapist, or counselor. They can range from needing a sounding board in a decision making process, or a life crisis to getting qualified psychological treatment addressing symptoms of a mental health disorder, such as depression, anxiety, addiction, or OCD etc.
A person seeking to find a psychologist, psychotherapist, or counselor to “talk” to might want clarification on the difference between counseling and psychotherapy. All licensed psychologists, psychotherapists and counselors, through their academic training and internship requirements, have the qualifications to do psychotherapy and counseling. Often the terms counseling and psychotherapy are used interchangeably, as these therapies overlap in many ways; yet, there are notable differences.
What is counseling?
During counseling sessions clients talk to their psychologist, psychotherapist or counselor about their specific problem and how to address and solve it. During a counseling session, advice is not dispensed, but the psychologist, psychotherapist or counselor takes the role of a guide to facilitate positive change. Clients use the nonjudgmental safe setting of a counseling session to freely explore their unique problems. This gives them an opportunity to discover their own answers to be able to take positive steps to resolve their issues. Counseling sessions have a present day, solution based focus. Counseling often is a short term therapy, as compared to psychotherapy.
What is psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy or “therapy” in short, often is longer in duration than counseling. Psychotherapy can take place over the course of 1 or 2 years where clients see their psychologist, psychotherapist or counselor 1 to 2 times per month.
During psychotherapy psychological problems that are built up over the course of a long time are explored. Clients gain more insight into their feelings and actions. Emotional issues underlying problems and difficulties are identified and healing promoted. An essential component of psychotherapy is the therapeutic relationship between the psychologist, psychotherapist, or counselor and the client. The safe and nonjudgmental setting gives opportunity to evaluate relationship dynamics and to promote healing change.
Many mental health professionals will call themselves counselors, because this is a widely accepted and non-stigmatized mental health care service. A good psychologist, psychotherapist, or counselor is client centered and in collaboration with the client will set treatment goals and discusses treatment methods. The lines between counseling and psychotherapy are often crossed. There might be initial counseling work during which deeper, life- long behavioral and emotional patterns are discovered. Conversely, there might be a client in psychotherapy who will benefit from solution focused counseling to resolve a current issue.
The reality is that many people will benefit from someone to “talk” to. Getting professional help from a psychologist, psychotherapist, or counselor fosters personal development and addresses and heals symptoms of mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, addiction, OCD etc. It is important that the mental health care provider is personable, has good academic credentials, is experienced, and holds an appropriate license (psychologist, counselor, psychiatrist). In a collaborate effort with the client, the mental health care professional will know what therapies to put in place to effect positive change. If indicated, the psychologist, psychotherapist or counselor will refer to a psychiatrist to assess if medication is advised as an additional treatment approach.