Identifying Key Differences Between Therapy and Counseling

On the surface, it seems like therapy and counseling could be one and the same. After all, both are portrayed as a type of communicative or practice-based treatment, both typically involve an individual – either a therapist or a counselor, and both seem to be geared toward helping an individual or group of individuals achieve greater levels of personal freedom.

While it’s true that both therapy and counseling share many of the same end goals, here’s the reality: both are very different. From professional licensing to the goal of the individual who seeks out therapy or counseling, the differences between the similar treatment methods mean that one is likely better than the other at certain points in life.

So what’s the difference between therapy and counseling? From the professionals who drive the treatment to the treatment itself and its intended outcome, let’s dive into the specifics.

Therapists vs. counselors: it starts with certification

While therapists might not always have more training than a licensed counselor, in general it’s true that therapists have spent more time obtaining certifications for certain types of focused therapy. Therapists typically obtain this licensure through a state or federal program, that identifies their area of focus and the location or locations in which they may operate. One of the better-known licensing bodies today is the Association of Marital and Family Therapy Regulatory Boards, obviously fully licensing therapists to perform qualified marital and family therapy work.

The day-to-day role of an individual therapist is defined by their certification. For example, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapists help individuals or couples together identify, address and resolve relational issues, depression, parent-child disconnections or any other qualified issues impairing marriage or family life. Along a different vein, therapists and psychologists who apply cognitive behavioral therapy do so to improve mental health quality, when it’s affected by cognitive behavioral challenges.

Counselors are also licensed or otherwise certified, oftentimes through boards like the National Board for Certified Counselors. State boards like the Virginia Board of Counseling or the Texas State Board of Examiners and Professional Counselors often impose state-specific counselor requirements regarding training, level of care and field time accrued.

The practice of an individual counselor will vary widely, depending on his or her certification. Licensed professional counselors can diagnose and treat a wide variety of emotional disorders, behavioral health issues, etc., and can then prescribe or engage with the client in various preventative techniques and coping practices to help them deal with any struggles they may be experiencing. At the same time, school counselors help promote success and equal student treatment in academic settings.

Do I need therapy or counseling?

You might still be wondering what type of treatment is right for you. If that’s the case, it’s helpful to understand the boundaries between counseling and therapy, and the factors that differentiate one approach from the next. It sounds like a complicated question; in reality, there are a few really easy ways to tell whether your issues will be better addressed by a counselor or a therapist.

You might need a counselor if:

  1. The issue you want to address is short-term, where you can envision an end to your treatment in the coming weeks or months.
  2. You’re looking to improve your quality of life (coping mechanisms, relationship training, etc.).

You might need a therapist if:

  1. You’re looking to address a longer-term issue, perhaps without a definitive end in sight.
  2. You’re looking for help managing some compromising aspect of your life (substance abuse, addiction, mental or behavioral health disorders, etc.)

In general, counseling services offer a shorter-term treatment option, for individuals looking to improve some specific aspect of their lives. On the other hand, therapy helps individuals cope with a much wider range of mental, behavioral or psychiatric issues, many of which can last years or span a lifetime.

Counseling or therapy? That’s a question for the professionals.

If you have the questions, you can trust that Mazzitti & Sullivan Counseling has the answers. Even if what you need is something which doesn’t fall under our core scope of services, our licensed professionals can help you reach the services you need to maximize quality of life. Reach out today, to determine which treatment type is right for you.

Ultimately, we suggest you let the professionals decide which treatment avenue is best-suited for your current state. Progress comes in small steps, often sandwiched between at step back or a frustrating plateau. And admitting you need help is the first step, but it’s also the obstacle for so many individuals in getting the treatment they need. Whether you need a therapist or a counselor, or even if your issues are best-suited for a specialist, the first right choice is often the hardest to make. Make the choice, reach out to get the help you need and it’s likely you’ll see the positive change you’re hoping to find in your own life.