Which Is Better? The Psychotherapy Vs Counseling Debate

By: Nadia Khan

Updated May 06, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC


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Many people who do not have medical training interchange the terms 'counseling' and ‘psychotherapy.’ There are similarities. Generally, therapists and counselors both are able to give advice to clients to help them deal with specific issues. These can includegrief, career progress, relationship cycles, anger management, and low self-esteem. The sessions can be over some weeks or months. Psychotherapy, speaking generally, deals with people who have serious past issues that may be serving as the underlying reasons for present behavior. Psychotherapists are trained to identify mental illness and provide treatment, if appropriate. This therapy can take place on a weekly basis over a number of years. There is also a lot of overlap that can occur between the two types of therapies in the reasons people seek help.

Psychotherapy and counseling are two very different solutions that aim for the same outcome. Psychology is a social science, so it is not surprising to come across different types of therapy for the same diagnosis. Which is better? The psychotherapy vs counseling debate depends on personal preference. Before you can even decide on personal preference, you need to know a bit about both very effective therapies.

Psychotherapy, just like counseling, depends on a strong, trusting relationship between you and your chosen therapist. Both psychotherapy and counseling rely on talking and working through problems.But this is where the similarity ends. Psychotherapy relies on delving into your past and working together with your therapist to understand how your past experiences have brought you to the place you are today. Counseling is more focused onpresent and recent events and how they affect you currently.

Which is better? The psychotherapy vs counseling debate can be solved by you and the right therapist. A good therapist will help you discover which would benefit you most. Therapists are trained to use many different types of therapy.A solid relationship with the right therapist will help you decide with confidence which is best. Many mental health practitioners specialize in both psychotherapy and counseling. If you are seeking help but are unsure which type of therapy is best for you, BetterHelp, an online counselingwebsite, can be of service.

Psychotherapy

A psychotherapist can use counseling and psychotherapy to treat people with problems. They can potentiallyhave superior skills, and some have completed training to become a medical doctor in addition to their psychological training. Psychotherapists focus on determining the causes of chronic physical and emotional issues. They are concerned with the patient's thoughts, how they think, how they draw conclusions and their reasoning for their behavior. Psychotherapists may treat patients on a long-term basis and work with the patient to help them make significant and lasting changes to their lives. They can fundamentally alter the way their client sees and reacts or adjusts to the happenings in their world. They may recommend various tests for intelligence, cognitive reasoning, and personality traits.


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There are different types of psychotherapy in which the psychotherapist is trained, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, psychoanalytical psychotherapy, and many more.

Counseling

A counselor is an advisor who works with a client to find solutions to specific problems or issues. A trained counselor usually has first received training as a nurse or a social worker. A mental health counselor focuses on present behavior with the idea of helping the client find ways to change their behavior. They rely on talk therapy. Counselors usually deal with relationship issues between partners or family members. They give advice and suggestions to deal with grief, the death of a loved one, frustrations with your career, issues with your relationships, and more. A counselor can direct a client to the appropriate medical doctor or to a treatment facility if this step is appropriate.

You may decide to see a counselor when:

  • You consider your issues as short-term.
  • You need to learn coping skills for stress and relationship problems.
  • You are finding it difficult to make adjustments to changes in your lifestyle.
  • You have substance use issues.

You may decide to see a psychotherapist when:

  • You are coping with traumas that happened in your past.
  • You have a chronic medical problem that is causing emotional stress.
  • You have been diagnosed as having a mental health condition (bipolar, manic-depressive, schizophrenia, OCD, anxiety disorder).
  • You have seen a counselor and they suggested further more in-depth treatment.

How Does Psychotherapy Work?

Psychotherapy is effective at finding the root cause for depression.This type of therapy may assume that something in the past is responsible for the depression. It can be difficult to know if events in your past are affecting your mental health in the present, and this is where psychotherapy comes in. Many people don't realize just how much traumatic events in the past can affect present decisions, motivations, and behaviors subconsciously.

A psychotherapist is skilled in the use many different therapies.They rely on the therapeutic relationship between themselves and their client to achieve an understanding of which therapy to use. Therapies used include behavior modification, mindful-based behavioral therapy, and insight-oriented psychotherapies. The choice of therapy depends on the diagnosis and needs of the client. This is why the therapeutic relationship (relationship between therapist and patient) is so important.


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How Does Counseling Work?

Just like the therapeutic relationship relied on for effective psychotherapy, effective counseling relies on this relationship too. The goal of counseling is to use talk therapy to help clients work through the issues that affect them in negative ways. Counselors listen, provide feedback, and counsel. They do not provide answers; they help you find answers for yourself.

Counselors will discuss present behaviors and help you to understand how these behaviors elicit unwanted results. Counselors work to understand you and your life by asking questions that show your thought process. The more they know about you, the more effective their counseling is. If you're looking for counseling services, check our BetterHelp.


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In truth, many people do not make strict distinctions between counselors and psychotherapists. If you are considering pursuing a career in counseling or psychotherapy, you might want to learn more about the educational qualifications you will need to do so. As of 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were roughly 319,000 mental health counselors working the U.S. But the field is expected to grow at an astonishing rate over the next ten years. To keep up with demand, BLS economists predict mental health practitioners will need to increase 25% between now and 2029. Part of the reason for this jump in popularity is advent of online counseling. Remote therapy reached a watershed moment in 2020 with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Before this time, many were wary of online counseling despite the fact that research repeatedly finds that it brings about the same effects as in-person treatment. But once in-person meetings were no longer possible, therapists and patients switched to remote communication. Since, many have come to prefer it.

One advantage of online counseling with platforms like BetterHelp is that getting in touch with your counselor is more convenient. You can do so right from your living room—or from anywhere you have an internet connection. You can also select therapists who will work with your schedule, and not the other way around. Read what others have to say about their experiences receiving both counseling and psychotherapy from BetterHelp below.

“Dr. Regardie is the best counselor I've ever worked with! Just in the few months since we began having sessions I've made more progress in recovering from CPTSD than I had before in my entire life! She's very experienced in working with trauma and has a deep understanding of the psychology behind its manifestation and how to heal from it. I highly recommend her and am disappointed I can't continue to work with her due to residing in a state outside her licensing.”

“Oyeyemi is an patient, active and caring counselor. As soon as I was matched with her, she set me up with goals, provided information on what trauma is and gave me grounding techniques for anxiety attacks. Her response times are impeccable, and she’s very clear about her availability. Her faith and psychological based counseling reformed my thought process in under two weeks. I’m looking forward to collaborating with her further in my healing journey. I trust her expertise and genuine love her career to help others find balance.”


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