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Everyone experiences stress and turmoil at some point in their lives. Some people experience these painful emotions more often or more intensely than others. Whatever the case may be, seeing a professional can make a big difference by improving the quality of life. It can help an individual see things from a new perspective or serve as a form of social support. 

Seeing a professional can mean different things, such as talking to a counselor or a clinical psychologist. This article will discuss the similarities and differences between both professions and provide tips to help you figure out which treatment you may need.

Counseling Is Problem-Specific 

Counseling is a type of short-term therapy that targets a specific situation or symptom. Over the course of several weeks or months, the counselor helps the client build skills to deal with the issue. 

Education may also be provided to help the client learn more about what they’re going through and find their own solutions. Much of the attention is aimed at how the individual can employ strategies to respond differently to their circumstances.

Different Forms of Counseling 

There are many forms of counseling. Some seek assistance with ongoing marital or family problems they can’t resolve independently. Others are working to overcome a behavioral addiction to drugs or alcohol in relapse prevention. Mental health counseling can help improve an individual’s emotional coping skills for anger, grief, and stress.

Psychotherapy Is More In-Depth

Psychotherapy is a more comprehensive approach to treatment. As such, it is typically a long-term program that can continue for years. 

The general purpose of psychotherapy is to unravel layers of a person’s psyche to understand how past experiences inform thought and behavioral patterns. Psychotherapy can aid in healing from abuse and neglect experienced in childhood and trauma experienced in adulthood that is contributing to harmful behaviors like substance abuse. 

While counseling is oriented more toward action and behaviors, psychotherapy is more oriented toward internal emotions. It can be a painful process that results in the reward of personal transformation and inner peace. 

Different Forms of Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy also takes many forms. Some classical therapies are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Others are trauma-based, such as somatic experiencing and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). 

Similarities and Differences in Training 

Both professions are often confused as they treat similar issues while sometimes using the same techniques. The professionals themselves, however, have some differences in training.

A clinical psychologist is required to have a doctoral degree (Ph.D.) in psychology. They tend to have wider knowledge and experience and can administer more tests on clients. Psychologists can apply counseling techniques as well as provide psychotherapy.

Counselors typically choose a particular field to narrow their master’s studies to, such as mental health disorders, addiction, or marriage and family. They may not be able to provide psychotherapy as it requires certain skills. Both types of professionals must be licensed by the state in which they practice. 

Determining Which Treatment Is Needed

The nuances between counseling and psychotherapy can be tricky to grasp. It may take a few sessions with either a counselor or therapist to determine which method is the right one. That’s okay. It’s a part of the process for some people. A counselor could refer a client out to a psychologist and vice versa. 

The following scenarios can aid in making an initial decision.

Counseling may be more appropriate when:

  • There is a distinct starting point for the problem 
  • Significant life transitions or changes are difficult to cope with 
  • There is no identifiable connection to trauma or past issues
  • There is a desire for support, guidance, or practical tools
  • The problem can potentially be resolved over a few weeks or months 

Psychotherapy may be more appropriate when:

  • It is difficult to pinpoint when issues started
  • Substances are abused to numb traumatic memories 
  • Deep work must be done to elicit personal transformation 
  • Counseling isn’t helping despite actively working on issues
  • Issues are chronic and likely unresolvable in a few weeks or months
  • There is a possibility that current issues are linked to trauma or past issues
  • Symptoms of depression and other mental health conditions are making life unbearable or dysfunctional

Both Practices Have a Role in Healing 

Counseling and psychotherapy are both effective treatments for the same types of issues. Sometimes all it takes is one sentence or idea to change a person’s entire outlook on life.

Both employ different techniques and range in treatment duration. Which treatment is best depends on the unique circumstances of each client. It may take a little trial and error to figure out which therapy is most appropriate for meeting a client’s needs. 

Counseling and psychotherapy are the two main approaches used to treat behavioral and emotional conditions. Both practices share some key features, but they also have significant differences. The path that a particular client will take to recovery will depend on the history and depth of the issues they face. West Coast Recovery Centers is an outpatient treatment program in Oceanside, CA. We are certified through the Department of Healthcare Services of the State of California to treat adults struggling with addiction and co-occurring conditions. We are nationally accredited through the Joint Commission. Our goal is to provide clinically appropriate care to clients while allowing them to fulfill their personal obligations at home and work. The two levels of care available are Partial Hospitalization (PHP) and Intensive Outpatient Day Program (IOP). Both psychologists and counselors make up our team of uniquely trained professionals. Call to learn more at (760) 492-6509.