Like all medical terms, psychology terms can be hard to understand. Words like psychotherapy and psychoanalysis often get mixed up. Some terms mean the same thing as others.

It can be overwhelming especially when you’re just starting to research psychology. You’re looking for help and come across terms like “therapy” and “counseling.”

What’s the difference here? Which option is best for you? We’ll help you figure all of that out and introduce you to a few other terms as well.

To understand therapy vs counseling, one must understand what mental health professionals do. While they have their specializations and different education levels, they all focus on improving the mental health of people.

Types of Mental Health Professionals

There are differences between each professional who specializes in mental health. While their goals are the same, the way they achieve these goals differs. Some have different approaches to therapy or specialize in a particluar area.


  • Medical doctor with specialization in mental and emotional health care
  • Can prescribe medications related to those issues
  • Most do not specialize in counseling, but some are skilled therapists


  • Professionals at the doctorate level, with a Ph.D., Ed.D., or Psy.D.
  • Can do research or become professors at universities
  • Train in diagnosis, psychological assessment, and psychotherapy
  • Focus on clinical practice
  • Provide individual and group therapy
  • Must follow ethical standards and confidentiality standards

Licensed Professional Counselors:

  • Masters level professionals
  • Requirements vary from state to state
  • The term applies to licensed counselors and those with advanced degrees
  • Counselors can use a wide variety of models for counseling services
  • Work with clients to overcome personal challenges and achieve life goals


  • Hold advanced degrees
  • Can train in a variety of therapies (music therapy, art therapy, etc)

What is Counseling?

Counseling and psychotherapy are similar processes and are often used interchangeably.

The American Counseling Association describes counseling as a collaborative effort to help clients identify goals and solutions to life problems. The goal of counseling sessions is to promote behavioral changes.

Clients learn to face emotional and mental turmoil. They gain coping skills, improve communication skills, and grow their self-esteem.

Most sessions end once the problem is fixed. The length and frequency of the sessions are determined by the counselor.

Types of Counseling

There are different types of counseling suited to every need. These include:

  • Individual Counseling: a more personal setting for those looking to solve an individual problem
  • Couples Counseling: best suited for married couples experiencing turmoil
  • Family Counseling: can deal with parenting or sibling conflict, or any other issue associated with families. Blended family counseling specifically helps stepfamilies
  • Group Counseling: groups of people with similar issues meet to discuss and share advice

What is Psychotherapy?

The American Psychiatric Association also calls psychotherapy “talk therapy” which is a good way to visualize these sessions. It involves discussing problems with a therapist with the goal of understanding why these issues occur.

Therapists help clients cope with both long term and short- term problems. Clients share personal thoughts and feelings. Because of this, psychotherapy includes strict confidentiality agreements.

Session length and frequency is like counseling and determined by the therapist. Most last 30-50 minutes. The more complex an issue is, the longer the treatment lasts. Some form of treatment last a few months while others can last years.

Oftentimes, psychotherapy combines therapy with medication. This all depends on the client and the severity of symptoms.

The most important aspect of therapy is the relationship with the therapist-counselor. There needs to be a strong bond of trust between the client and therapist. Both need to work together to understand the issues at hand.

Types of Psychotherapy

Like counseling, there are various types of therapies. Different individuals need specific help. A good therapist recognizes which type to use with their clients.

Here is a brief list of some of these types:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: focuses on changing behavior and thought patterns
  • Interpersonal Therapy: short-term, patients learn about underlying, interpersonal issues
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy: a type of CBT, regulates emotions with personal responsibility
  • Psychodynamic Therapy: based on the idea that childhood experiences affect grown behavior and thoughts
  • Psychoanalysis: intensive psychotherapy over multiple sessions
  • Supportive Therapy: guides patients to find their own resources to solve issues

Which is Right for Me?

Neither therapy or counseling is better than the other. It all depends on the problem you are facing. And now that you know more about therapy vs counseling, you can make a better decision.

Regardless of which professional you see, you should do extensive research. It is most important that you inquire about the level of education, training, supervision and postgraduate studies that your provider has.

You want to find someone you feel you can trust. Oftentimes, you will talk about intimate details of your life. Trust that to the right person and your sessions will give great results.

Consider the type of therapy or counseling you need. There are many mental health experts who specialize in certain areas.

Dr. Keller is a clinical psychologist. He is a Diplomate in Clinical Psychology with a special interest in counseling and psychotherapy with adults, children, teenagers, couples, and families. He also provides consultation to organizations.

He completed his undergraduate training at Temple University, his masters from Columbia University. His Doctorate is from Rutgers University. His internship was at the Rutgers Counseling Center.

If you need therapy, counseling, or other psychological services, give Dr. Keller a call and discuss your options.

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