• Courtney Sharpe

3 Differences Between Counseling and Therapy

What’s the difference between counseling and therapy? After 6 years of working in the mental health field, I still have friends and family members who ask me this question. Needless to say, I get this question a lot. All it takes is a quick internet search to realize most people interchange the terms ‘counseling’ and ‘therapy’ without much hesitation. With more individuals opening up about the importance and benefit of mental health treatment, I believe it is important to know the difference between these two services. It’s important because, if you don’t know the type of service you are in need of or currently receiving, then how do you know if it’s right for you?


There are 3 main differences between counseling and therapy:

1. Therapy tends to be long-term with more total sessions than counseling. Therapy will focus more on past trauma or traumatic events that naturally take longer to work through. Some people may be in therapy for years to overcome certain tragedies. Counseling will focus more on short-term problems with clearer solutions to the presenting issue.

2. Therapy looks for a root cause while counseling focuses on the present issue. In therapy, you can expect to learn how to identify and make connections between the trauma of your past and how it negatively impacts your day-to-day functions.

3. Therapy may involve a mental health or substance use diagnosis. Generally, therapy can include the diagnosis of a mental, emotional, or addictive disorder that is pertinent to the reason you are seeking therapy in the first place. Counseling, on the other hand, will involve guidance related to a specific stressor or problem that can be treated with problem solving techniques (i.e., coping skills, changing maladaptive behaviors, learning new thinking patterns).


I recently read an article in Better Help titled “Which Is Better? The Psychotherapy Vs Counseling Debate” that offered some helpful examples for determining if counseling or therapy is the right fit for you.


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 find it difficult to make adjustments to changes in your lifestyle.

· You have addiction 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.


Knowing the difference between therapy and counseling does not make one better than the other. They are both effective solutions to a wide range of personal issues that often overlap throughout the course of treatment. Both rely heavily on a strong therapeutic relationship between client and clinician based on trust, respect, and understanding.


Take the time to think about what matches best with your needs before considering therapy or counseling. Be honest and upfront about asking for help and letting someone step in to support you. Ask questions! And gain confidence in making the best decision that is right for you and your needs.


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