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Key Differences Between Counseling and Therapy


Counseling is typically short-term and focused on identifying and implementing potential solutions to a current issue or problem. Counseling involves working with a mental health counselor on a specific issue for a limited amount of time, while therapy helps you understand yourself and your patterns of thought, feelings, and behaviors.

Whilst the idea of counseling might fill you with dreaded images of lying on the couch, telling your whole family history, counseling sessions are typically much more focused on the present, and the issues or problems that have you stuck, rather than delving too deeply into the past. The counselor’s job is not to get a complete psychological and historical profile of you, but rather to assist you in developing solutions to a current roadblock.

Counselors use a core set of skills to do this, which include:

– Being a non-judgmental, respectful, and empathetic person.

– Listening closely to what you are saying without judgment

– Reflecting and summarising what it is you are saying and feeling

– Clarifying the key issues or problems that you are facing

– Observing and noting your body language for additional clues about how you are feeling

– Interpreting or reframing some of your experiences to help you take different perspectives or understand better the meaning of the issue/problem

– Where appropriate, offer suggestions, feedback, or information about the problem or potential solutions, etc

A useful way to think about counseling is like getting an impartial 3rd party to help you solve a difficult problem. Commonly, people visit counselors because they are not comfortable (for whatever reason) discussing the issue with family, friends, or colleagues. There is sometimes the misconception that counselors and counseling just deal with simple problems, but it is common for people to bring quite complex issues initially to the attention of a counselor: high levels of distress, breakdown in personal or professional relationships, significant changes in living circumstances, or exposure to traumatic events. In many cases, including some challenging cases, a few sessions with a counselor are enough to both develop and implement some solutions to the problem(s) you face. However, in some cases, your time with a counselor might identify that the issues you are struggling with, have been around (in different forms) for a long time, or are the result of entrenched patterns of behavior, thoughts, or feelings. In this scenario, the counselor might suggest that you need therapy.


Therapy or psychotherapy is a medium to longer-term process focused on long-standing attitudes, thoughts, behaviors, and feelings that have significantly impacted an individual’s quality of life, relationships, and/or work.

In this regard, therapy is often considered ‘deeper’ than counseling as it seeks to uncover and modify the root or historical causes of your problems. Outcomes in therapy are often more dramatic, as they may represent significant shifts in your perspective, beliefs, personality, or feelings.

Therapy is also commonly focused on giving you the skills you need for ongoing self-reflection and self-knowledge. Such skills can be hugely valuable post-therapy in understanding your unconscious triggers and impulses and how your mind works.

Where therapy differs is that it is usually considerably longer (10+ sessions) and therapists use additional techniques and processes that have been shown to help people in similar situations or with similar presentations.

The type of therapy you receive is a function of a) the nature of your problems (including any formal diagnoses you receive), b) the styles of therapy that your therapist is familiar with, and c) what the psychological research says is helpful for people with issues like yours, and d) where you receive support (e.g. private psychology versus community mental health).

Different types of therapy use different techniques. In most types of therapy and counseling, the person receiving treatment talks with a professional therapist. Therapy can teach you new ways to think about the situations that bother you. It can help you cope with feelings and situations of anger, fear, anxiety, shyness, and panic. Therapy can help treat a variety of problems like Depression, Marriage problems, infidelity, divorce, or other relationship issues, Sexual problems, Stress and anxiety, addictions and compulsions, Grief, Loss, bereavement, etc.

Different kinds of therapy and counseling are based on different ideas about how the brain works. Also, it considers what causes people to act in certain ways. Many therapists use more than one type of technique to help you. Common kinds of therapy include:

  • · Family therapy. This helps family members understand problems within the family and how to resolve them.

  • · Cognitive therapy. It’s based on the idea that your thoughts cause your feelings and actions. If you change the way you think about something, you can feel or behave better even if the situation doesn’t change. This kind of therapy helps you understand negative or false thought patterns.

  • · Behavior therapy. This treatment focuses on changing unwanted or unhealthy behaviors. You replace them with healthy ones. This treatment involves using a system of rewards and reinforcement of positive behavior.

  • · Group therapy. Group therapy is led by a qualified professional. He or she facilitates a small group of people who have similar issues or problems. Groups can improve honesty with others. Members support each other during times of crisis.

  • ·Couples therapy. This treatment can help couples solve problems together, communicate in healthier ways, and learn to work out differences.

Therapy can include counseling on specific issues that arise during your conversations with your therapist. On the other hand, if a counselor sees underlying patterns and concerns that affect the issues at hand, they may recommend that you start therapy. Many clinicians may be trained in both therapy and counseling.

Therapy and counseling are often used interchangeably, but there are some key differences between them.

Therapy and Counseling, by Anonymous, Accessed on 5th June 2022

What is the difference between ‘counseling’ and ‘therapy’, by Gareth Furber, Posted on October 13, 2017,

What is the difference between therapy and counseling?, By Anonymous, Accessed on 5th June 2022


This Blog on 'Key Differences Between Counseling and Therapy' has been contributed by Chrisann D'souza. She is an ambitious and results-driven individual. She loves to learn about the human psyche and hopes to raise awareness about mental health, gender issues, and cruelty to animals.

She is part of the International Journal of Neurolinguistics & Gestalt Psychology, IJNGP is a peer-reviewed journal that serves as a platform for the enrichment, articulation, and support of the constantly emerging field dedicated to promoting the study and research in Neurolinguistics Gestalt Psychology, and Therapy.


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