Therapy Or Counseling: What’s The Difference?


Therapy? Counseling? Aren’t they the same thing? While there can be a large overlap between the two, therapy and counseling have key differences in the way they approach problems. Knowing these differences allows you to decide which will better suit your situation so you can begin getting the help you need.

What? vs. Why?

Both therapy and counseling involve speaking to a licensed and trained professional. But in the most rudimental way, therapy will look at the ‘Why’ questions, and counseling will look at the ‘What’ questions. ‘Why do you feel this way?’ versus ‘What can we do about it?’

What Is Therapy?

Therapy typicallyfocuses on the theoretical side of things. You will work through why you felt a certain way about a situation, and where the emotions you felt came from. Other areas of focus include the root causes of fears, habits, or attitudes. One of the main goals is to understand thought processes and how past events influence them, either negatively or positively.

What Is Counseling?

Counseling tends to get practical. You will work through how to deal with various situations, emotions, or knee-jerk reactions you experience and want to change. The goal is to have your immediate needs met so that you can get back on your feet and continue with normal life. For example, a mental health counselor will teach you coping mechanisms for rough periods of time, or help you manage depression and anxiety.

To further illustrate the difference, imagine a client in a session who says, “I think I hear people listening to us on the other side of the door.” A therapist will ask, “Why do you believe that? When else have you felt this way?” A counselor, on the other hand, will get up and open the door.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term

Another common difference between therapy and counseling is the duration of each. Again, there is room for overlapping of the two, but in general, therapy is long-term and counseling is short-term.

Therapy often encompasses parts of counseling, with a longer duration and a different pace when working through different issues. Treatment is long-term (over years) so the client has time to explore their emotions and work towards reaching the root cause of emotional and behavioral patterns. Therapy can also be intermittent, where the client will come back for ‘check-up’ appointments every couple of months or years.

Counseling services range from short-term treatment which focuses on a particular problem the client wants to work through, to longer treatment plans for lifestyle shifts or stress-related problems. Relatively brief, counseling immediately targets specific symptoms and situations with advice and guidance to resolve the issue. The typical time span is over weeks to several months of treatment.

At Fifth Street Counseling Center, we believe in taking a journey-focused approach to counseling, which leaves space for clients to dive deeper into their situations if they need or want to. We recommend counseling if you are working through specific issues and situations, which could be anything from grief to addiction.

group therapy
The value of emotions comes from sharing them, not just having them. – Simon Sinek

Which Will Work Best For You?

Deciding whether you should see a counselor or a therapist is a big decision. Start by identifying a professional that lists the issue(s) you want to resolve. By looking at their interests and specialties you can ensure that they align with your goals for treatment.

Counselors and therapists are both trained to provide recommendations for treatment after evaluating your needs, so you can schedule a once-off appointment and then be guided on how best to proceed. Before this initial appointment, it is beneficial for you to make a list of the following:

  • Any concerns, frustrations, or issues you are currently dealing with (even if they seem removed from the reason you are seeking counseling)

  • Key events, stresses, life changes, or any personal information that will help the counselor or therapist have a bit of background before evaluating the situation

  • Any medication or supplements you are taking, including the dosages

  • Questions you have about treatment

The most important step when choosing whether to see a counselor or therapist is to get started. Fifth Street Counseling Center is here to help. Call any one of our Broward County locations today and get the support you deserve.

Garry Smith

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