Counseling and Therapy: What’s the Difference?
You’re looking for a counselor, so you’ve probably seen the words “counseling” and “therapy,” and their counterparts “counselor” and “therapist,” used often in confusing ways. You’ve seen ads for “couples therapy,” websites for “couples counselors,” commercials for “mental health counseling” and videos about “psychotherapy.” But what do these words mean? Should you be looking for someone who calls him or herself a “therapist” and ignore all the “counselors?” Are they all the same thing?
Therapy: The treatment of disease or disorders, as by some remedial, rehabilitating, or curative process: speech therapy. (Dictionary.com entry for “Therapy”)
Counseling: Professional guidance in resolving personal conflicts and emotional problems. (Dictionary.com entry for “Counseling”)
Therapy is applying a process to treat a problem, soothe pain, repair damage and the like. Counseling technically means providing guidance and advice. “...good counsel is, itself, therapeutic.” However, mental health counselors avoid simply giving advice like you would expect lawyers and physicians to do. We prefer to counsel in a more collaborative way.
The words become interchangeable because mental health therapists/counselors do both things. We use counseling to join with our clients and build a relationship. We use therapies that we’ve learned to facilitate healthy change. In fact, counseling is our most often-used therapeutic technique, because good counsel is, itself, therapeutic.
So when you’re searching for a therapist/counselor, know that both words may be used. Many of us use the word “counselor” to differentiate ourselves from other helping professionals such as massage therapists or art therapists. But we can use the word “therapist” to differentiate ourselves from lawyers and other types of counselors such as career counselors.