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What Is the Difference Between Counselling and Therapy?



Have you ever wondered if you should see a therapist or a counsellor? I understand that the two terms are often used interchangeably. And it makes sense for people to do so.


Both are professionals who can help ease psychological issues like stress and anxiety. However, counselling and therapy still differ in detail.


Broadly speaking, therapy is a longer-term mental treatment than counselling. Most counsellors focus on exploring specific problems like marriage and stress. Therapists, however, help strategise how patients can handle and cope with complex personal conditions like depression and other disorders.


That said, the differences between the two may not be distinct to you yet. Read on and discover the nuances separating counselling and therapy, so you can decide which is for you.


Is there a difference between counselling and therapy?


As mentioned, people often use the terms therapy and counselling interchangeably. And that is understandable. Even a professional like me uses one for another sometimes — they have many overlapping qualities.


Nevertheless, I can’t deny that they are a little different. And here are 3 points that separate counselling and therapy.


#1 The nature of the issues


The first core difference I want to discuss is what counsellors and therapists deal with. As mentioned, counsellors help with specific short-term problems while therapists tackle complex long-term issues. But what exactly does that mean?


In a counselling session, the counsellor usually helps you understand the situation of one issue occurring in life. It could be interpersonal problems like marriage and workplace politics. Or something more personal like overwhelming stress and uncontrollable anger.


These situations are relatively short-term and can be overcome once the cause of the issue disappears.


On the other hand, therapists deal with your complex or life-long personal conditions. For example, depression, stress disorder, schizophrenia, and the like. These psychological problems require specific methods and may take years to cope with.


Therefore, most people consider counselling a solution for shorter-term problems than therapy.


#2 The methodology


The next point I want to unravel is how counsellors and therapists deal with cases.


Counsellor usually works “together” with you to reorganise the cause and effect of the situation — usually through conversations. This means they will have to adapt how to navigate according to your personality and the topic of your issues.


Note that I use the word “together.” And here is what it implies. While the counsellor may guide you on how to process the problems, the person who discovers the solution is often you.


In a psychotherapy session, the treatment usually proceeds by the book.


However, this doesn’t mean there is no variation. The therapist might differentiate the method with their personal style. But in the end, they may not alter much. Your condition could be too complex and sensitive to risk improvisation.


The majority of the session time will look like an experiment. The therapist will try to test various treatments and note your response. Once they see how you react, they will execute the next step to help you deal with your issues.


In short, counselling is more of a collaborative procedure, while therapy relies on the therapist's expertise.


#3 The results


The final point I want to discuss is the outcome of both treatments.


Counselling treatment usually ends when your problems subside. This could mean the cause of your stress has disappeared, your marriage problems are solved, or the closure of anxiety-inducing arguments. The point is that you can return to your daily life and move on.


Therapy, however, can be a life-long process that changes your daily life for the better.


Most mental conditions therapists deal with are hard-wired in your personality. This means the result may not be the disappearance of the symptoms but how to live a happy life with the lingering issues.


For example, patients with depression may not exit the clinic with the happiest mind. However, they will learn how to tackle the negativity in daily life. As a result, they might be more expressive and outgoing despite the occasional negative thoughts in their mind.


This is not to say that therapy cannot produce a 100% result. It could. If the symptoms are still developing, a therapist can prevent the condition from growing before it's too late. However, it also relies on your response to the early signs and treatment.


In other words, most counselling sessions will have a more unambiguous outcome than therapy. And it is thanks to the nature of the issue in the first place.


How do counselling and therapy interact?


As you can see, the differences between counselling and therapy can be subtle. That’s why therapists could use both treatment methods to handle a case. And here is how.


In general, therapy is a treatment with a larger scope. This means it may include counselling as one of the steps toward helping with your condition.


Upon listening to your problems, a story of related issues may arise. The therapist may use counselling techniques to identify the relationship between your condition and the mentioned issues.


Upon understanding the situation, the therapists may choose to help you solve the problem at hand first. This will ease the burden on your mind, allowing you to focus on one topic at a time. However, some problems can be too complex to unravel. Thus, the therapist may choose to exclusively listen and take notes for a later approach.


In either case, counselling techniques will play a big part in the therapy. The shift in the process could be seamless. But that’s the whole point. The treatment shouldn’t feel separated and disconnected. It should be a smooth experience where you and the practitioner come to a mutual understanding.


And that could be the reason why counselling and therapy are so interchangeable.


Different yet so similar


Counselling and therapy may differ in subject matter, methodology, and results. However, they are both tools we utilise to help with your problems.


So, reach out whenever you feel overwhelmed or mentally exhausted. Counsellors and therapists will help you to the best of their capability.


And if you’re unsure of whom to ask for help, please know I’m always here for you. We can start with a free chat to get you comfortable. Then, I will see if counselling or therapy will work for you.

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