What's The Difference Between Counseling and Therapy?

This is a brief descripton of the subtle differences between "counseling" and "psychotherapy"

What's the real difference between counseling and psychotherapy? The short answer is "not very much." They are both names to describe the process of helping people to:

  • gain the skills to live a balanced life
  • overcome emotional obstacles
  • develop and maintain self-esteem
  • make healthy decisions
  • obtain true intimacy, and
  • experience other healthy quaiities of life

Whether it's called "psychotherapy" (or just plain "therapy"), "counseling" or some other label is generally not as important as the skill and experience of the person providing these services.  However, there are a few differences as I see it

Oe perspective is that “counseling” deals mainly with basic life problems that most people experience at one time or another.  Examples include work stress, relationship problems or difficult life transitions such as the loss of a loved one. In contrast the word “psychotherapy” suggests a greater focus on improving problems with a person's underlying thoughts, beliefs or emotions. Obviously the best benefit for most people involves a mix of both approaches.  We have to deal with what is happening in the present as well as know enough about how our past influences our choices, preferneces and difficulties.

A counselor is also likely to give lots of supportive suggestions or advice while a psychotherapist is generally less direct in giving his or her opinions. I think the most effective approach is to create an emotionally safe space for the deep discussion of sensitive issues while also actively encouraging the conversation toward the most productive outcome, deepest relief and greatest insight.

The different types of educational degrees that therapists and counselors possess can be confusing.  A psychiatrist is generally the only mental health professional to prescribe medication, while a psychologist can provide psychological testing.  There are many other types of helping professionals, including clinical social workers (such as myself).  It's generally accepted that the quality of care you receive matters more than the letters after someone's name.

The important thing is to find someone you can trust to help you sort out personal concerns, get a better handle on your thoughts and feelings and improve the quality of your relationships. Just make sure you're comfortable talking with that person about what's going on in your life and you'll get the assistance you need.


Bill Herring LCSW, CSAT is an Atlanta counselor and therapist who helps people deal with chronically problematic sexual behaviors like repeated affairs, eccessive porn use or sex/porn addiction so they can live with integrity and self-control and heal damaged relationships.  Appointments can be scheduled by calling or using this form.