301. What is the difference between counseling and psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is a process by which you examine your thoughts, feelings, actions and relationships, evaluate where problems exist, and learn how to make whatever changes are necessary to achieve better life adjustment and satisfaction. Counseling and psychotherapy are interchangeable because they describe the same process, and have similar goals. The term counseling has its roots in personal development and life adjustment, while the term psychotherapy has its roots in a more medically oriented model of treating a mental disease process. Health insurance companies use a medical disease model, so insurance reimbursement is for "psychotherapy" not "counseling." The distinction is unimportant in applying the process to life management problems.

Many people do make a distinction between counseling and psychotherapy, but the distinction is artificial. Some people think that counseling is short term treatment and psychotherapy is long term treatment. Others think that counseling is for life adjustment problems, while psychotherapy is for psychiatric or psychological disorders. Finally, some think that counselors are less well-trained, while psychotherapists are better trained. All of these distinctions are false and misleading. In practice, both counseling and psychotherapy are used to help people change psychologically. Both can be either short term or long term treatment methods, depending on the issues. 

The training for both counseling and psychotherapy is variable, and depends on the professional discipline, not the name of the service technique used by the professional. If someone refers to themselves as either a counselor or a psychotherapist, you should inquire further into their professional training. Most often, those referring to themselves as counselors or psychotherapists, or simply therapists, instead of by their professional discipline (e.g. psychology, psychiatry), usually have training at the Masters level or below, rather than doctoral training. If you wish, you can review more information about the training of psychologists, or review a comparison of psychologists and psychiatrists.

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