We all, at some point or the other, come across the word ‘psychotherapy’ or the more commonly used shorter term for it- ‘therapy’. We hear people talk about going for counseling sessions or seeking counseling. But hardly do we know what these terms actually mean and what happens when one undergoes psychotherapy or counseling. Often we also tend to use these terms interchangeably without knowing the minute yet significant differences between them.

Both psychotherapy and counseling are forms of psychological treatment or interventions that aim at addressing psychological disorders and reducing mental / emotional distress. They also aim at fostering overall mental health and well being. It is a process that involves a person who is willing to seek help and a trained therapist / counselor who intends to help. The therapist / counselor makes an attempt at establishing a therapeutic and collaborative relationship with the one seeking help and facilitates changes using methods and techniques based on psychological theories. To put it across in a simpler way, the process of therapy / counseling involves a patient/client (who is either suffering from a psychological disorder or psychological distress and wants to seek help) and a therapist / counselor (a trained mental health professional, more specifically a Clinical Psychologist or Counseling Psychologist) who commit to work together towards eliminating the distress being experienced by the patient/client. The therapist/counselor utilizes his/her knowledge and expertise to help the patient / client.

Unlike pharmacological treatment which relies on medications, psychotherapy / counseling uses verbal communication as the mode of delivering interventions. Hence it is often called “talk therapy”. The therapist / counselor and the patient / client discuss, explore, and identify the sources of distress such as traumatic experiences, dysfunctional thoughts, unprocessed emotions, and/or maladaptive behaviors. They jointly work towards changing, modifying, or reducing these sources of distress by setting up specific goals and achieving these goals by utilizing suitable, scientifically evidenced psychological techniques. The therapist/counselor not only listens to what the patient / client has to say but also puts in efforts to understand, validate and empathize with him / her throughout the duration of the therapy / counseling.

It is of utmost importance to understand the difference between psychotherapy and counseling as these two practices being similar in almost all of the above-mentioned aspects have some smaller differences which are of extreme importance and significance. Firstly, psychotherapy is more intensive which aims at addressing chronic issues and recurring problems. It focuses on aspects of past experiences as well as core internal issues such as thoughts, emotions, and personality patterns that turn out to be maladaptive or ineffective. Thus it brings in long term changes in the individual’s overall functioning. On the other hand, counseling focuses more on current problems and present circumstances. It aims at addressing specific behaviors and situations and might not be able to produce stable long term changes. However, is effective in ameliorating the distress being experienced in the short run.

Moreover, psychotherapy is undoubtedly effective in treating psychological disorders such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and personality disorders as evidenced by scientific studies. Counseling, on the contrary, is effective in addressing disruptions in an individual’s functioning caused by certain temporary events or behaviors of the individual such as impulsivity or aggression as well as fostering well-being by boosting his/her self-esteem. Hence support and guidance are central to counseling whereas insight facilitation is at the core of psychotherapy.

Lastly, it is crucial to note that a psychotherapist would be able to provide counseling while a counselor would not be equipped to provide psychotherapy as they differ in the qualification and the training that they both receive. In the Indian context, a psychotherapist would be the one who has completed MPhil in Clinical Psychology from an RCI recognized institute while a counselor would be the one who has completed Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology or other equivalent courses. Hence, it is necessary to consider these aspects before we choose whom to seek help from.

Despite these technical differences, both psychotherapy and counseling have been proven to be effective and are being used in adjunct to pharmacological treatments. Researchers have discovered that psychotherapy and counseling aid in fostering mental health and that they are of utmost importance in helping individuals learn better ways of coping and adapting to hardships as well as developing as an effective individual.

Center for mental health is one of the leading mental health centers in India that provides mental health care facilities to their clients. We conduct individual therapies, couple and family therapies, and counseling for various problems one faces in their daily lives. We also conduct neuropsychological assessments and provide necessary reports. We are a team of some of the best clinical psychologists in India working towards our common goal of creating awareness around mental health issues.