Opposite Colored Puzzle Pieces. Difference Page Header.

We know the difference between Counseling and Psychotherapy

Counseling and Psychotherapy are Not the Same Thing

Often many people, including some clinicians, use the terms counseling and psychotherapy as if they are interchangeable. Some clinicians engage almost exclusively in the use of counseling techniques and mistakenly call what they do as psychotherapy.

Counseling has Specific Goals

Counseling has as its goals to support and validate, to provide advice, suggestions, and resources, and to offer motivation for change. Those goals and tactics are great; however they are not psychotherapy. The term psychotherapy should be reserved for a differently complex intervention.

Counseling Can Come From Many Sources

Counseling is something we can often get from friends, family, peer-counseling or even from ourselves through journal writing, meditation or a long walk in the woods. When in crises with a particular challenge or problem, like domestic violence, or a cancer diagnosis, a recent death of a loved one, or desired career change, we might benefit from seeking out professional counseling by a specialist, frequently in an agency setting, and with agency prices. This will not necessarily result in alterations in how we see ourselves, the people in our lives or our world, but it can help support us through a difficult time when we need to make some immediate decisions.

Counseling Techniques are Often Used by Psychotherapists

Some psychotherapists offer/use some counseling techniques in sessions with clients, but for the goal of furthering the psychotherapy work. However, when used routinely, counseling skills actually interfere with therapeutic goals.

Counseling Tactics that Can Interfere with Successful Psychotherapy

  • Advice best received from seriously wise people. It is not the job of a therapist to be a fountain of wisdom. We often know little about how our therapist lives their life. If we are to seek out advice in life, it should be from those whose lives we have seen and admire.
  • Validation also assumes the therapist is somehow an annointed arbiter of correctness and can determine from on high what is right for us to do or feel or be. We should never let anyone have that version of power over us.
  • Motivation is great. But when a therapist becomes our cheerleader, it frequently backfires, as our cheer moves out of us and into them, leaving us with less motivation the more they amp theirs up. This happens with hopefulness, which can leave clients in a seriously compromised and hopeless place.

Elements of Successful Psychotherapy

  • Supportive, containing environment: This is not an end goal. It is a means to many different goals. It is intended to help us tolerate seeing things about ourselves that we are actively defended against seeing; aspects of ourselves, our lives, our parents, our partners, in which we turn a blind eye to, cloak in personally designed attire to avoid facing. It is intended to help clients over time who have a limited capacity for internal containment to develop a stronger, less constricting way to hold their internal truths, so they are less frequently flooded or shut out of their emotional world.
  • I spy with my little eye: Psychotherapists are trained and attuned to noticing language, behaviors, dreams, patterns, inconsistencies, associations, absences, gestures, shifts in mood, speech, and more that can alert us to information our unconscious might have about what it ailing us.
  • Ambassador of the Unconscious: A well-experienced psychotherapist knows a thing or two about how the unconscious operates and can help us to learn its ways, decode its messages, and listen to its urgings. This is not so that our unconscious can become our master. Quite the opposite; it is so that we can have open dialogue with our unconscious instead of having it insert itself, unbeknownst to us, because we are not listening to its needs and truths.
  • Courage and History: One of the ways people mock therapy and psychotherapists is noting most psychotherapists have had a dark journey of their own at some time in life. This is hardly an insult though; it is a necessity. If a psychotherapist knew nothing of the terror of facing darkness they had kept buried away, how could they know our fear? A psychotherapist is someone who has courageously traveled a journey of self-discovery, and then choose to share his or her courage with others. Sessions are intense for therapists as well as clients, but a good therapist is one who knows the value, from personal history, of facing whatever truths must be faced, with boldness. They know the terrain of journeys through darkness, recognizing pitfalls and how to avoid them. They are also able to recognize support and resting places along the way which will lead paths out when it is time.
  • Multi-genre Dance Archeologist: We often wish our childhoods and original family relations were not so key in adult functioning. Here is some of why they are. By interacting with us in very specific ways, and engaging with each other in very specific ways, our parents teach us a handful of “dances”. These dances are so deeply ingrained in our psyches, we do not even notice what moves we are making, that we are engaged in a dance, much less the tons of other dances we could do instead.
    As we enter adulthood we do our dance, which is a combination of the dance each key person from childhood did with us, and the dance the adults in our lives did with each other, and we go about to find partners who do a dance similar to ours. Then we dance with those partners, get into fights about the slight differences in our dances, and slowly teach them to dance like us and us like them until we have successfully created an eschewed version of whatever dance we had hoped we would never do again once we grew up. When we work over a period of time in psychotherapy, a good psychotherapist can feel the push of our clients’ dance moves. We can try on the complimentary dance moves inside ourselves. We can reflect upon them with our client. We can stay aware of the pressure to do our clients dance, and suggest other possible dance moves until our client starts to understand that they are at choice about what kind of dance they want to do, but only once grappling with each ingrained, assumed step.