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What is the Difference Between Psychotherapy and Counseling?

Once you have decided to develop or recover your mental health and resilience, one decision you are faced with is the choice to seek therapy through a therapist or counselor.


During their initial search for a provider, one of the most commonly asked questions for new patients or those new to Milwaukee behavioral health is “what is the difference between counseling and psychotherapy?”. Because it is a question asked so universally, we decided to provide some key distinctions to help those considering either option. The quickest way to distinguish counseling from psychology is the title carried by your provider, which we will go in depth later on. In a nutshell, the easiest way to distinguish psychotherapy from counseling is the course of treatment that is planned and received. Psychotherapy and counseling are similar in the sense that they seek to help patients resolve symptoms brought on by mental anguish like depression and anxiety. Therapy differs from counseling in the sense that the practice focuses on making a diagnosis and then creating a treatment plan. On the other hand, counseling focuses on marking an analysis of the patients’ current state and then guidance is provided through what is commonly known as “talk therapy.” ​Confusing enough, talk therapy is also known as psychotherapy and can be utilized as a tool in either practice to help people identify issues that cause emotional distress. To further clarify distinctions, counseling is widely understood as the application of wisdom in the context of care against the problems of life. While it is absolutely necessary for positive changes because you can develop coping mechanisms through shared experiences with your counselor, no specific mental diagnosis can be made through the process. Some suggest that counseling is a process of influence from the counselor on to the person seeking treatment because a plan is not typically made to resolve issues of emotional traumas or issues in a medical sense. On the other hand, psychotherapy focuses on promoting self-awareness and actualization in order to promote change from within. It is important to note that many titles are currently used in the field of behavioral health. So, providers may use titles such as therapist, psychotherapist, psychiatrist, psychologist, or counselor. In most cases, their titles are self-given, widely unregulated, and in some cases, they are used interchangeably.

For this reason, titles should not be seen as an indicator of any particular level of training or education. For example, two behavioral health practitioners, one with the title of counselor and one with the title of psychotherapist, may have similar levels of education, schooling, and credentials. However, there are some title extensions that can provide additional information into your provider's professional qualifications.


Another important thing to note is that the title of psychologist, whether through counseling or psychotherapy, may also be operating under varying levels of education. This is why it is important to understand each provider’s credentials on an individual basis.


One clue into the qualifications of your provider can be titles denounced with “clinical,” “licensed,” “counseling,” “advanced,” or “professional.” These are regulated titles and used by qualified practitioners that have achieved higher levels of education, such as a Doctorate in Psychology, and are required by law to partake in continuing professional education. Psychologists or counselors without these designations may not possess the necessary training and skills to provide psychotherapy.


Psychiatrists and Psychotherapists in Milwaukee are medically trained and their practices are strictly regulated by governing institutions. ​For those seeking solutions outside of talk therapy, these behavioral health practitioners are trained and qualified to diagnose mental illness. They are also prescriptive authorities and allowed to provide medication when needed or necessary in order to support treatment for illness.


While some psychiatrists and psychotherapists choose not to provide talk therapy, many have incorporated this form of counseling through additional education and training.


Yet another difference between counseling and psychotherapy is that with counseling there is typically a predetermined start and end.​This period is usually set by the insurance provider if insurance is being utilized to pay for the service. Otherwise it is determined by an agreement between the patient and the practitioner. On the other hand, psychotherapy is an ongoing therapeutic relationship with no predetermined end.


With counseling, an individual typically describes how their symptoms manifested and they are looking for a solution to the perceived problem. With psychotherapy, the same cause and effect is evaluated but the underlying issues that caused the systems to manifest are explored.


To further understand this concept, consider a physical wound rather than an emotional or physical anomaly like a scrape or burn. Counseling would be utilized to clean and bandage the wound while providing resources in case the damage was to recur. Psychotherapy would take these actions further by examining how and why the wound occurred to begin with.


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