Psychotherapy VS Counseling: What’s the Difference?

Most people cannot differentiate between psychotherapy and counseling. Probably, some didn’t even know that the two words mean different things. Well, this is partly because both psychotherapy and counseling involve the use of words to unpack and walk through people’s emotional, behavioral, and mental issues. In practice, however, it is easy to make the distinction between the overlapping meaning of psychotherapy VS counseling.

Counselling And Psychotherapy

What is counselling and psychotherapy?

Counseling can be defined as a guide offered by a trained professional to individuals who want to overcome their immediate emotional, behavioral, and psychological issues. Psychotherapy, on the other hand, refers to the process of treating already diagnosed psychological disorders and mental conditions through pre-determined psychological methods or approaches. Psychotherapy also helps patients unpack pent-up feelings, emotions, and mental stress.

A comparative article such as this helps raise awareness not only of the difference between the two but also highlights the suitability of each as a treatment option. Professionals and scholars in the fields of psychology and psychiatry have written extensively on the difference between psychotherapy and counseling. Their main goal has always been to ensure that the thin, yet, very important line between psychotherapy and counseling stays visible.

Similarities and Differences Between Psychology Counselling and Psychotherapy 

Even though psychotherapy and counseling are not similar by definition, they are somehow intertwined. For instance, psychotherapy has some elements of counseling and the majority of methods or approaches used in counseling are widely applied in psychotherapy. Some of the similarities between psychotherapy and counseling include but not limited to:

  • Both must be undertaken by a trained professional.
  • Both aim to get patients to a level of self-reliance and improved quality of life.
  • Both can be undertaken verbally without the use of medication or medical procedures.
  • Both thrive in a safe environment with a healthy trust relationship between either a psychotherapist or counselor with their patients.

Despite the existing similarities, we have to acknowledge that there are certain aspects of psychotherapy that differ from those of counseling. It is these differences that help establish the fine distinction between psychotherapy and counseling. They include:


Both the psychotherapists and counselors usually have a set of goals to be achieved by the end of each process.  On average, psychotherapy is meant for long-term psychological goals. As described earlier, psychotherapy involves the use of pre-determined methods or approaches to get to the root or depth of the problem affecting a person or a patient. For this reason, psychotherapy is all about understanding, describing, predicting various outcomes and using pre-determined approaches to influence and control the psychological problems of an individual.

Counseling, on the other hand, is meant for short-term goals because it is often used to help individuals make critical decisions regarding the alternative course of actions without external influence.


By design, counseling as a short-term psychological treatment method. Its main objective is to aid the patient to understand his or her current problems and how best to overcome them. Contrary to counseling, psychotherapy could take months or even years. This is because the approach takes a deeper look into other underlying issues that may have contributed to the patient’s current psychological situation.

The subject of intervention

Psychotherapy deals with psychological disorders, or mental strain and helps the patient overcome them. These disorders are largely diagnosable by a psychiatrist through observation among other medical procedures. Counseling, on the other hand, works towards immediate relief and behavioral change as a means to overcome challenges such as stress or anxiety the patient may be facing in the present. Most problems handled in counseling are behavioral and are not medically diagnosable. Additionally, they are unique to each patient.

What Is The Difference Between Counselling And Psychotherapy

The Setting

Psychotherapy must always be undertaken in a formal setting. This could be a hospital or a clinic just to ensure that the patient is fully concentrates on his or her recovery process. Consideration is given to the fact some psychotherapy patients may not be willing to recognize that they need the help. Counselling offers a flexible setting. Any formal environment like a hospital, an office building, or an office in a school makes a good setting for a counseling session.

Do I Need Counselling or Psychotherapy?

As explained earlier, both psychotherapy and counseling are effective treatment methods. They help patients walk through different behavioral, psychological, and emotional challenges overcome them, and become fully functional citizens after a psychological problem. There are times one may need to see a psychotherapist, while other times, a professional counselor comes in handy. As a patient, you may need to see a psychotherapist or counselor when:

Psychotherapy Counseling
Past unresolved traumas affect your present relationships and state of mind. You need guidance in developing healthier relations with people around you.
You are diagnosed with any mental health disorder. To understand and overcome emotions such as anger, grief, or guilt.
You experience recurrent emotional and psychological issues. You need a short-term treatment to help you overcome your current problems.
Sessions with a counselor fail to yield progress. Coping with major transitions in life such as adolescence, divorce, or abandonment.
You have life-threatening medical conditions such as cancer or heart disease taking a toll on your emotional and psychological well-being. Dealing with addiction issues, or sudden major changes in your environment.

While the issues classified above may guide a patient on whether to see a psychotherapist or a counselor, other external factors may also influence their decisions. These include:

Cost of treatment

Psychotherapy may prove costly in the long run for patients and make them resort to relatively cheaper counseling sessions.

Health insurance coverage

A patient who needs psychotherapy may opt for counseling if his or her medical cover only caters to counseling, what she needs notwithstanding.


It is not uncommon to find psychotherapy and counseling being used simultaneously for patients experiencing behavioral and psychological problems. Even though these techniques tend to vary in terms of functions, they are resources that can be used in handling personal issues and improving the quality of life.