Counselor or Psychotherapist?

The Difference Between Counseling and Psychotherapy

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"Counselor" or "psychotherapist?" They are terms that are often used interchangeably. Although they are very similar, there are some subtle differences as well.

What is counseling?

Technically speaking, "counselor" means "advisor." It involves two people working together to solve a problem. It is a term that is used in conjunction with many types of advice giving. For example, financial planning and spiritual guidance are both types of counseling.

Just about anyone at all may claim to be a counselor if they are in the role of giving advice. The term counseling may also properly be used to refer to what occurs in a relationship with a psychotherapist.

In the context of mental health, "counseling" is generally used to denote a relatively brief treatment that is focused most upon behavior. It often targets a particular symptom or problematic situation and offers suggestions and advice for dealing with it.

What is Psychotherapy?

"Psychotherapy" on the other hand is generally a longer term treatment which focuses more on gaining insight into chronic physical and emotional problems. Its focus is on the patient's thought processes and way of being in the world rather than specific problems.

Counseling Vs. Psychotherapy

In actual practice, there may be quite a bit of overlap between the two. A therapist may provide counseling with specific situations and a counselor may function in a psychotherapeutic manner.

Generally speaking, however, psychotherapy requires more skill than simple counseling. It is conducted by professionals trained to practice psychotherapy such as a psychiatrist, a trained counselor, social worker or psychologist. While a psychotherapist is qualified to provide counseling, a counselor may or may not possess the necessary training and skills to provide psychotherapy.

Both counseling and psychotherapy are used in the treatment of depression.

What is Depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn't worth living.

More than just a bout of the blues, depression isn't a weakness and you can't simply "snap out" of it. Depression may require long-term treatment. But don't get discouraged. Most people with depression feel better with medication, psychological counseling or both.

You may see your primary care doctor, or your doctor may refer you to a mental health specialist. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.

Preparing for a Visit With Counselor or Psychotherapist

Before your appointment, make a list of:

  • Any symptoms you've had, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for your appointment
  • Key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes
  • All medications, vitamins or other supplements that you're taking, including doses
  • Questions to ask your health care provider

Some basic questions to ask include:

  • Is depression the most likely cause of my symptoms?
  • What are other possible causes for my symptoms?
  • What kinds of tests will I need?
  • What treatment is likely to work best for me?
  • What are the alternatives to the primary approach that you're suggesting?
  • I have these other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
  • Are there any restrictions that I need to follow?
  • Should I see a psychiatrist or other mental health provider?
  • What are the main side effects of the medications you're recommending?
  • Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing?
  • Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can have? What websites do you recommend?

Don't hesitate to ask any other questions.

References:

Mayo Clinic. Depression (Major Depressive Disorder). http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/basics/definition/con-20032977

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