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Mental Health Center

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Guide to Psychiatry and Counseling

The Difference Between Counseling and Psychotherapy

Although the terms counseling and therapy are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between psychotherapy and psychological counseling. Counseling focuses on specific issues and is designed to help a person address a particular problem, such as addiction or stress management. The focus may be on problem solving or on learning specific techniques for coping with or avoiding problem areas. Counseling is also usually more short-term than therapy.

Psychotherapy is more long-term than counseling and focuses on a broader range of issues. The underlying principle is that a person's patterns of thinking and behavior affect the way that person interacts with the world. Depending on the specific type of psychotherapy that is being used, the goal is to help people feel better equipped to manage stresses, understand patterns in their behavior that may interfere with reaching personal goals, have more satisfying relationships, and better regulate their thinking and emotional responses to stressful situations.  If someone has a form of mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or an anxiety disorder, psychotherapy also addresses ways in which the illnesses affects their daily life, focuses on how to best understand the illness and manage its symptoms and follow medical recommendations. 

Types of Psychotherapy

There are numerous approaches to psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, from which mental health professionals draw their treatment practices. Different types of psychotherapies are often better-suited to specific types of problems. For example, some psychotherapies are designed mainly to treat disorders like depression or anxiety, while others focus more on helping people overcome problems with relationships or obstacles to greater life satisfaction. Some forms of psychotherapy are one-on-one with a therapist, while others are group-based or family-based. According to the American Psychological Association, those approaches fall into five broad categories.

Psychoanalytic or psychodynamic therapies. The idea behind this kind of therapy is that people's lives are affected by unconscious issues and conflicts. The goal of the therapist is to help the person bring those issues to a conscious level where they can be understood and dealt with. This may involve analyzing dreams or exploring a person's personal history.

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