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What exactly is counseling | psychotherapy?

Have you ever wondered what exactly is counseling or psychotherapy?

Blue and red abstract of counseling

Traditionally, from a mental health professional's perspective counseling has been viewed as giving advice and dealing with less severe problems, such as choosing a career or dealing with stressful in-laws. Counseling was thought of as helping people to address problems in the here and now and was short-term in length, i.e., several months. Counseling was also seen as something that “crazy’ people went to in order to help them be less “crazy.” For example, the family that had their children removed went to counseling to help get their children back. Or the guy who went to counseling to learn how to apply for and keep a job.

Psychotherapy, on the other hand, has been traditionally viewed by mental health professionals as someone who went to see a psychiatrist, psychologist, or psychoanalyst to understand themselves better. The problems included issues such as why you hate your parents, depression, sexual abuse, or why you keep picking the wrong person to date. Psychotherapy was seen as treating more serious issues and something that only rich, bored people did that lasted several years. Think Woody Allen movies.

Fortunately, most of the traditional thinking about counseling and psychotherapy has fallen by the wayside among medical and mental health professionals and by a good deal of the general public. Today, the general public and many professionals use counseling, psychotherapy, and the word therapy interchangeably. However, the word psychotherapy can still carry the weight of seriousness and prestige. For example, in some government programs aimed at helping clients with social and emotional problems, a client can only be referred for counseling but not psychotherapy.

Whether you call it counseling or psychotherapy, it is a reflective process. This means that you must be willing to look at and explore your own life, your thou

ghts, your emotions, your feelings, and your interactions with others. This can often be an emotionally frightening process, and many people drop out of counseling because they find this process too hard.

Both counseling and psychotherapy traditionally require at least weekly sessions during which the clients talk and express to their counselor or psychotherapist their concerns or issues that are bothering them. The counselor or psychotherapist helps the client to t

hink through issues, become aware of how and what things impact the client, and helps the client to develop alternative healthier ways of managing and coping.

Most counseling or psychotherapy training programs do not make a distinction between counseling and psychotherapy. Training is provided in various counseling and psychotherapy methods, and both words continue to be used interchangeably. The one exception to this is psychoanalysis, which maintains it’s position as a particular type of psychotherapy and requires a particular type of training, usually an additional 3 to 5 years after initial master’s level or doctoral level counseling or psychotherapy training.

The decision to see a counselor or psychotherapist is a huge and brave decision. However, with the presence of pop psychology, the ability to google anything, T

V or Streaming shows, and talk show hosts asking questions and “acting like therapists,” many people have developed an inaccurate view and misinformation about counseling and psychotherapy. First, there are many different types and styles of counseling and psychotherapy. Second, despite tons of information and research about effective types and styles

of counseling or psychotherapy, one of the most important things that leads to a successful counseling or psychotherapy experience, more than any other variable, is your relationship with your counselor or psychotherapist. If you like your therapist, and they have a reasonable sense of what they are doing, you are likely to improve and get better. This is compared to if you went to see the best expert in counseling or psychotherapy in a particular area but didn’t like them, you would probably drop out and thus not improve.

All in all, counseling or psychotherapy is beneficial for most who genuinely try it. One or two sessions is not trying it. While no counselor or psychotherapist can guarantee results, the process is often quite beneficial, leading to higher self-esteem, improved coping skills, healthier relationships, decreased anxiety and depression, recovery from eating disorders, recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, and improved overall higher functioning and life satisfaction.


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