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A Beginner’s Guide to Counselling and Psychotherapy

Updated: Nov 25, 2022

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Deciding to explore mental healthcare is hard enough, and the lack of information about counseling and therapy can make it even more overwhelming. We completely understand your struggle with choosing between a counselor and a therapist. This point of difference can get super frustrating and that is okay!

That being said, the boundaries between counseling and therapy can get pretty blurry at times. But you’ve come to the right place! So, let’s try and clear them out a bit, shall we?

What is counseling?

Counseling is a type of talk therapy that lets you openly discuss and share your problems with a trained expert. This trained expert or a counselor allows you to not only explore your thoughts but also express them openly, without judgment.

It is also important to know that counseling does not necessarily mean sitting on a couch for hours and talking about your childhood. Usually, your counselor would not relate your current problem to a childhood event.

In short, a counselor simply helps you deal with those overwhelming feelings that may feel too much to handle at the moment. These feelings could arise out of bullying, educational or peer pressure, relationship problems, body image issues, etc.

Having said that, it is imperative to know that counseling is a collaborative effort between your counselor and you to help you identify goals and potential solutions for day-to-day problems which, if not dealt with, may lead to major mental health issues.

What is interesting is that the job of the counselor is not limited to giving you suggestions or potential solutions to your current obstacles. They may also help you make a plan of action in order to make it more comprehensive and help you find healthy coping mechanisms for your issues. To help these out, there are various types of counseling that take place today.

Depending on the cause and nature of your problem, your counselor may choose a particular type that could help you out. So let's get to know more about these types.

Types of Counseling

Counseling is a vast area to explore with multiple types. These types carry equal importance and it is no good nor better. All are extremely helpful to different people and help them lead healthier lives.

Mental health counseling

If you are someone going through any sort of mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or acute stress, then this is the type of counselor you should approach. A mental health counselor helps you to identify the cause of your issue and to find healthy ways to solve and cope with it.

You can get in touch with a mental health professional. Book your free consultation now!

Marriage/family counseling

A lot of people experience immense dissatisfaction and problems in their family life. This leads to stress and unhappiness along with the need to solve this problem.

Family counseling helps you deal with such family issues that obstruct individual growth.

Educational/career counseling

Choosing a field of work causes massive anxiety, especially among teenagers.

If you are someone who is confused about what you want to do in your future, educational counseling helps you figure out your interest. Not only this, a counselor in this field will help you pick out the best courses, apply to universities and assist in writing college applications.

Rehabilitation counseling

What rehabilitation counseling does is help physically and mentally disabled people to develop healthy coping mechanisms and live independent life.

They provide them with emotional support considering most persons with disabilities live solitary life. They guide and assist them throughout their lives.

Substance abuse counseling

This type of counseling will help you to break free from your unhealthy drug/alcohol consumption patterns. The counselor will help you find alternate, healthier coping mechanisms and help you find the root of your addiction.

By providing a purpose in life, the aim of this counseling is to provide skills to avoid relapses.

Medical/patient counseling

Medical counseling helps patients deal with their illnesses better. It is natural that patients suffering from chronic illnesses like cancer develop mental health conditions like depression, amnesia, etc.

To better cope with the thought of death, counselors help and support patients suffering from mental conditions.

Now that you’ve identified which type of counseling would work best for you, you might also want to know about what you’ll experience during the same. Let’s get an idea about that too, yeah?

Stages of the counseling process

The process of counseling requires patience on the part of both, the counselor and the client. It is a planned and structured procedure that might seem intensive to you but is easy to follow through and understand. Usually, the process of counseling goes like this

  • Build a therapeutic relationship with your counselor

Building a strong foundation with your counselor is extremely important. This is done in the first session as you actively explain your issues to your counselor and they in return actively listen, providing verbal and non-verbal cues that should make you feel heard and comforted. This connection is the foundation of your journey.

  • Explore your issues, together

After this stage, you and your counselor assess the causes of your problem. You discuss possible solutions and explanations. They also tell you about your stressors, triggers, and other extraneous factors. Know that you both work together, as a team with you being the coach, of course!

  • Analyze the approach

Depending on your issues and the approaches preferred by your counselor, you may work according to a particular therapeutic approach. It could be behavioral, person-centric, cognitive, etc. These are the various types of counseling and your counselor may focus on one.

  • Terminate your journey

You terminate your therapeutic journey when you start feeling better and acquire the feeling of competence where you can help yourself. Termination may also happen when you do not want to continue with the same therapist for any reason. This may not be a stage as such but how you terminate your therapeutic journey stands essential. To analyze the feelings you’re left with is an important part that shall make this journey complete for you.

Your counselor may also refer you to some other professional like a therapist if they feel that your unresolved issues stem from a deeper root. If your counselor feels like you’re not progressing with their help, they may suggest you another professional.

That being said, all these stages are uniformly important. The lack of any stage can lead to issues at any part of your journey. It may also lead to incomplete healing. So, it is essential that you absolutely do not rush the process for you.

Now, we are pretty sure you can’t wait to know more about therapy, right? Let’s get to it straight away.

What is Psychotherapy

Now that we are pretty much familiar with ‘counseling’. Let’s also become acquainted with the term ‘psychotherapy’, commonly known as ‘therapy’.

While the two terms are interchangeable, therapy is merely an abbreviation of psychotherapy. It is also a more generalized and preferred term since it’s a little less scary to process.

But what is it exactly?

Psychotherapy is a form of talk therapy that helps you to deal with emotional issues like the loss of a loved one, trauma, adjustment, and coping. It helps you cope with specific mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc.

It also teaches you to understand and manage your own self, your thoughts, your feelings, etc. that are troubling to you so that you are able to function better with increased emotional stability.

The rather personal and frequent psychotherapeutic interactions will help you assess your emotional states better to establish a healthy relationship with yourself and your environment.

Psychotherapy is relatively a slower and a long process however, it has proven to be worth it. You know like it's said, ‘the only way out is through it!’

Just like counseling, psychotherapy has its own types that also depend on a number of factors, and knowing them is just as important. So, what are we waiting for?

Types of Psychotherapy

These various forms of psychotherapy are used from client to client. The nature of the problem is what determines which form of therapy would be ideal for the client. A few of them are

Individual Therapy

Individual therapy comprises one client and one therapist. In individual therapy, you will work one-on-one with a trained practitioner, in a safe and confidential environment.

Family Therapy

This type of therapy identifies family patterns and scripts that are unhealthy and hamper individual growth. If these patterns are a cause of behavioral disorders, then sessions are held with families in order to lead to change and development. For instance, if you’re a free spirit in a conservative family and that troubles you, how about you try a session of family therapy?

Couples Therapy

This form of therapy helps partners, married and unmarried, to improve and work on their relationship. It helps couples get through major life events like having a child, an empty nest, miscarriages, etc.

Group Therapy

This includes one or more psychotherapists working with a group of clients at the same time who meet once or twice a week. These can be smaller groups of 3-4 or larger ones of 10-15 clients.

Group therapies help in overcoming problems like depression, addiction, PTSD, phobias, etc. They are efficient when you really want the support of people who are like you but don’t want them to be acquaintances.

Expressive Arts Therapy

This multimodal approach takes the help of various other fields like dance, music, art, and poetry and incorporates it into therapy. It is yet another approach to get you to express your feelings in a fun and creative way. This form of integrative learning helps you to deal with emotions in an imaginative manner.

These types of psychotherapies are practiced in huge amounts all over the world. It is imperative to know that they go hand in hand. They are not rivals of each other and there is no type that is better than the other. However, there is a type of psychotherapy that is a better fit for YOU!

Process of Therapy

We are all curious to know what goes down during psychotherapy, aren’t we? Well, it is a pretty regular process. There are primarily 3 stages to it, it begins with the most basic:

  • Commitment

In the first stage, the therapist mainly analyzes the intensity level of the client and the necessity of psychotherapy.

The therapist, based on the circumstances of the client, chooses the best possible type of therapy that has been mentioned above.

The stage begins with an assessment of the client which is like a ‘full body check-up’. It looks at somatic conditions, family history, stressors of the client, personal and professional environments, health conditions, etc.

The therapist then forms a diagnosis on the basis of this assessment. The first session takes, right after this.

It is usually generalized where goals are set, expectations are discussed and it ends with signing a therapy contract which is an agreement made by the two parties to keep it a safe space with clear, defined boundaries. Both parties agree to commit to the process of therapy and be faithful to the process.

  • Process

The second stage of this journey is the main area of work. It is a very subjective experience and differs largely from case to case.

Different types of therapies require different sorts of work and a number of sessions.

The various types of therapies used could be behavioral, cognitive, person-centric, etc. The therapist mainly gathers information as you talk about your experiences. They may identify patterns and triggers and use different therapeutic techniques during the process stage.

  • Change

This is when the different sessions and therapeutic techniques work for the well-being of the client. This is when you may start noticing changes as the client.

You may begin accepting your situation and find ways to deal with them in an effective manner.

As mentioned earlier, therapy is a slow process and there is organic change taking place. You can't force a change. So for it to be permanent and natural, we encourage you to go through with the entire process!

  • Termination

The last phase is the end of psychotherapy which is done only when the client undergoes considerable improvements that they are able to apply to their lives.

In a sense that they no longer need a therapist to judge their emotional states and act upon them.

The psychotherapist helps the client practice it in their environments and also educates them about a possible relapse. The Preventing Mental Health Relapse worksheet is a good way of tracking a client’s possible relapse. It helps self-track your symptoms and intensities post-therapy.

A psychotherapist must go at the pace of the client and make them lead the way instead of doing the work for them. This is the reason why there occurs a natural, organic change within the client which is permanent in most cases.


So, we know quite a bit about the two topics. But, are we able to make a differentiation between them?

To be honest, it is a tricky question to answer because as mentioned before, they are used interchangeably at times. But there is a difference and we are going to try and put it out there.

What is the difference between therapy and counseling?

While the two seem to be pretty similar, there are major factors that differentiate them.

Both usually take up 30-60 minute sessions depending on client to client, what differs them is that counseling is more short-term while therapy is more long-term.

A counselor analyzes your current, day-to-day, and specific problems and gives potential solutions for the same.

Hence, counseling is done for a specific issue for a limited amount of time. Therapy, on the other hand, provides more permanent, long-term solutions to your problems. It focuses on your past in order to reason with your present to make a better future.

For example, if you’re having some trouble managing your time, you’re going to visit a counselor till the time they help you find solutions for better time management! On the other hand, if you’re someone battling depression, your therapist may work on the cause, and its effects on you, and your individual growth which takes up a long time.

Counseling is done and required mainly to solve day-to-day, current/ongoing problems like issues with a partner, exam stress, etc. It focuses on solving a current roadblock that is unmanageable.

However, therapy is considered to be slightly deeper in this regard. It focuses on major changes or problems that gravely affect your personal growth.

Nonetheless, it is false that counselors deal with “simpler cases”. High-intensity cases of extreme stress and distress are also part of their jobs. But, if a counselor identifies that the cause of the problems dwells way back in time, they may refer you to a therapist.

Similarly, therapy includes counseling specific aspects that may arise in conversation. So, they are overlapping fields to some extent.

So, now that we are aware of how the two are different, how do you go about choosing the one that would work for you?

How to choose which approach is right for you?

Hopefully, the above sections helped you gain some understanding about who could help you better, a counselor or a therapist.

To take this understanding a step further ahead, you can pay attention to the educational background of the practitioner and decide as per the severity of your concerns.

A master's degree is the minimum required qualification for any counselor/therapist, ideally combined with a diploma or specialized degree in their niche. Some may even have a Ph.D. For serious mental health disorders, a clinical psychologist is more apt.

But, in the end, it’s truly all about finding the therapist that best suits you. The first step is to reach out and ask for help no matter who it is. It may take a while to find the right professional that you click with as there is a lot of trial and error involved.

Perhaps a professional with less than a year of experience could turn out to be better for you than one with 10 years of experience and a Ph.D.

In the end, it is about you and your healing journey. So, just reach out.

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