What Is The Difference Between Counseling And Therapy?

There are many types of counseling services available today. Guidance counseling in school, career counseling, general counseling, and life coaching are all different ways counselors can assist with life changes and decisions. 

Counseling is different from therapy, which is a course of action for addressing mental health concerns. Counseling addresses a specific issue over a short time. Therapy addresses your thoughts and behaviors over longer periods.

Before meeting with a counselor or therapist, it is important to fully understand the differences between these practices. You’ll want to learn about their different qualifications, their techniques, and how these professionals earn their expertise. Knowing what counseling and therapy are and how they work will be key factors when deciding which is best for you. 

Let’s take a closer look at the difference between counseling and therapy. 

What Is Counseling?

Counseling is a form of conversational problem solving between two people. Counseling can be provided individually or in groups, and often the advice given in a session is anecdotal from the personal experiences of the counselor. 

In a group setting, all participants can draw from one another to collaboratively solve problems or examine larger issues. Individually, it is more conversational between the counselor and the client, pulling from personal stories to work together towards a goal.

Most counselors need to have a bachelor’s degree. Depending on your state and the type of counseling, they may only need an associate’s degree. Some types of counseling, like addiction counseling, require licenses and advanced degrees like a Master’s degree.

Who Benefits From Counseling?

Anyone can benefit from counseling. Whether you have anxiety, experience relationship problems, or need career guidance, counseling can help you improve your well-being and move closer to your emotional goals. 

Anyone who is going through a hard time can benefit from counseling. Individual or group sessions may feel more comfortable, depending on your preferences. It is essential to recognize that the best thing you can do in a time of need is to reach out for help. 

While your need for counseling or therapy may change, the key is getting started with someone who cares about your well-being and wants to help you improve your mental health. 

The work of counselors and therapists can be quite similar, but there is one important foundational difference.

The Difference Between Counseling and Therapy

The main difference between counseling and therapy is that counseling is typically a temporary or short-term process to solve a problem. In contrast, therapy is a long process that tackles deeper problems. 

For example, you may seek couples counseling if your relationship hits a bump in the road and you need help working through it with your partner. However, if you are constantly struggling with symptoms of anxiety, depression, or other prolonged issues, it is best to seek therapy to create an ongoing treatment plan. 

Counselors commonly pull from their own past experiences or other related knowledge to help you overcome your issues, but they do not provide psychotherapy. Licensed therapists typically use psychotherapy techniques and behavioral training. 

With therapy, your treatment plan is set for an extended period where your clinician will help you work through issues while also teaching you coping mechanisms. If necessary, your treatment plan with a therapist can include an integrated approach. An integrated approach involves a psychiatrist who can supplement your treatment with medications.

It is also important to note that while there is no legal differentiation between counselors and therapists, therapy can be provided by social workers, clinical psychologists, or other licensed professionals. Counselors, as mentioned earlier, typically do not hold these titles. 

In either case, you should be aware of your counselor or therapist’s qualifications and know what to expect from their scope of practice.

Why Is Counseling Different From Therapy?

Counseling and therapy evolved at the same time. However, counseling took a more peer-focused path, while therapy became more clinical.


Because therapy is more scientific, additional education and research were integrated into therapists’ training. Therapists learn about personality traits and disorders, psychotherapy techniques and how to apply them, and how to manage lifelong or prolonged mental health concerns. 

Anxiety disorders, depression, personality disorders, and other mental illnesses can be managed with the help of a licensed therapist. A licensed therapist employs cognitive behavioral therapy and other therapeutic methods to help regulate their client’s symptoms while managing day-to-day struggles and other significant issues.


Counseling is a short-term process and deals with specific events or more casual, ongoing discussions. Advice given by a counselor is not necessarily backed by science and can feel more like talking to a friend or trusted mentor. 

This can be ideal for people struggling with short-term problems or upcoming changes. It is also different in that therapists rarely draw from personal experience, favoring studies and research-backed therapies, while counseling incorporates learned personal experiences.

Is Counseling Right For Me?

If you begin seeing a counselor and find that your issues may be greater than they initially seemed, the counselor may refer you to a therapist, or you may choose to switch to therapy yourself. 

Alternatively, if you begin with therapy and find that you may only be looking for a peer to talk to occasionally, counseling may be a better fit. 

Typically, anyone who benefits from counseling also benefits from therapy. This makes therapy or a psychological assessment an ideal place to begin your mental health journey.

To determine whether you need therapy, it is a good idea to get an assessment to better understand your current symptoms and devise an appropriate treatment plan. From there, you can choose clinicians who will work with you to improve your mental health. 

Your mental health concerns don’t have to wait; counseling and therapy are more accessible than ever, thanks to online therapy and other digital resources. You can get everything from talk therapy to psychiatric evaluations and medication prescriptions from your phone or computer.

Whether you take a mentor-mentee approach to problem-solving through counseling or tackle larger issues with a therapist, the best thing you can do is take the first step towards getting started. Talk therapy in any capacity can help you to process trauma, concerns, or other issues. In just 50 minutes per session every week, you can make progress on any mental symptoms that are holding you back from feeling your best.

Check out Mood to see how you may benefit from online talk therapy for a low cost. All you need is a private place to hold your session and an internet connection. No extra time for commuting, car, or public transportation is required. Thanks to Mood, therapy has never been more accessible. 



Differences Between Counseling, Therapy, and Psychology | Psychology.org

What’s the Difference Between Counselors and Therapists? | Psychology Today

What’s the Difference Between Clinical Psychology and Counseling Psychology? | Nu.edu