Common Questions about Counseling and Psychotherapy

  • What's the difference between psychotherapy, counseling and therapy?

The terms are often used interchangeably and carry a similar meaning. Both imply "talk therapy" and a healing, empathic relationship with a health care professional.

Generally, counseling is usually shorter term and focuses on problem solving and learning specific coping skills. Counseling involves mutual discussion with attention being given to present situations. Counselors don't give advice though provide guidance to move someone forward and get unstuck.

Psychotherapy is often thought of as a longer term process that resolves a broader array of issues. Psychotherapy includes developing insight into a person's thought and behavior patterns and their way of being in the world. It's focus is on creating solutions to the big picture that affects someone's relationships, daily functioning and chronic problems. Therapy is a shortened version of the word psychotherapy.

There is often an overlap in practicing counseling and psychotherapy. I use the term interchangeably because I provide both solution-focused services, as well as help in resolving underlying issues that create repetitive problems that affect general functioning. I am trained in both psychotherapy and counseling. I have a Master of Science degree in marriage, family and child counseling and am a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. You can verify my license here.

  • How do I know if I really need therapy?

Feeling stressed out, worried or frustrated may be typical responses to life situations. When emotions start negatively impacting how well you're doing at work or school, or creating conflict and unnecessary strain on any of your relationships, it may be helpful to get some outside help. You may be wondering what’s the difference between feeling sad or worried and experiencing something more serious, such as a depressive or anxiety disorder. By reading a list of stress, anxiety and depression symptoms here, you may be able to better gauge if you need to consult with a health care professional.

  • If I go to counseling/therapy, does it mean I'm "crazy?"

Short answer, NO. We all have life challenges with how we feel, what we do, when we develop skills and goals and who we become. Receiving guidance from a counselor/therapist is a normal, healthy response to wanting better relationships, decreased stress, greater understanding into why you do something or just feeling like something isn't quite right with your life.

In fact, people who seek out help through counseling/therapy usually become healthier and happier because they have a better understanding of themselves and how to create positive change. Asking for help can be difficult, especially if you view yourself as a strong, independent person who is capable of accomplishing many goals. However many highly successful people became that way because they did ask for help. It takes courage and a willingness to be open to learning new ways of looking at yourself and the world around you.

  • What do all those initials after people's names mean and what's the difference?

The initials after someone's name may indicate the degree level that they have completed at a college or university. To become a licensed counselor or psychotherapist, a minimum of a master's degree is required in most states. A master's degree is earned after a Bachelor's degree. A bachelor's degree consists of four years of full time college course work.

MA or MS: Master of Arts or a Master of Science degree. Most master's degrees consist of two to three years of full time college course work beyond a bachelor's degree. PhD: Doctor of Philosophy. A doctorate degree involves 3-5 years of study beyond the master's degree level, depending on subject matter and university. PsyD: Doctor of Psychology. It involves similar years of study as the PhD, though is usually more focused on the practice of psychology as opposed to the study and assessment of psychology. MD: Doctor of Medicine. This degree involved four years of medical school following a bachelor's degree plus additional years of training in a specialty program called an internship and residency. Other terms used for MD include physician or primary care doctor. These specialists can prescribe medication.

There are multiple types of counselors, therapists, social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists who work as mental health professionals. The following definitions were quoted from Counseling California's website.

MFT or LMFT: Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a master's degree in psychology, counseling psychology, clinical psychology, or marital and family therapy. Emphasis is on primary service in counseling and psychotherapy from a variety of therapeutic orientations with individuals, couples, families, and groups. LCSW: Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a master's degree in clinical social work. Emphasis on primary service in psychosocial diagnosis, assessment and treatment, client advocacy, consultation, evaluation and research. Psychologist: Possesses a doctoral degree in psychology or a related field with a license to practice therapy and conducts psychological testing and research. Psychiatrist: A medical doctor who specializes in psychiatry. Emphasis on primary service in prescribing and monitoring psychotropic medications and sometimes offers psychotherapy. You may read the Business and Professions Code descriptions according to the California Department of Consumer Affairs, who controls scope and practice of licensees. See their information here.

The above statements are for informational purposes only.  It should not be considered as inclusive of all scopes of mental health care and does not apply to all states in the USA and other countries. The information should not be considered psychological, psychiatric, or medical advice and should not be used as a substitute for seeking treatment with a qualified healthcare or mental health professional. Additionally, use of this website does not create a therapist-client relationship with Colleen King, LMFT.