What Are Counseling and Psychotherapy?

By HUI-KUANG HSIEH 

My clients often ask me how much it actually helps to talk about and vent their feelings, and say that their bad feelings remain even after a few sessions. So, what exactly is the point of paying a professional to listen to their problems?

I would like to say I honestly agree with and understand these doubts. I would genuinely feel the same way if I did not see any pay off to my efforts, or at least feel a little bit better after talking to my therapist. However, though you might now feel I would agree if you are thinking of firing your therapist, counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or whoever you are seeing, I would nevertheless say, "Not so fast. Get a more realistic expectation first."

What is the difference between counseling and psychotherapy? A counselor, regardless of their field of emphasis, might have basic training and core skills in counseling to provide a professional human service. However, what counselors are actually capable of dealing with greatly depends upon the areas of their expertise. Usually, most counselors and psychologists at community clinics or counseling centers have been trained to provide counseling and therapy for a broad range of mental health or relational issues that cause various levels of emotional disturbance and distress. If the client suffers from more severe forms of mental illness or personality disorder, greater in-depth clinical training is needed to enhance the therapist's clinical techniques as well as knowledge of the etiology of various mental disorders and evidence-based interventions for psychological and mental health problems. In addition, understanding how the client's familial system, as well as environmental and cultural context, plays a role in their presenting conditions is essential.

Likewise, the more severe the client's current condition, the longer-term and deeper the interventions are needed to change any problematic perceptions and maladaptive coping mechanisms along with any crucial elements adversely affecting the client's mental status, emotional stability, or general functions. Indeed, alleviating symptoms causing emotional or physical discomfort might be the first step, but it is not enough. The ultimate goal is to help clients process their emotional pain and work towards self-acceptance and reconciliation between themselves and the outside world. Generally speaking, we call this kind of deeper therapeutic work - psychotherapy.