Counselor? Therapist? Healer.
Counselors and Therapists: Similarities and Differences
Let’s face it, the world of psychology can be overwhelming. The terms, the ideas, all of this seems to conspire together to leave the psychology-initiate in a state of bewilderment: “How should I interpret this? What on earth is that supposed to mean?!” And if someone has decided that it wouldn’t hurt them to get extra support from a trained clinician, how on earth are they supposed to know how to tell the difference between the counselors, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists?
In trying to sort it out for myself, I found myself looking to other professions to help give guidance. Here’s what I found especially helpful when it came to distinguishing between counselors and therapists:
Counselors are advice-givers.
We see the term “counselor” used in a number of professions that deal with advice-giving. Whether the individual is a legal counselor, a financial counselor, or an individual counselor, their job is to provide counsel. They come into a situation, listen and provide an outside perspective on what’s going on, and follow up with guidance on how best to move forward from (or get out of) the current position.
Therapists stretch muscles.
When talking about therapists, what comes to mind is more often along the line of physical therapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, and family therapists. Each of these individuals focuses on stretching and bringing change to the system of their specialty. Physical therapists focus on the muscular system as they work to bring back flexibility to over-strained and damaged muscles. Speech therapists work with vocal muscles, and occupational therapists work with individuals to promote their overall functionality. In the same way, family therapists work with the individual or the family to strengthen the relational muscles between family members. Just like physical muscles need stretching and exercise in order to grow, the relational muscles needed to listen well, empathize, and communicate clearly also need stretching, and that’s what family therapists do.
Both counselors and therapists step into people’s lives and care. Deeply.
Regardless of how counselors and therapists approach the stories that they hear and the lives they are invited into, the take-away I found was that both counselors and therapists care about bettering the lives of those they come into contact with. Both, ideally, care about being a healing influence in their clients’ lives. And both approaches start with listening.