differences between counseling and psychotherapy essay

Differences Between Counseling and Psychotherapy

Counseling Theories August 3, 1999

Running head: Coun. v. Psychotherapy

Counseling v. psychotherapy is there a difference between the two? This

paper will attempt to prove that there are several differences between

counseling and psychotherapy. While counseling and psychotherapy have

several different elements in each, the following information will also attempt

to show the reader that there are some areas where the two overlap. At times

this was a confusing topic to research. A fine line distinguishes the two topics

and one must look hard to see this line. Definition of Counseling

One survey taken by Gustad suggests a definition of counseling where he

Counseling is a learning-oriented process, carried on in a

simple, one to one social environment, in which a counselor,

professionally competent in relevant psychological skills and

knowledge, seeks to assist the client by methods appropriate

to the latter’s needs and within the context of the total

personnel program, to learn more about himself, to learn

how to put such understanding into effect in relation to

more clearly perceived, realistically defined goals to the

` end that the client may become a happier and more

productive member of his society (1957, p. 36).

In lay terms counseling can be described as a face to face relationship,

having goals to help a client to learn or acquire new skills which will enable

them to cope and adjust to life situations. The focus is to help a person reach

maximum fulfillment or potential, and to become fully functioning as a

person. Definition of Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is the process inwhich a therapists assists the client in

re-organizing his or her personality. The therapist also helps the client

insights into everyday behavior. Psychotherapy can be defined as “more

inclusive re-education of the individual” (Brammer& Shostrom,1977).

The objectives of counseling according to the Committee on Definition,

Division of Counseling Psychology, American Psychological Association are to

“help individuals toward overcoming obstacles to their personal growth,

wherever these may be encountered, and toward achieving optimum

development of their personal resources” (Arbuckle, 1967).

In a paper written by Dr. T. Millard, it is stated that “Counseling

provides clarity and a positive and constructive venue for the individual to

sensibly examine the instinctive-emotional and rational (or irrational) motives

which determine the drive, content, and even the form of human conduct.”

This shows the part which counseling plays in a clients treatment.

According to Everett Shostrom (1967) , the goal of psychotherapy is ”

to become an actualizer, a person who appreciates himself and others as

persons rather than things and who has turned his self defeating

manipulations into self fulfilling potentials (p. 9). Shostrom also feels that

awareness is the goal of psychotherapy, “The reason is that change occurs with

awareness!” (1967 p. 103). Shostrom feels that awareness is a form of non-striving

achieved by being what you are at the moment,l even if what you are means the phony

manipulative role that we all play sometimes for external support (1967 p. 103).

Not all therapists feel that there is a distinction between counseling and

psychotherapy. C.H. Patterson feels that it is impossible to make a

distinction, He feels that the definition of counseling equally applies as well to

psychotherapy and vice a versa. Donald Arbuckle (1967) argues that counseling and

psychotherapy are identical in all essential aspects.

Others believe that there is a distinction. Psychotherapy is concerned

with some type of personality change where counseling is concerned with

helping individuals utilize full coping potential. IN Donald Arbuckle’s work he

included Leona Tyler’s thoughts on the differences between counseling and

psychotherapy. Leona Tyler attempts to differ between counseling and

psychotherapy by stating, “to remove physical and mental handicaps or to rid

of limitations is not the job of the counselor, this is the job of the therapist

which is aimed essentially at change rather than fulfillment (Arbuckle 1967).

Differences between counseling and psychotherapy

One of the major distinctions between counseling and psychotherapy is the

focus. In counseling, the counselor will focus on the “here and now”, reality

situations. During psychotherapy, the therapist is looking into the

unconscious or past. A psychotherapist is looking for a connection of past to

undealt with problems which are now present in the real world. Donald

Arbuckle states, “There is a further distinction to be made. This involves the

nature or content of the problem which the client brings to the counselor. A

distinction is attempted between reality-oriented problems and those problems

which inhere in the personality of the individual” (1967, p.145).

Counseling and psychotherapy also differentiate when it comes to the level

of adjustment or maladjustment of the client. Counseling holds an emphasis

on “normals”. One could classify “normals” as those without neurotic

problems but those who have become victims of pressures from outside

environment. The emphasis in psychotherapy however is on “neurotics” or

Counseling can also be described as problem solving where in

psychotherapy it is more analytical. In counseling a client may have a

situation where they do not have any idea how to handle it. There are two

types of problems, solvable and unsolvable. If the problem is a solvable one, a

therapist may help that client by looking at the problem with them and

helping the client draw out solutions. When thinking of solutions one must

While counseling deals with problem solving, psychotherapy on the

other hand deals with the analytical view. Here the therapist would determine

the cause of ones behavior from the results of that behavior. An example

could be if a spouse was abusing the other spouse it could stem from the

abusive spouse’s past. The abusive spouse may have been a victim of abuse as

a child, abused in a relationship themselves or even have been a witness to

abuse. The counselor would analyze each act and try to link it to something in

Length of treatment also differs between counseling and psychotherapy.

Counseling is shorter in duration than psychotherapy. The time spent in

counseling is determined by goals set by the client and the counselor. Once

these goals are met the client should then be able to go back on their own.

Psychotherapy tends to last a while longer. Sessions range from two to

five years. Psychotherapy is more of a comprehensive re-education of the

client. The intensity and length of therapy depends on how well the client can

deal with all of the new found information. It could take quite sometime for

the client to be able to live with these feelings which originated in past

experiences which are usually hurtful ones. A -psychotherapists also needs

time to modify all existing defenses.

The setting of treatment also differs between counseling and

psychotherapy. A counseling session usually takes place in a non medical

setting such as an office. Psychotherapy is the term used more in a medical

setting such as a clinic or hospital.

Another difference between counseling and psychotherapy has to do

with transference. Brammer and Shostrom (1977) state, “The counselor

develops a close personal relationship with the client, but he does not

encourage or allow strong transference feelings as does the psychotherapist

(p.223). The counselor tends to find this transference as interfering with his

or her counseling effectiveness. A psychotherapist might feel that this

transference is helpful and the client may be able to see what he is trying to do

A counselor may look at transference as “manifestations in an

incomplete growing up process”(Brammer & Shostrom 1977), where the

psychotherapist interprets these transference feelings as an unconscious nature

Resistance is another area of counseling and psychotherapy that tends

to differ. Counselors see resistance as something that opposes or goes against

problem solving. A counselor tries to reduce this as much ass possible. A

psychotherapist on the other hand finds resistance to be very important. If

the therapist can understand the clients resistance, he can then understand

how to help the client change his or her personality.

Similarities in counseling and psychotherapy

While there are clearly many differences between the counseling

approach and psychotherapy, there are some similarities between the two.

First, each of these are similar in the sense that each client brings with

them the assets, skills, strengths and possibilities needed with them to therapy.

Secondly, counseling and psychotherapy are similar in the way that

they both use an eclectic approach. The counselors and therapists do not have

only one technique, they borrow from all different techniques.

Arbuckle argues that” counseling and psychotherapy are in all

essential respects identical” (1967, p.144) He states that the nature of the

relationship which is considered basic in counseling and psychotherapy are

identical. Secondly, Arbuckle says that the process of counseling cannot be

distinguished from the process of psychotherapy. Third of all he feels that the

methods or techniques are identical. Arbuckle lastly states in the matter of

goals and or outcomes there may appear to be differences but no distinction is

One major similarity between counseling and psychotherapy are the

elements which build a person’s personality. Each of these processes deal

with attitudes, feelings, interests, goals, self esteem and related behaviors are all

which are affected through counseling and psychotherapy.

One can see from the material provided that there are several

differences between counseling and psychotherapy. The biggest difference in

my opinion is the time factor/ focus faced in each of these approaches.

Counseling primarily deals with reality situations versus the unconscious past

focus of psychotherapy. Secondly counseling has been described as helping

one to develop competencies in coping with life situations where as

psychotherapy is a re organization of one’s whole personality. Finally a last

distinction is that the counselor deals with life adjustment problems while the

psychotherapist deals with past unresolved issues from the family of origin.

While there are many distinguishing differences between counseling and

psychotherapy, there are some aspects that do spill over into each other. As

one can see by the graph provided (see figure. 1.1) there is a section where the

two approaches cross paths. One must definitely take a close look at

counseling and psychotherapy to distinguish whether or not there is a

difference between the two approaches. I found this to be a very confusing

topic at times. Just when I thought I had completely grasped a concept I would

run across authors such as Arbuckle who speaks of the fact that one can not

distinguish counseling from psychotherapy. Luckily, I researched part of this

topic using my class notes, to my advantage the lecture on June 15, 1995

discussed the differences between counseling and psychotherapy. After reading

these notes I realized that I was right on track and there is a difference between

counseling and psychotherapy

Arbuckle, D. S. (1967). Counseling and Psychotherapy: An
Overview. New York: McGraw Hill.

Bettelheim, B. & Rosenfeld, A. (1993). The Art of the Obvious…Developing
Insight For Psychotherapy and Everyday Life. New York: Knopf.

Brammer, L . & Shostrom, E. (1977). Theraputic Psychology: Fundamentals
of Counseling and Psychotherapy Third Edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Prentice Hall.

Rogers, C. (1951). Client Centered Therapy. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

Shostrom, E. (1967). Man the Manipulator. Nashville, Tennessee:
Abingdon Press.

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