Psychotherapy vs. Therapy: What’s the Difference? 

Published On

Medically reviewed by Neal Swartz

a psychotherapist and a therapist sitting in chairs and smiling at each other. REACH Ohio

In recent years, the topic of mental health has – thankfully – become one of significant focus and discussion. Awareness is greater than it’s ever been, stigma has been vastly reduced, and more and more people are seeking the help they need.

Nearly 1 in 5 US adults and 1 in 6 children experience mental health disorders every year, so the increased discussion around this essential topic has been a wonderful step forward in society. 

However, there’s still often confusion about the different types of mental health support available, and the differences between the various terms, such as psychotherapy vs. therapy vs. counseling. 

In this blog we’ll delve into the nuances of psychotherapy (which in the mental health sphere is often referred to simply as “therapy”) and aim to provide a clearer understanding of the different terms and services involved.

Psychotherapy vs. therapy: understanding the differences

When people say “therapy”, they often mean “psychotherapy”. However, psychotherapy is in fact just one type of therapy. 

Therapy, by definition, is a form of treatment designed to improve a specific condition – which may be physical or mental. So e.g. psychotherapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and even massage therapy, all fall under the broad terms of “therapy”.

Psychotherapy, on the other hand, is specific to mental health. 
The prefix “psycho-” refers to the mind, which means psychotherapy refers exclusively to treatment for mental health or emotional issues – although, in itself, psychotherapy is a broad term that covers a range of different therapeutic techniques.

What is psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy, which is also known as talk therapy, is the broad term for a type of therapy that involves talking with a trained professional about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in order to help you manage and overcome emotional difficulties and mental health issues.

It is a collaborative process between the therapist and client, which uses a variety of evidence-based frameworks and techniques to help identify – and then change – problematic patterns of thinking or behavior.

Psychotherapy does not involve the use of any medication; only psychiatrists can prescribe medicines for mental health conditions. However, psychotherapists are trained to assess whether a person would benefit from seeing a psychiatrist and can refer you to one accordingly.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is extremely beneficial for people of all ages – children, adolescents, and adults – and it can help to treat a wide variety of mental health issues. It can be conducted one-on-one, in groups, as couples, or with families.

The difference between psychotherapy, counseling, and therapy in the mental health sphere

In the context of mental health, psychotherapy and therapy are generally used interchangeably. So the term “therapist”, and even more specifically, “mental health therapist”, usually refers to all types of psychotherapists. 

Counseling is another commonly used term in the realm of mental health. And once again, this is often used interchangeably with the terms therapy and psychotherapy. 

However, there are nuances between the different terms, which mostly come down to the qualifications and specialisms of the professional providing the service.  

Counseling often refers to shorter-term treatment that focuses on finding solutions to current issues, whereas psychotherapy tends to be more long-term and addresses a wider range of issues, including past experiences and deep-seated psychological problems. 

Most therapists will adopt a range of different approaches with their clients, so it’s common for the same therapist to provide both counseling and psychotherapy as part of their treatment. However, psychotherapy requires a higher level of skill and training than counseling, so while a psychotherapist will always be qualified to provide counseling, a counselor may or may not have the necessary skills and training to provide certain types of psychotherapy. 

The type of therapist you see will depend on the issues that you wish to address, and a benefit of seeking therapy through an organization like REACH Behavioral Health – with a large clinical team that encompasses all types of mental health professionals – is that we can place you with the therapist most suited to your individual needs. 

However, in short, mental health counseling falls under the umbrella of psychotherapy, and both psychotherapy and counseling fall under the broader category of therapy.

What are the different types of psychotherapists?

There are a variety of professionals qualified to provide psychotherapy.

While there is a high degree of overlap between them, with all psychotherapists adopting a form of talk therapy to treat their patients, the main differences are their levels of training and their licenses. 

  • Counselors: Hold a master’s degree in counseling, psychology, or social work, and provide a range of counseling and psychotherapy services – often specializing in a specific field, such as addictions or substance-use disorders, grief and bereavement, and more.  
  • Therapists: Hold a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, social work, psychology, or a related mental health field, and provide a range of psychotherapy services, again often specializing in a specific field. 
  • Psychologists: Hold a doctoral degree in psychology (either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D) and are trained to diagnose and treat all psychological disorders using the full range of psychotherapy modalities.
  • Psychiatrists: Unlike the other types of psychotherapists, psychiatrists are medical doctors (with an M.D. or D.O. medical degree) who specialize in mental health. They use a combination of psychotherapy modalities and/or medication to diagnose, treat, and prevent mental illnesses. Psychiatrists are the only mental health practitioners who can prescribe medication for mental health disorders.  

Who needs psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy, therapy, counseling, or talk therapy – whichever term you prefer and whichever type of therapist you ultimately work with – is one of the most effective ways to treat and manage mental health conditions. 

You or a family member will benefit from working with a therapist if you’re suffering from any type of emotional, behavioral, or mental health issue, including: 

What exactly does a psychotherapist do?

Psychotherapists employ a variety of different techniques and approaches to help their clients, which can broadly be broken down into the following types of talk therapy:  

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy
  • Humanistic therapy
  • Integrative or Holistic Therapy 

You can find out more about these different types of psychotherapy here.

How to choose the right type of therapy 

Therapy is a very personal journey, and choosing the right type of therapy or treatment, and the right therapist, will all depend on your specific needs and circumstances. 

It’s important to consider factors such as the type of mental health issue you are facing, the therapist’s expertise and specialism, and the therapy approach that feels most comfortable. 

At REACH Behavioral Health in Cleveland, Ohio, we have a large clinical team that includes counselors, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. This means we can offer therapeutic and psychiatric services – both in person or remotely via tele-therapy – that meet every individual need. 

If you live in Ohio, contact us today for a free consultation with our intake specialist, and we will help you to determine the best therapy option for you.

Remember, seeking help is a courageous step towards better mental health and well-being. Taking the first step is always the hardest, but every journey begins with that first step, and we will be here to support you every other step of the way. 

Contact us