Therapy and counseling have a lot of overlap—they both involve working with a professional to improve your mental health—but it's important to choose the approach that's right for you. Generally speaking, counseling is short-term help designed to address a particular issue, while therapy (psychotherapy) is more holistic.
Curious about what the experience of going to counseling or a psychotherapy session is like? The Pratt Library offers access to a database containing transcripts from thousands of real counseling and therapy sessions. Clicking around and reading a few may give you some insight!
A person might go to counseling for help overcoming a period of job stress, a fear of flying, or a struggle with substance abuse. A counselor will help their client develop a plan for addressing the issue, which may involve developing coping techniques or other action-oriented solutions. It's often short term, and may end when the client feels the issue has been adequately addressed.
Psychotherapy, on the other hand, tends to be more open-ended. Psychotherapy is intended to work on a deeper level than counseling; a therapist works with their clients to understand, and change, the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that may be causing problems in a client's life. A therapist can still help their clients address the same types of issues given as examples above, but the therapist's approach will be broader. Therapists are also qualified to help address mental illnesses like bipolar disorder or depression, which may touch many aspects of a person's life.
Both counseling and psychotherapy may help with anxiety-related issues. If you're not sure which approach is right for you, you can ask your regular healthcare provider or a school counselor. You can also get in touch with a therapist or counselor for a consultation.
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Here’s the good news: there are many types of mental health professionals that can help you tackle your anxiety, from psychiatrists to school counselors. The bad news: it can be tough to choose between these types of help. And the not-so-bad news: if you don’t know which type of mental health professional is best suited to help you, start by asking your regular doctor or your campus counselors. They can help guide you.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental illness. Psychiatrists tend to focus on the physical problems and treatments of mental illness: they can prescribe medications, distinguish between symptoms connected to mental illnesses and physical ones, and monitor the physical effects of mental illnesses. Psychiatrists do not offer therapy—so consider them a part of, but not your entire, mental health aresenal.
Psychologists have a doctoral (four-year) degree, but are not medical doctors. They can administer psychological tests and offer a variety of treatments for mental disorders, including psychotherapy and counseling.
Licensed Mental Health Counselors have a two-year degree and are qualified to offer counseling.
As you search for a therapist or counselor, you'll come across providers offering an almost dizzying array of therapies, ranging from ecotherapy to bibliotherapy to dozens of acronyms. Ultimately, you'll work with your therapist to choose the right method for you, but there's one type of therapy that's been studied extensively in connection to anxiety: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Authorities agree that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is the most effective therapeutic treatment for anxiety. It’s aimed at changing your habitual thought patterns and behaviors. Studies reveal that CBT for anxiety is effective and long-lasting, but can be hard work. It usually involves regular sessions over a fixed time period, and some homework to do in between sessions with your therapist.
Other types of therapy to consider, especially if you struggle with more than just anxiety, include general psychotherapy, thought by some to be a holistic approach to mental health; DBT (Dialectic Behavioral Therapy), which has especially positive outcomes for people diagnosed with bipolar disorder; EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), which has been shown to be an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder; interpersonal therapy, good for social anxiety or relationship-related stressors; and many more. Discuss these with your doctor or therapist.