The Many Differences Between Counseling and Psychotherapy

Table of Content

The goal of this paper is to illustrate the differences between counseling and psychotherapy, while also recognizing similarities between them. Despite having unique characteristics, it can be difficult to navigate through research on this subject.

According to Gustad’s survey, counseling is a process that occurs in a one-on-one social environment and focuses on learning. It involves a counselor who possesses psychological skills and knowledge. The aim of counseling is to assist the client by using methods that are appropriate to their needs. The counselor operates within the overall personnel program framework, helping the client gain a deeper understanding of themselves and how to apply that understanding to achieve defined goals. Ultimately, the goal of counseling is for the client to become happier and more productive in society (Gustad, 1957, p. 36).

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According to the Committee on Definition, Division of Counseling Psychology of the American Psychological Association, counseling aims to help individuals overcome obstacles in personal growth and reach their full potential by utilizing their personal resources (Arbuckle, 1967).

Dr. T. Millard’s paper states that counseling enables individuals to examine their instinctive-emotional and rational motives that drive their behavior. This highlights the role of counseling in a client’s treatment. Everett Shostrom (1967) defines the goal of psychotherapy as transforming self-defeating manipulations into self-fulfilling potentials and becoming a person who appreciates oneself and others (p. 9).

Shostrom (1967, p. 103) states that psychotherapy aims to create awareness because change occurs through this awareness. He suggests that by staying authentic in the present moment, one can attain a state of non-striving, even if it requires taking on artificial roles for external validation. Nevertheless, not all therapists differentiate between counseling and psychotherapy.

C.H. Patterson and Donald Arbuckle both assert that counseling and psychotherapy are indistinguishable, with the definition of counseling encompassing psychotherapy and vice versa. Conversely, some individuals contend that there exists a distinction between the two practices.

In his work, Donald Arbuckle incorporates Leona Tyler’s perspective on the distinctions between counseling and psychotherapy. According to Tyler, the counselor’s role does not involve eliminating physical or mental handicaps or overcoming limitations. Instead, the therapist’s objective is primarily focused on facilitating change rather than achieving fulfillment (Arbuckle 1967).

The main distinction between counseling and psychotherapy lies in their focus: counseling primarily addresses present reality situations, whereas psychotherapy explores the unconscious or past.

A psychotherapist is investigating the relationship between unresolved issues from the past and their impact on an individual’s current state. Donald Arbuckle (1967, p.145) distinguishes between problems rooted in reality and those inherent in an individual’s personality. Furthermore, counseling and psychotherapy differ based on the client’s level of adjustment or maladjustment, with counseling primarily targeting “normals”.

“Normals” are individuals who do not have neurotic problems but have experienced the impact of external pressures. Psychotherapy, on the other hand, focuses mainly on individuals with psychological issues known as “neurotics.” In contrast, counseling offers problem-solving techniques while psychotherapy leans towards analysis. Within counseling sessions, clients may face ambiguous situations that they are unsure how to handle. These problems can be categorized into two types: those that can be resolved and those that cannot.

If the problem is solvable, a therapist can assist the client by exploring the issue together and helping to find solutions. While counseling deals with problem-solving, psychotherapy involves analyzing the situation. In psychotherapy, the therapist aims to understand why someone behaves in a certain way based on what happens as a result of their actions. For example, if one partner is abusing the other, it could stem from experiences in their past, like being a victim or witnessing abuse. The counselor would examine each action and try to establish a link. Additionally, counseling and psychotherapy vary in terms of duration.

Counseling is usually of shorter duration than psychotherapy, varying depending on the goals set by the client and counselor. Once these goals are accomplished, the client should be able to resume independently. In contrast, psychotherapy spans a longer period, typically lasting from two to five years. It involves a more extensive process of re-educating the client.

The length and strength of therapy differ based on the client’s capacity to handle challenging emotions and process new information related to past experiences. This includes the time-consuming aspect of adapting to and embracing these emotions, which may be connected to distressing memories. Therapists also need time to adjust existing defense mechanisms. Additionally, there are variations in treatment settings between counseling and psychotherapy.

In general, counseling sessions take place in non-medical settings like offices, while psychotherapy is usually carried out in medical environments such as clinics or hospitals. Moreover, there is a difference between counseling and psychotherapy when it comes to transference. According to Brammer and Shostrom (1977), the counselor forms a strong personal connection with the client but does not actively encourage or allow intense transference emotions like the psychotherapist does (p.223).

The counselor often sees transference as an impediment to effective counseling, while a psychotherapist may view it as advantageous, enabling the client to gain a deeper understanding of the therapist’s intentions. The counselor regards transference as manifestations of an incomplete maturation process, as interpreted by the psychotherapist. Resistance is another element of counseling and psychotherapy that differs between the two. Counselors perceive resistance as a barrier to problem-solving and make efforts to minimize it.

A psychotherapist regards resistance as crucial; understanding a client’s resistance enables the therapist to guide the client in changing their personality. Although counseling and psychotherapy differ in many aspects, they do share certain similarities. Firstly, both approaches recognize that each client possesses the necessary assets, skills, strengths, and possibilities for therapy. Secondly, counseling and psychotherapy employ an eclectic approach, drawing from a variety of techniques rather than relying on a single method.

Arbuckle (1967, p.144) asserts that counseling and psychotherapy are essentially the same in terms of the nature of the relationship involved. Additionally, he contends that the process of counseling cannot be differentiated from the process of psychotherapy. Lastly, he argues that the methods or techniques used are also identical.

Arbuckle suggests that although counseling and psychotherapy may seem to have different goals and outcomes, there is actually no distinction between them. Both practices significantly impact a person’s personality by addressing attitudes, emotions, interests, objectives, self-worth, and associated behaviors. However, despite these similarities, counseling and psychotherapy also have notable differences.

The main difference between counseling and psychotherapy lies in their time focus and approach. Counseling focuses on present reality situations and aims to develop coping skills, while psychotherapy explores unconscious past experiences and involves a reorganization of one’s entire personality. Moreover, counselors help with life adjustment problems, whereas psychotherapists work on unresolved issues from one’s family of origin.

Although counseling and psychotherapy have distinguishing differences, there are some aspects that overlap. The graph provided (see figure. 1.1) shows a section where the two approaches intersect. Distinguishing between counseling and psychotherapy requires careful examination. This topic has been confusing at times, as even authors like Arbuckle argue that it is not possible to differentiate counseling from psychotherapy.

Fortunately, my class notes were useful for my research on this topic. Specifically, the lecture held on June 15, 1995 provided valuable insights into the differences between counseling and psychotherapy. After reviewing these notes, I confirmed my understanding of the distinction between counseling and psychotherapy.


  1. Arbuckle, D. S. (1967). Counseling and Psychotherapy: An Overview. New York: McGraw Hill. Bettelheim, B. & Rosenfeld, A. (1993).
  2. Rogers, C. (1951). Client Centered Therapy. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
  3. Shostrom, E. (1967). Man the Manipulator. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press.

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The Many Differences Between Counseling and Psychotherapy. (2018, Jun 24). Retrieved from

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