To begin with, the terms counseling and therapy are used interchangeably, but have very different meanings. So it’s important to clarify this to prevent misunderstandings.

Back in the days of huge paper dictionaries, I looked up the terms to clarify them for myself.

To my surprise they are talking about two different things:

Counseling, or to counsel, is to provide advice and comfort. Therapy is to heal or create change.

There is nothing wrong with providing someone with advice and comfort. There have been many times when I have sought the counsel of friends, colleagues, supervisors or counselors when there was something specific about which I needed advice or information. And at times I have sought comfort. This is perfectly legitimate. When this is the service a client looks for and asks for and expects from a counselor, and this is what they agree to do, it can be very helpful. It doesn’t have to be goal oriented or results oriented, since the process itself is what the client is asking for and the counselor is offering.

Therapy, however, can be very different. I believe very strongly that for therapy to achieve the goal of healing or changing something, it needs to be goal oriented and planful. A good example is advice. If you are coming in for advice, as in counseling, that is a legitimate request and it is legitimate for the counselor to offer that advice. In the case of therapy, however, advice should only be offered if there is a therapeutic reason for offering it, otherwise the therapy should be to address the reason the client isn’t able to solve the problem on their own.

My preference is to provide therapy. I see the value in getting advice and comfort but I think the biggest impact on a person’s life is to help them understand and change the reasons why the problem existed in the first place. We humans are designed so magnificently, with layer upon layer of fallback mechanisms, that we solve hundreds, perhaps thousands of problems per day so easily that we might not even notice it. There is usually a psychological reason why we get stuck on the one or two for which we seek help.

In my experience once we resolve the issue which made the problem a problem the problem is no longer a problem because you solve it!

This underlying issue can be a belief system, a life problem, up to and including severe traumas. Sometimes resolving that underlying problem can be as simple as talking your way through a life change or reconsidering ideas and beliefs which are no longer functional, or as extensive as trauma recovery. But my experience is the same: once we address the reason the problem is a problem, there usually is no more problem. And you are in a better position to resume the ebb and flow of problems and solutions which is every day life.