Therapy, also called psychotherapy, talk therapy or usually just "therapy," is a form of treatment aimed at relieving emotional distress and mental health problems. Provided by any of a variety of trained professionals—psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, or licensed counselors—it involves examining and gaining insight into life choices and difficulties faced by individuals, couples, or families. Therapy sessions refer to structured meetings between a licensed provider and a client with a goal of improving some aspect of their life.
Psychotherapy encompasses many types of treatment and is practiced by a range of clinicians using a variety of strategies. The critical aspect is that the client or patient works collaboratively with the therapist and can identify improvement and positive change over time.
Most therapies in wide use have been well-tested and deemed effective. Though it may at first feel difficult to seek out therapy—especially for those of low-income or without comprehensive insurance—the benefits of successful therapy are literally life-changing.
The term counselor is used to broadly refer to a professional trained in the fields of psychology, counseling, social work, or a range of medical fields such as nursing. Mental health counselors, specifically, are those professionals working in a mental health capacity. Their duties include conducting patient evaluations, providing education and informational resources to their clients, and making suggestions that the client or patient can use to solve the problem they are seeking counseling to address.
A therapist is an individual that has been professionally trained to provide some form of therapy to a patient or client that addresses either mental or physical disorder. Examples of therapy used in the context of physical medicine can include physical therapists and occupational therapists. In the context of mental health, the terms mental health therapist and psychotherapist are common.
A psychologist is similar to mental health counselors and therapists in that they also work to improve their patients’ mental and emotional health. The techniques and frameworks that they use tend to differ, however. Additionally, psychologists are more likely than counselors to treat patients with severe mental disorders. With this in mind, becoming a counseling psychologist will typically require a higher level of education, such as earning a PhD in Counseling Psychology.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who can diagnose and prescribe medication to treat mental health disorders. Their education and clinical training equip them to understand the complex relationship between emotional and other medical illnesses and the relationships with genetics and family history, to evaluate medical and psychological data, to make a diagnosis, and to work with patients to develop treatment plans.