A few days ago, I went to a workshop for clinical supervisors. The trainer was Wade Hunter, LPC, Vice President of Operations for CREOKS Health Services and board approved LPC supervisor with many years of experience as a therapist and licensure supervisor. During the workshop, we discussed what it means to be a therapist and the difference between a therapist and a counselor. It was a valuable discussion. It made me think. I think the points I took away from that discussion would be beneficial knowledge for anyone participating in the therapeutic process whether it’s as a therapist, a client, or both.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), counselors help people with various problems to improve how they feel and/or behave. I’m paraphrasing here, but that’s the gist of it. Therapy, again, according to the APA (again, paraphrasing), is collaborative and relies on the relationship between the client and the therapist. The way Wade put it was counseling is using techniques to address specific problems. Therapy, he said, “is art.” This struck a chord with me, and the way he elaborated really resonated.
Wade used a musical analogy. Apparently, Wade has played the piano his entire life. He started taking lessons as a young child and did so through high school. When he got to college, he took some music classes and played for a vocal group. He said that he was learning to write harmony parts in one of his classes when a lightbulb went off in his head. He realized at that moment that he was doing something more than reading and playing music off a page. He was learning to create music. He was becoming a musician and not just a piano player.
I had a nearly identical experience in college. Like Wade, I started playing music as a young child and have continued to do so throughout my life. I took piano lessons and played in the school band. When I got to college, I knew how to read music and play what was on the page. However, when I took music theory classes, something magic happened. I began to UNDERSTAND music, how it worked. I learned to create music. I came to this realization that someone could play music their entire life, but as long as all they ever did was play what they read on a page, they would be limited to just that, the music on the page. I decided that unless someone could improvise, could create, they could never call themselves a musician. And being a musician was so much more exciting than being a piano (or trumpet or guitar or whatever) player.
The piano player who is stuck with whatever is written on the page is the counselor. A counselor knows that this technique can be effective with this problem. A therapist is the true artist who knows all the same techniques as the counselor but can improvise and create as the situation unfolds. Because in therapy, the relationship is key, this ability to flow and adapt and create is crucial.
This is not meant to discount science and methodology. Scientific research has given us tons of valuable information about the brain and how mental health works from a biological perspective. This knowledge is a great asset to therapists. As are all the methods and techniques therapists learn in graduate programs. You need someone who has all that in their arsenal and can sit back, read the situation, read you, and feel where to go next, not because it’s what the sheet says, but because it’s what the song requires to be a work of art and not just another tune.
I hope that makes sense. Like I said, the music analogy really hit home with me and inspired me to be a better therapist. I hope it helped you as well. That’s it.