The difference between psychiatry and psychotherapy is in the training and focus of the practitioner. Psychiatry is medically focused on treating serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression whereas psychotherapy has a wider focus on someone’s overall mental wellbeing. Psychotherapists will just as often find themselves treating “normal” people as the mentally unwell. Furthermore Psychiatrists tend to specialize in one area whereas psychotherapists will treat a variety of conditions.
Psychotherapy and counseling are often found together in university courses. Many people see them as two sides to the same coin. There are many different schools some of which will include a third discipline, psychoanalysis. Generally speaking, counseling is a form of the “talking cure” where the therapist takes a more active role, perhaps offering direct advice to the patient. In psychotherapy the emphasis is more on the client finding their own answers and the therapist is there to direct or stimulate their client’s own process of change.
If you choose to do an MA in Counseling you will find your course shorter and cheaper than a PhD course. There are also jobs available for MA-level practitioners as they are cheaper to employ, but that does mean you will take home less money. The MA course has less research in it than the PhD. The downside is that MA-level practitioners are not eligible to practice in all states, some states require you to complete their own programs.
If you are a PhD in Counseling and Psychotherapy you will have done a great deal of research and assisted and taught undergraduates and postgraduates. You will be able to work in clinical and vocational settings and able to teach in colleges and universities. PhD is expensive and takes five years to complete but you will have the highest qualification in the field and be able to practice in any state you like.
You should choose your college based on cost, distance from home and the philosophy of the college – is it touchy-feely or cold and distant? Which type would you prefer? There are usually a limited number of places on these courses so be sure to make a shortlist and have backups if you do not get into your first choice of school. Also consider getting relevant experience by volunteering at local mental health charities. Backup skills in statistics and scientific method are always good too.