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Understanding Different Types of Counseling

By Hilary Phillips, MS, LPC on January 30, 2015 | Communication

If you have never been to counseling it can be a bit confusing trying to determine what type of therapy is the best fit for you. There are many different types of counseling, and a lot of different approaches to therapy. Below are some common terms defined.

Marriage Counseling or Couples Counseling

Couples Counseling is a mode of therapy where a couple’s relationship and the ways that partners interact are the central focus of therapy. Common areas of focus for Couples Counseling include communication skills, conflict management skills and improving relationship satisfaction.

It is common for one or both partners to be involved in Individual Counseling as a complement to Couples Counseling. To maintain a focus on the relationship this work will most typically be done with a different therapist.

Couples Counseling is very different from Individual Counseling. Couples therapists should receive specific training to understand systems dynamics and be able to effectively manage the unique aspects of working with couples. Any licensed mental health professional (LPC, LCSW, LMHC) can be qualified to do couples counseling. However, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) are specifically trained to work with couples and families in a therapeutic setting.

Individual Counseling

Individual Counseling focuses on one person at a time. It is an opportunity to explore and understand patterns of thinking and behaving and pursuing healthy coping patterns for managing life events.

Family Therapy

Family Therapy focuses on dynamics within the family and takes place with as many as family members present as possible. Family Therapy may be the primary focus of treatment, or it could be used as a supplement to Individual Therapy or Marriage Counseling.

A focus in Family Therapy is viewing the family as a system. This approach focuses on the ways that family members impact the system, rather than viewing problems as caused by a particular family member. Family Therapy helps to identify the ways that relationship and individual problems are caused and maintained by the family dynamics.

A hypothetical example could be, soon after all of the children have left the house and the parents are struggling to redefine their marriage now that parenting is not the main focus, an adult child may begin struggling with independence and acting out. This may be the adult child’s way of bringing the parents closer together through the common goal of focusing on the child (not their own discomfort) and getting the child back on the right track (going back into parenting mode).

Family Therapists, most commonly Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT) offer Family Therapy in a variety of settings including schools, private practices, community agencies and hospitals.

Sex Therapy

Sex Therapy is the treatment of sexual dysfunction and/or dissatisfaction with sexual relationships. Commonly treated concerns are: low sexual desire, rapid ejaculation, delayed ejaculation, difficulty achieving orgasm, painful intercourse. Sex therapists assist those experiencing problems in overcoming them, and learn about healthy sexuality.

Sex Therapy is a highly specialized field. The American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) is an organization that oversees clinical training for a sexual health practitioner to become a certified sex therapist. AASECT credentials sexual health professionals on the basis of rigorous standards for academic preparation, supervised training and consultation, field-related experience and applied skills.


Coaching, also known as Life Coaching or Relationship Coaching is a relatively new field. While many similarities exist between Counselors, Therapists and Coaches, Coaching is distinctly different in many ways. Coaches, unlike Therapists, are not licensed or regulated by any state or federal agency. However, a professional Life Coach is likely to have specific training and while not required, may obtain a Certification from a national organization such as Coach U.

Coaches are not trained or licensed to address things like depression, anxiety, trauma or other mental health related topics. Coaching is a field that focuses on you meeting future goals, and does not focus on a deeper understanding of the past. Coaches are most often utilized to teach skills to help one reach short-term goals that are measurable such as leadership skills, professional development, or personal health and fitness goals.

By Hilary Phillips, MS, LPC