Difference between Therapy and Therapeutic

Language is essential when speaking about mental health, and nuances are significant when understanding deep emotional work. One such instance understands the difference between therapy and therapeutic. It is necessary to ask ourselves if something is therapy or therapeutic. For example, is listening to good music therapy or therapeutic? How about dancing? There is a difference between dance as a therapeutic activity and dance and movement therapy.

This article will attempt to deconstruct the differences between therapy and therapeutic. 

Therapy is an act, a profession and a researched field that utilises science concepts. It is provided by a qualified therapist and revolves around establishing and designing treatment plans and goals with expected outcomes. Therapeutic, on the other hand, involves feeling good, engaging in pleasurable activities, calming or grounding in nature. Therapeutic activities do not have goals and are not stable. Therapeutic activities can be enjoyed as a part of routine or self-care. Therapy, on the other hand, is a longer-term commitment towards healing. 

Psychotherapy deals with taking or working with different mediums such as dance, art or music to understand patterns of thoughts and behaviours. It involves examining emotions and external relationships, and factors that influence your mental health. Therapeutic, on the other hand, works on enhancing your mood and feelings for a short period of time, plausibly related to contextual events and situations. For example, taking a weekend off to spend some time with family members who stay in a different place or go on a long drive is therapeutic. However, these therapeutic activities are limited to actions and behaviours that seek comfort in nature. 

Therapy aims to discover, rediscover, learn and unlearn different aspects of your personality. Whilst therapeutic is external, therapy is inner work. Therapeutic activities are always soothing, whereas therapy can be excruciating, messy and complex and, at the same time, advantageous in the long term. Another important difference between the two, of course, is the presence of a therapist. While therapeutic activities do not require a trained professional, therapy requires a safe and stable connection with a qualified professional. 

To briefly summarise, recreational activities can feel therapeutic; unexpected small acts of kindness or compassion towards oneself or others can also feel therapeutic. However, psychotherapy focuses on the range of emotions an individual may bring into the session; components of empathy and validation form the crux of a therapeutic relationship. Progress in terms of therapy is measured through the goals set or behavioural or emotional patterns that may have been broken or changed during the process of therapy.

Therapeutic activities can be shared on a macro-level and remain public, whereas therapy is a private process unless it involves family or couples’ therapy. The reflections associated with a therapy session are confidential in nature and bound by ethical codes from the therapist’s side. Likewise, therapeutic activities can be tangible and shared through pictures on social media, while therapy cannot. 

In conclusion, therapeutic activities may generally be associated with external products, such as going in a car, eating a favourite meal, listening to certain songs etc., which stimulates neural activities. At the same time, therapy is a process that includes verbally processing and reflecting on a multitude of things. These fundamental differences need to be emphasised within the language we use whilst discussing topics related to mental health since it involves subjectivity and nuance pertaining to emotional health. 

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Archana Raghavan is a trainee psychotherapist and researcher, pursuing her masters at TISS, Mumbai. She enjoys reading and writing on mental health, therapy, identity and culture.
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